-Margaret Fairless Barber
First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they were pregnant. They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can (tuna that caught dolphin in the nets), and didn't get tested for diabetes.
Then after that trauma, we were put to sleep on our tummies in baby cribs covered with bright colored lead-based paints. There was no baby monitor to hear what we were doing in the crib, no scientifically-designed toys to develop our minds. Mom and Dad listened to the music they enjoyed rather than classical music held to mom's tummy to educate the baby.
We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets, we had no kneepads; kids look like they are in armor out there sometimes.
As infants & children, we would ride in cars with no car seats, booster seats, seat belts or air bags. Usually no seat belts were worn - they weren't even standard in cars until the late 50's. Kids looked like popcorn bouncing around in the back in some cars, lying in the back window, playing.
We drank water from the garden hose and NOT from a bottle. Heck, I still do. We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and NO ONE actually died from this. The bottles were glass and tasted twice as good as out of a can. Which had pull tabs that were razor sharp rather than safety tab tops.
We ate cupcakes, white bread and real butter and drank koolade made with sugar and we drank whole milk (the kind you have to skim the cream off the top - save it and make your own butter, ice cream, and cottage cheese with), but we weren't overweight because we were always outside playing.
We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on - if you were in the city, in the country you came back to get to bed on school nights, and when it wasn't school, you could stay up later catching fireflies if you lived in an area blessed by them.
No one was able to reach us all day as we wandered the neighborhood playing with local kids or explored the nearby woods. We walked miles to a store to get some treat and our parents trusted us and others. When you did something wrong, chances are, some other adult nearby would catch you and chew you out, sometimes even spank you and definitely let your mom know.
We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem. Same thing with sleds. And old bicycles that sometimes didn't work so well.
We did not have Playstations, Nintendo's, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 150 channels on cable, no video movies or DVD's, no surround-sound or CD's, no cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet or chat rooms. We just had friends that we hunted snakes with and fished and built forts and had dirt clod fights and dug for dinosaurs and played Cowboys and Indians and we played war. We had actual guns that parents taught us how to use safely and intelligently.
We didn't have 3-D interactive massively multiplayer online games, we had books and radio. As the time went on we had 3 channels of TV, with a 4th UHF if you lived near a big city. At a certain time of night... they turned off!
We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth, we scraped our knees and bashed our knuckles and got black eyes and stung by bees and fell in the water and got covered with mud and there were no lawsuits from these accidents. We were given BB guns for our 10th birthdays, made up games with sticks and tennis balls and, although we were told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes. We played swordfights with sticks that almost always ended with someone catching a "sword" across the knuckles.
We biked or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just walked in and talked to them!
Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment. One team won, and one team lost. Imagine that! When you didn't succeed at the task at hand, you failed, you didn't get a prize for trying. You didn't graduate from 5th grade, you simply moved on to the next. You didn't get points for trying and even math teachers insisted your spelling and grammar was correct.
The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!
In the years from 1899-1969 we saw an explosion of innovation, technology, exploration, science, and study that has never been equaled in human history. Risk-taking, failure, competition, and finding the limits of what you can do and can't do led us to amazing feats. What have we accomplished in the last 30 years? We haven't even been back to the moon. Imagine a big project like the interstate highway or intercontinental railroads or Panama canal or the moon landing...or Columbus' journey today, do you really think any of them would finally be done?
Future shock didn't cripple us despite hysterical claims by Alvin Tofler. We adapted to deal with amazing new innovations nearly every few years, from horses to the space shuttle, from the telegraph to the internet. We weren't as interested in comfort and entertainment as we were work and accomplishment. Having fun isn't nearly as satisfying as when you have earned it, have worked hard and now can relax, and don't have it at your fingertips 24 hours a day within a 5 foot walk. Today when you can't find the remote you spend ten minutes walking by the television searching for it. Back then you walked up to the TV and turned the channel to the few options and wiggled the antenna around til it came in better - or had one on the roof.
In 1969, the three biggest problems teachers identified in schools were chewing gum in class, running in the halls, and cutting in line. Imagine what they are today.
This isn't about the good old days - they were worse in a lot of ways. It's how the old days had a different focus, philosophy, and set of concerns that led us to greatness - a greatness I fear we lack today because we're so comfortable, rich and at ease. When polio was a real threat, people had real things to be concerned about. Today, the lack of threats leads us to search them out, finding the goblin around every corner. We all but bubblewrap our kids and lock them in a closet to keep them safe. We sue at the slightest discomfort or offense. We oppose any risk as a danger to our money, our lifestyle, or safety. We balk at any great new project or idea.
Are we better for all this?