When I was a kid, back in the Dark Ages, we didn’t have the Internet. There was no YouTube. No Nintendo. No TikTok. No Snapchat. We couldn’t text friends. We didn’t even have answering machines or voicemail, so if you tried to call your friend and they didn’t answer you had to ride your banana-seat bicycle blocks to their house to talk to them. We didn’t have homework that took hours. We walked to the local school by ourselves, walked home with friends, and hung out. We didn’t spend our nights in front of screens. Instead, we ran around with our neighbor friends playing Hide and Seek or Kick the Can until our parents yelled from the front door or flickered our porch light to signal they wanted to go to sleep so they were required by law to make sure we were home safely.
With all that free time and parents who really didn’t care what we were doing or where we were just as long as the house was quiet, we were “free range kids.” We would yell that we were going to ride our bikes, the screen door would slam behind us, and no one would have a clue where we were for hours on end. No one had an app to track us. They did not care. So, we did stupid things. We made mistakes. We were creative. We had endless hours of unstructured play and not a parent around to check up on us. It’s how you learned about life in the days before you watched “content” from the security of your bedroom while your parents yelled at you to get off your iPad, monitored your electronics usage, and turned off the Wifi to get your attention.
Here are a few things I did between the ages of 9 and 15, which should illustrate how innocent life was back then:
I would walk to the end of the block to see my friend, Amy. In the basement of her split-level home, we would listen to Gypsys, Tramps, and Thieves by Cher. I am pretty sure we made up a dance routine to that song. I have no idea why we chose that particular song, but I’m going to hazard a guess it was because her parents owned Cher’s record. I believe it might also have been at Amy’s house where I sang into an ice-cream-cone-shaped candle that served as a microphone. Sadly, we sang was Barry Manilow’s Can’t Smile Without You.
Back in the days before caller ID, my best friend, Kerry, and I would call the house of a cute boy we knew. He was a mall rat we also knew from church. He had brown, curly hair, and we thought he was adorable. We would ring his house repeatedly, hoping he would answer. He often didn’t. So we would hang up. Sometimes, though, he would answer. We would still hang up. We just thought he had a cute voice. After a while, they stopped answering their phone altogether. One day we discovered the number was out of service. His parents had changed to an unlisted number because they had grown sick of getting hung up on.
My sisters and I would walk to the local swimming pool, which was two miles away. We would stay there for hours, swimming with friends. buying Cokes and Big Hunks from the snack shop. One time while we were walking home, we got caught up in a heavy thunderstorm with lightning. As we were running through the park parallel to the road, a police officer pulled up and asked if we wanted a ride. He drove us the last few blocks to our home. Our parents worked, so no one was home when we got there. No one saw us arrive in a squad car, so there were no questions.
In elementary school, my friends and I all had Drooper dogs. They were toy dogs with soft, plush fur, stuffed heads, plastic eyes, black pompom noses, and bean-filled bodies. My friends and I had many of these dogs, as they were one of the “in” toys then. When Grease came out, we decided to recreate the movie using the stuffed dogs as the characters. We used fabric scraps to create dresses for the female characters and vests for the male characters. We had an 8 track tape of the soundtrack, so we choreographed dance numbers for the dogs and worked out the entire performance.
A lot has changed in thirty-five years. Kids are more carefully watched. Parents are more vigilant. We have phones that can track everywhere we are. We aren’t really free range people anymore.