When I was a kid, it was great time to be a kid. Every house in the neighborhood had at least three or four children. The moms stayed home and raised the children while the dads went off to work, and the kids spent all their time just being kids. None of us really had a lot but we all seemed to have plenty. Some of the dads went to college, and some didn’t. Blue collar or white, it really didn’t matter; we were all pretty much the same, and nobody kept score.
Sunday was the best day of the week. Everyone got dressed-up to go to church. It didn’t matter what church you went to, when you went to church, you got dressed-up. Dinner was served at two; usually roast beef with gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans, pop-n-fresh rolls, and something wonderful for dessert. Sunday night the entire family gathered around the TV to watch; “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, “ “The Wonderful World of Disney,” and for those old enough to stay up past eight, “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
In the summer, you’d get up around eight, grab a quick bowl of cereal and head outside to play. You’d build tree forts, rope swings, catch frogs and turtles, play baseball on the street, and run through the lawn sprinkler. You’d come home for lunch, but head right back outside in the afternoon. After dinner, you’d play hide-and-go seek in the dark, and try to catch fireflies in a jar.
During the school year, you walked to the bus stop with your buddies, dumped each other’s books, and threw snowballs at the diaper truck. A hot-lunch cost twenty-five cents, and on Thursday’s they served Dagwood sandwiches. At Thanksgiving, you made Indian headdresses out of construction paper, sang Christmas Carols at Christmas time, and had an end of year party. Report cards had letter grades; parents and teachers had meetings, and not every kid got promoted. All in all, it was a pretty good time to be a kid.
Things started to change in Junior High. An eighth-grade girl was taken to the hospital after overdosing on something. The house next door was broken into; my mother’s car was stolen from the drive way, and the girl down the street got pregnant and had to drop out of school. A lot of things began to change, and the pace at which they changed began to increase. Plenty of people complained, but nobody stopped to consider where these changes were taking us. Nobody bothered to ask: Where are we going?
We got cable TV and went from three channels to fifty. They didn’t stop broadcasting after the nightly news either; no more national anthem and test pattern, you could watch TV all night long if you wanted. The mall opened, and kids became a market segment. We had always had the after Thanksgiving Toy Catalog, but this was different; kids were now in the cross hairs of Madison Avenue. Again, people complained but still nobody bothered to ask: Where are we going?
Church became casual; people stopped getting dressed-up to go, and then stopped going all together. The sit-down Sunday dinner disappeared as the stores started staying open and more moms started working; usually a part-time job to help pay for the second car, third color TV, or fourth trip to Disney World. Sometimes it was just to help pay for food and gas because things really started to get expensive. People complained even more but again, no one bothered to ask: Where are we going?
More kids started going off to college, burning draft cards and bras, and became sexually liberated. The President got caught lying and had to resign. A whole bunch of Congressmen were caught lying, cheating on their taxes and sleeping with under-age pages, but none of them had to resign. Sometime later another President got caught lying, but he didn’t have to resign either. People complained even louder but still no one asked: Where are we going?
The Supreme Court upheld Roe v. Wade, but the number of illegitimate births continued to soar, as did the number of people on welfare and food stamps. The manufacturing sector got smaller as the government got bigger. Now almost every family had to have two working parents, and there were no more stay at-home moms. The internet was born and people no longer had to get their Playboys delivered in a brown paper wrapper. They could download just about anything imaginable, and even some things previously unimaginable. Video games became interactive and 3D; young men and boys could spend countless hours shooting up Fallujah or killing zombies. Still no one asked: Where are we going?
Today kids don’t walk to the bus stop; their parents have to drive them. Their jump ropes and yo-yo’s have been replaced by laptops and I-phones, which they use for calling, tweeting, texting and sexting. Facebook and My-Space, have supplanted the Saturday night sleep-over and pickup game of street hockey. Kids are indoctrinated at school, targeted at the mall, and stocked online. Words previously confined to the locker-room and barracks are now commonplace in the classroom and cafeteria. School nurses no longer worry about bloody noses and skinned knees; they’re more concerned with pregnancies and STDs. All in all, it’s not a very good time to be a kid.
I don’t know when that change occurred, but it definitely happened. Of course things will continue to change, but we no longer have to wonder where all these changes are taking us. They’ve taken us to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut.