I grew up in a middle, working-class neighborhood in the 70s and 80s. Most of the moms still stayed home, usually, as was the case with my mom, keeping the kiddos of the working moms. So, our neighborhood friends were still a well-manicured lawn away from us at all times.
One week of summer was devoted to Vacation Bible School at the neighborhood Methodist church that housed the community VBS for the neighborhood Christian church and the neighborhood Baptist church as well.
The little development also had a convenience store, a community pool and a car wash (this would be really important in our summer time plans). In the heart of the neighborhood was our beloved elementary school, which was not gated or locked, so we could play on the playground at any given time—day or night.
The area was located approximately five miles from town and three miles from a lake. There was nothing more glorious than my old neighborhood when summer rolled around.
From the time school let out at the end of May until school started up the week before Labor Day, kids ruled the neighborhood. Once school was out, I remember my friends and I hopping on our bikes, checking in with our moms, then meeting back at school to decide who was going to host that night’s sleep over. Once the pool was open, we’d race down there until the lifeguards kicked us out, then we’d go buy candy for pennies at the little store. If the pool wasn’t open for one reason or another, we’d head to the car wash and for fifty-cents, we’d spray each other down in the name of good summer fun.
I haven’t always sounded like a crotchety old man, telling “In My Day” stories to youngins of today, wondering where the future generation went wrong. But I do know that, ahem, in my day, children’s programming on televisions was limited to Saturday mornings and the only screen we stuck our face into was the screen door on rainy days.
Ahhhh … they were good times. Good times, indeed.
Last summer, I set out to give my kids the kind of summer I grew up loving. We made sure their bikes were ready to roll and that their helmets still fit. We turned off the television and computer. We put our phones on the charger and away we went.
We do not live in the neighborhood of my childhood, and it’s changed quite a bit, so I knew their experiences wouldn’t be the same. But, we were close to a Walmart and there was a private pool we could sneak into with some friends who were members on their open swim days.
And the closest car wash was across two major thoroughfares which made it a big fat no as far as I was concerned. But, the neighbor on the corner had a sprinkler system we could ride through as long as he didn’t catch us.
We would also have to substitute the run-off drain between a couple of houses for our lake and possibly swimming pool depending on what kind of rains we got and how often we could sneak into the Elks pool. Of course the local school’s playground was under lock and key, so the trampoline in our backyard would just have to suffice.
Quite frankly, if I’m being honest, I wasn't exactly willing to let them be the free-range children my mom was willing to let us be. When I was their age, I would leave after breakfast and show up when the sun started to set. Maybe I’d be home for lunch, maybe dinner—if not, my mom just knew that I was eating with a friend. There really wasn’t any need to call her; she just knew.
I was not content with just knowing. Thanks to the internet, I knew the world was a scary place. Plus, a friend of a friend’s aunt’s sister knew someone who used to live in the big city just south of us, and they reported that there was a van driving around with the driver looking at kids and dogs. I couldn’t confirm this via any reliable news source, but it had been shared close to 300 times on Facebook. Pretty much that’s all the confirmation I needed.
So, I sent my kids out to have the same type of summer I’d had … only I joined them. It would be fun!
Except that by lunch, I was begging them to let us just go home and sit in the air conditioned house that I loved so and eat some kind of frozen meal that would be ready in less than three minutes. Plus, I needed some aspirin to stop my back from aching and some aloe vera for my sunburned nose.
When they’re mommas they’ll understand. They’ll also probably start their stories with “In my day, our momma couldn’t even hang with us for a whole day without collapsing.” Good Times.
Heather Davis is a momma, a writer and a lover of lazy summer days. Her latest book, "Sundays At The Fields," is a devotional book for busy softball families.