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Today, as usual – I was walking our dog down the local road and was shocked to see two of our neighbor kids playing in their back yard; they are probably about seven and ten years old. They are our closest neighbor in one direction – about 1/4 mile, but we have much closer neighbors who have children who have grown up in the 18 years they have been here. It is extremely rare to see them in their yard (about 4 acres) and we have never seen them anywhere else. There are several other houses within a half-mile and the situation is the same.
Now, let me explain. We live in far north Northern Virginia. Our lot has about an acre of woods, across the street is probably 10 acres of woods with a creek and a swamp and a pond. About 1/4 mile to the west is “Short Hill Mountain” (emphasis on short, but it is steep) which is all wooded.
Even when my older brother and I lived in an apartment with our parents, we knew where the nearest woods, creek, swamp was and would spend hours there, making forts and pretending all sorts of things. Our parents had no real idea where we were and that seemed ok as long as we got home for dinner.
Once I got a bicycle (bought from a neighbor with $3 of my paper route earnings), I could be anywhere.
When we moved to Maryland, my brother and I could ride our bikes down some busy roads to the C&O canal near Glen Echo Park and from there, we could go for miles and miles.
Now, all of this was not without danger. Our mother might have figured that out when we lived in the apartment and excitedly brought home a dead copperhead snake we had killed by throwing rocks at it. (Since I was the youngest, I was delegated to make sure it was dead). We would shoot off rockets based on empty C02 cartridges filled with match heads and a fuse. Sometimes they flew and sometimes they blew up.
I also broke my back in a fall when my brother and I were practicing rock climbing on the C&O canal.
The other thing that seems to have changed is the interest of young boys (that’s all I know) in cars. Before I turned 16, I had a Fiat 600 (a whole ‘nother story) and learned to take it apart and put it back together. The nearest neighbors have a car that has sat in their drive for 15 years with no one looking at it. When I was a kid, I would be all over that. Our grandson who is about to turn 16 has no interest in driving.
I guess my point is that “kids being kids” is an important part of growing up and I don’t see that happening anymore. Some of it might be computer games, but I was about as nerdy as you could be (still am, I guess). We used to watch TV on Saturday mornings (Tarzan, etc), but that was about it.
Do you notice this also? How do we get back to childhood as a time to learn to deal with the world and the things in it?