I took the boys outside this afternoon to ride their bikes and scooters on the sidewalk. I know the fresh air is good for all of us, but of course I’m happiest cooped on on my computers or with a book or something. That doesn’t help my health much. I got to thinking as I watched them ride between the arbitrary boundaries that I set for them about how I seemed to have had more freedom when I was their age than we’re willing to give them.
I grew up in an Air Force family. When I was Joshua’s age of 4 (he’ll be 5 in a few weeks) I had some freedom to go up and down the street. At that age, my dad was stationed at Tyndale Air Force Base in Panama City, Florida. We rented a house “on town” for a year, then moved into base housing. I don’t remember much about our rented house other than one of those old tubs that had legs on it, and we fled from a hurricane (probably in ‘78 or ‘79) by heading into Georgia. When we lived on base, I can remember playing in some woods near our housing unit. I also remember a road that was being constructed that we would explore around. There was no traffic as it was being constructed.
I also remember riding my bike with my friends to a mini-mart or something to buy ice cream. I think I was able to mostly come and go from the house without worry.
I also had some freedom when we lived in Germany from ‘80-‘85. We would run around the woods in base housing. As I got older, we would often walk to the ruins of a castle in a nearby town. Often, this was done without checking for permission.
I got to thinking about those emails that circulate from time to time. I could subjectively build a case that things were so much better in the “good old days”. I’m not convinced that’s true though. Perhaps most of us did have more freedom in our childhoods. Maybe we didn’t have to worry so much about kidnappers or sexual predators. I don’t know if there were fewer in those days, or if the news had to report other stories to sell advertising. As for the safety issue, the whole time we were stationed in Germany, we had to worry about terrorists and kidnappers. I was walking to school in ‘83 when some terrorists somehow got a truck load of explosives onto Ramstein Air Base and blew up the headquarters. I don’t know how they did. My dad, as a serviceman, had a hard enough time getting on base. How did terrorists get a truckload of explosives on base to drive right through the door of HQ? I don’t know.
One difference that I had is that we didn’t live in New Jersey. I’ve been here 10 years, and I think I’m fully qualified to say that New Jersey sucks. Drivers here are some of the rudest, most impatient, and most oblivious to those around them that I have ever seen. Try to cross the road in front of any Wal-mart here and watch the cars speed up as the thought of a dad and his toddler slowing down the progress of the driver becomes more of a factor than the lives of the pedestrians. I’d like to know what some of these idiots would actually do when they’re detained by police for killing a pedestrian because they can’t freaking wait 2 seconds.
New Jersey also doesn’t have many places to walk. Apparently we don’t believe in sidewalks. When I lived in San Antonio, I could walk all the way to the mall, which was 3 miles away. I could also ride my bike. New Jersey isn’t very pedestrian friendly. I’d love to be able to walk to the mall, but it’s too dangerous. I could also ride my bike all the way to the next closest mall in San Antonio. No luck here. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve almost wrecked my car because some idiot on a bike was taking up too much space in the right lane and I had to cut into the left lane with oncoming traffic to pass.
Suffice it to say, I’m not very fond of New Jersey. I told myself I’d quit saying that I hate New Jersey (yes, I’ve been trying to move for years, don’t start with me) but that doesn’t change that I think I’m less happy here than I would be in other places.
New Jersey aside, I think in ways my kids have things much better than I did. My dad was an NCO in the Air Force. We had little money. I’m an engineer, and so our style of living is a lot better than I had growing up. We’ve got a house, 2 cars, and my wife can stay home with the kids. Also, technology makes things better. I can sit on the steps and bang out this blog post on my netbook while my kids ride up and down the sidewalk. I guess my dad would have read a book if he’d had to directly supervise my play.
So really, has the world changed that much since “we” were kids? Or are most of the changes more subjective than objective?
What do you think? Let me know in the comments.