Childhood seems to have been turned into a very sterile and safe existence. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for safety. But really, just look at your local new community or subdivision. At least where we live they seem to mow down every single climbable tree, level every bump out and plant tiny sprigs that they call trees, the branches of which would bend if a baby pygmy marmoset climbed on them let alone a 47 pound child.

  • Tree climbing – OUT!!

The playgrounds are similiarly innocuous. No more enormous rocket slides. I know some of you thirty-somethings know what I’m talking about… 12 foot high tubes that children ascend in order to whiz down a 25 foot diamond plate slide with chain link fencing up the sides. They were the bomb! The rocket topped all other playground equipment. But some philanthropist who didn’t have a childhood, somewhere deemed a couple of stitches here and a broken arm there too great a price for childhood thrills and proceeded with knocking down rocket slides nationwide, replacing them with ridiculous colored plastic tubes. Nothing but glorified hampster habitrails. Nothing but the best for the kids, right?

  • Rocket slides – GONE!!

Foot powered merry-go-rounds or playground carousels. These things can still actually be found in some older neighborhoods where heavily pierced pot-smoking teenagers are about the only folks who make use of them as hang-out spots. If a small child so much as crossed that way and flashed a longing glance in the direction of the wonderful spinning vomit inducer, the teenagers might puff a pungent cloud of exhaust in the child’s general direction, look at him like he had a 7 foot stream of toilet paper hanging from the back of his pants and he would think better of his longings, experience a mild coronary infarction and make like the roadrunner towards the hampster tubes.

Merry-go-rounds used to be a main playground attraction. I clearly remember falling 3 feet from a playground carousel (sort of like this one except with seat backs) that sat particularly high up off the ground. Sure, I had a bump. But I still thought that thing was better than ice cream. How shocked was I when my Mom told me not too much later that the offending circle of death had recently been removed. I do believe I cried.

  • Foot-powered-merry-go-rounds – BANISHED!!

I still remember when our own family’s sandbox went the way of the Do-do bird. I’m not sure just how rapidly one thing led to another but I know that I absolutely loved that sandbox. My Dad had made it. He even painted it the same color as our house. It had a lid which had a latch on it so that no neighborhood kitties could come and leave special snacks for the toddlers to snack upon the next time they were in the sandbox making castles and cakes.

This lid was hinged. This lid rested easily back on the side of the house when it was opened and children were enthralled with the sand between their toes. My brother and I, one day, were happily playing in such a manner when suddenly there was a loud bang accompanied by pitch blackness and throbbing raised lumps on our craniums. The top had somehow closed itself or been nudged by the family dog or blown by a particularly stiff wind or shaken closed by a mild earth quake. The handy latch which so effectively kept out vermin fell into place making it impossible for us to push open the top.

What followed were the ear piercing screams (you know the kind) of two little ones who immediately assumed they were as good as dead and whose parents, they imagined, would go about their lives as usual and, one evening while eating dinner a couple of weeks later, notice how strangely silent the dinner table had been of late, only then remembering that they had once had three children instead of just the one who had been fortunate enough to have not been playing in the ill-fated sandbox.

Fortunately we were discovered almost immediately as my mother had heard the horrible smack of wood on wood and the screeching of her offspring within. Not sure exactly how many times I got back into that sandbox but man… I’ll be darned if I don’t still have all sorts of fond memories of that thing despite the near death experience.

I’m sure there are laws governing such things now-a-days.

  • Killer Sandboxes – TURNED INTO FIREWOOD!

We lived outside. We played in the mud. We ate fruit from our neighbors trees without washing it! We built forts with hammers and nails. We climbed really big oak trees. We made rope swings. We played in empty lots down the street. We wandered through our neighbors’ yards. We rode our banana-seat bikes without wearing helmets (I’m not advocating this by the way). We played on teeter totters that would totter some mothers’ minds these days (mine included). We took the city bus to school for a while. We wrote our names in the air with Fourth of July Sparklers. We had fun!

I too have fallen into the mass paranoia about safety and security that in reality is probably disproportionate to the actual risks. I know there has certainly been a good deal of real and legitimate progress made that really needed to be made but for goodness sake… sometimes I just wish childhood could once again be a just a little less sterile. A little less planned. A little more carefree. A little more… childish.

Don’t mind me. My kids are still going to wear their helmets and I’m still going to enforce my probably obsessive rules about where it is safe to play outside. I’m not going to hand my kids any fireworks and set them free with them. I’m still probably going to faithfully maintain my end of the paranoia pandemic because once you join it, it’s hard to go back.

But man… I really want to play in that rocket again. That thing was the BOMB!

9 thoughts on “Childhood just isn't what it used to be…

  1. Wonderfully written and so true! Really, what is a childhood without a few trips to the ER? Although I am far more cautious than my parents, I am not a nut about it either. You would probably have a heart attack if you knew of some of the things I let my boys do. I have a very fond memory of a tree I use to climb when I was around 9. One day I fell out of it, and landed on my back. I fell about 5 or 6 feet. I laid there for about an hour, when my dad came looking for me. I didn’t get up, because I thought I broke my back. I remember my dad grabbing my arm and yanking me up, dusting me off and telling me I was fine. I was. Then I went back up the tree. I miss those days.

  2. Pamela, I wish you would post pictures! I Googled my eyes off last night looking for a picture of the rocket slide and while I did find some things that were somewhat familiar I could NOT find the one from our park.I might just start a meme or game of tag!

  3. remember being able to play ANYWHERE in the neighborhood until the street lights came on. nowadays, the kiddos have to be in sight at all times.

  4. Dear Nan-You are so right! I remember when we first moved to North Carolina from California and saw kids playing in the creek and looking for crawdads. It took me a couple of months to let loose and let my girls even over to that side of the street. Slowly I am learning to let go and to let my kids have a real childhood full of adventures and explorations.Jenny

  5. This was a fun post–I know what you mean about parental paranoia. I sometimes catch myself going a bit overboard. It’s hard to know the balance.

  6. We had a rocket slide at our park. It was totally cool. And I can’t remember how many times I was flung off the foot powered merry go round. Your right those things were the BEST!

  7. Some of my fondest memories involve me hanging upside down on the merry-go-round with pavement a mere 1/4″ from my head, whizzing, whizzing, whizzing round.Great post!

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