To All the Kids Who Survived the 1930s, '40s, '50s and ‘60s
Silver Threads - 2/19/2006

To All the Kids Who Survived - Redux

I thought yesterday’s post was a no-big-deal, nice little reminder of times past and most particularly, that we - just maybe, but not for sure, might if we wanted, not necessarily, conceivably, though I could be wrong, but still not impossible, once in awhile - give some small thought to a few of the things modernity has snatched away.

Instead, I woke up this morning to a not inconsiderable number of emails and a few public comments about how awful the good old days were and what a nincompoop I am for publishing such drivel. Children died, you know, in the good old days.

I want to thank each of you who reminded of that. I’d forgotten, you see, that a girl down the block bought the farm after contracting polio one summer. Another, a boy, died of diphtheria. One kid was killed by a car when he ran into the street to retrieve a ball. (If I’m not mistaken, this particular calamity is still not preventable, but perhaps a researcher somewhere is working it.)

It’s good to be reminded that several kids in my school couldn’t play in gym class because they had club feet. A lot of kids had scars on their faces from smallpox, a disease some had barely survived. Cleft palates were, if not common, a condition we were accustomed to among our school friends. My own brother received a severe head injury in a bicycle accident because helmets were not required then.

I appreciate all who helped bring these memories to mind (most particularly the private email letters hiding opinions from public view and open commentary) and showing me that I’ve been living in a fairy tale about the past and not appreciative enough of the improvements we’ve seen in our lifetimes. Although, come to think of it…

…while school kids today are protected from a large number of fatal diseases that plagued my youth and we have mandated kid protection in certain circumstances, parents have new ills to worry about for their children: drugs at younger and younger ages, school, play yard and street shootings, and one that concerns me a great deal - the constant atmosphere of potential violence with cops checking for guns at the schoolhouse door and surveillance cameras in every hall and lavatory. All day, every day, kids are reminded in school that something awful might happen at any moment. I wonder what that does to young psyches?

Carefree summer days of crashing go-karts, broken arms or legs and shared soda pop are gone from a childhood now focused from the cradle on cramming enough information into kids’ heads that they can snag a spot in an elite school that will ensure they become masters of the universe pursuing the only acceptable professional goal left in the U.S. - wealth. I wonder what that does to young psyches?

And so on…

Not one word I’ve written here should be construed to mean I long for the good old days. As the piece I published yesterday states at the end, “The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas,” that have changed the world for the better in remarkable ways.

However, in some cases, we have not put our new knowledge to its best possible use, and equally important, it is not prudent, as modern culture seems to believe, for the past be obliterated by the new.

The idea is - or should be - to take along the best ideas from previous eras as we build on them to create better futures. One simple example - has it occurred to anyone yet that given recent studies on levels of childhood obesity it might be a real good idea to figure out how to get kids away from video games and back outside playing all day in the summer?

It is elders who, in their judgment and, sometimes, wisdom gained from decades of experience, can see more clearly than younger people what modern innovation has wrought on the culture - the good and the not-so-good - and what from the past might be applied as we fling ourselves headlong into the future. Humankind could not possibly have survived into the 21st century if our ancestors hadn’t been doing that all along.

And please, in the future, all you folks who spew your misguided interpretation of my intentions in private email, have the courage of your convictions: get them out in the light of day in the comments section where everyone can read and discuss them. It’s okay. I have fairly tough hide.

Comments

Both of your posts have merit. It's human nature to remember the good. Bad things happen always have always will, good things are just nicer to think about.

Ronni--Your open acceptance of various views provides a valuable service. Thank you. Your "tough hide" approach is appreciated! ; )

Of course, you're right. We were a bit nostalgic as we read the piece, all the while keeping things in perspective. Today? Mom and Dad are out making the almighty buck and not "minding the store" so their kids are left to themselves to decide (following rather bad advice from peers or pop culture) on their own best entertainment. Worse yet, the parents don't have strength of their own convictions to monitor the kids appropriately and to tell them what's right and what's wrong -- and even more, to stand up to the children when they appear to be going down the wrong path. It's true, in "the old days" if a child did something wrong, they were accountable not only to their teacher (or God forbid, the police), these authorities had the full backing of the parents. And the kids also knew that they could be called to account by any adult in the neighborhood. Parents today are more apt to direct attention to the body and its trappings and possessions to the neglect of the inner person. As an aside, one tragedy is that these parents would deny that they're 'chasing the almighty buck,' but are often working long and hard to amass the material benefits which they've been led to believe are their own (and their chldrens') entitlements. It’s possible to be happy with less! In following the path of material enrichment, they're missing the true benefits for their children and themselves – including a stronger possibility of inner peace.

As one of the public critics of yesterday's post (the content of which I realize did not originate with you), I found myself thinking about it the rest of the day and soon found myself imitating Tevye the Milkman ("on the one hand, a sick child might have polio; on the other hand, the doctor would come to the house, perhaps in the evening"). Then, after bringing in such modern evils as drugs, gangs, HIV, etc., I came to this conclusion: while I still hold the view that I would rather be a kid today, I would in no way want to be a parent today: too much to worry about.

As for the ad hominem private attacks, deplorable as they are, I'm afraid it's something you'll have to get used to: it comes with celebrity. What puzzles me is that anyone could get so outraged over a bit of nostalgia, which could have no affect on their lives whatever. I hate to think of what the more biased political bloggers must get in their e-mails every day.

I have to agree with Deejay....such an upheaval over a piece of nostalgia?
I'd read that piece before and enjoyed reading it again. Guess I lived a "charmed" life as well, because the emotions I had growing up in the 50's and 60's aren't even close to what I witness and feel in today's society. And I think that's sad. In my little piece of the Universe, it WAS a kinder, simpler, time and I feel fortunate every day to be able to recapture a bit of that by living where I do.

What tempest in a teapot. The older I get the more convinced I am that there has never been a "perfect" or "best" time---at least in my life.
My son gave me an article by Esther Dyson. I really didn't understand much on her website but she discussed a very good question. When we have many options (like we do today) we aren't necessarily happier than when we didn't---back "in the day." Things ultimately boil down to what we make of what's on our plate right now. It's not about a "time," it's about who we are as people.

I 've always thought about (even wallowed) in what I thought was a really miserable childhood and early adult life. From my perspective now it almost seems like a gift because It's made me even more grateful for the gifts (health, family, a sense of humor) that make my life sweet today.

I really don't have anything to say except that looking at (and appreciating) life from any other perspective than where you are at the moment is kind of like farting in a frying pan. You can make a lot of noise talking about it but it's not creating anything real.

I don't assign any value to things or "times' anymore other than to pray I'm making the best of where I am with what I have to work with. I don't think I can do more.

Golden Lucy
http://mucholderthanu.blogspot.com

What tempest in a teapot. The older I get the more convinced I am that there has never been a "perfect" or "best" time---at least in my life.
My son gave me an article by Esther Dyson. I really didn't understand much on her website but she discussed a very good question. When we have many options (like we do today) we aren't necessarily happier than when we didn't---back "in the day." Things ultimately boil down to what we make of what's on our plate right now. It's not about a "time," it's about who we are as people.

I 've always thought about (even wallowed) in what I thought was a really miserable childhood and early adult life. From my perspective now it almost seems like a gift because It's made me even more grateful for the gifts (health, family, a sense of humor) that make my life sweet today.

I really don't have anything to say except that looking at (and appreciating) life from any other perspective than where you are at the moment is kind of like farting in a frying pan. You can make a lot of noise talking about it but it's not creating anything real.

I don't assign any value to things or "times' anymore other than to pray I'm making the best of where I am with what I have to work with. I don't think I can do more.

Golden Lucy
http://mucholderthanu.blogspot.com

I have read the piece before, and found it rather "rose-colored glass" material. I do believe, however, we should remember those positive things from the past, and do not the share opinions you must have received in the e-mails mentioned in today's post. I believe both your posts were well written.

My feelings more closely match those of Golden Lucy. An acceptance of what was, and what is, and making the best of it all.

BTW this is the first time I've read a blog, and I find your posts most interesting, Ronni. You come across as a very caring person.

There are certainly things from the past worth remembering, preserving, cherishing, and re-visting - one of the reasons I read your blog is simply to connect with many of those things. There are certainly things today that are problems - there are always problems, in every age. Technology and scientific and social advances solve some problems, and create others. This is the way of life.

It's not a matter of "better" or "worse". I have raised two boys in today's environment - they are great kids and don't smoke, drink, do drugs, they are 16 and 20 and have never gotten anyone pregnant or even had sex (and yes, I would know and they would tell me, thank you very much). It is no harder to raise kids now than it ever has been, and no easier.

Life is ever-changing. Accept that, and everything else becomes easier.

Wow... what an intro into your robust community. I just came over to look at your blog at Jill Fallon's suggestion and was struck by how heart-felt and articulate your "community" is (and you)....inspired me to read your older (previous) comments (liked that Boomer Chic) and to sign up. Keep up the candor

Future generations will look back on their childhoods the same way, and on it goes. :-)

I think Lucy is right! Our childhoods weren't perfect but we learned accountability and responsibility for our actions. However, I look at the children (our children's children) today and look at the music we allow them listen to and the TV programs and movies we allow them to watch and I can't help but feel that the ball was dropped somewhere along the line. No, our upbringing wasn't ideal -- I know I still bear scars from mine -- but most of us turned out okay. When a high school in my city has something like a 30% pregnancy rate, I worry a lot about the next generation and wonder where we went wrong. Maybe those who decry the errors of earlier generations should look to solutions for this one. Carl Sandburg wrote that "The past is a bucket of ashes." and my take is that we can't get upset about it. What we can do is learn from it, remember and keep the good things and correct the bad. To do otherwise is wasted effort.

I'm right there with you. It saddens me that children are not free to play kick the can at dusk in the streets; or to wander down by the creek unattended on a lazy summer day.

To be able to explore little bits of the world that were like unexplored continents to my childish mind both enriched and saved me.

But I can still hear my grandmother saying "You kids just don't know how lucky you are." And my dad's classic "I walked a mile in the snow up to my knees to get to school."

I'm absolutely astounded your post elicited such reactions as you indicate, Ronni. I don't mean to be insensitive to those for whom the post elicited unpleasant memories, but hope you will continue to provide us with some nostalgia from time to time in the future whenever the mood strikes you.

I think it's fun to focus on aspects of the past sometimes. Guess there's always the risk that what elicits a positive memory for one may do just the opposite for another. Occasional, judicious wearing of rose-colored glasses may not be harmful.

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