“Mom, I’m going outside to play,” I would often say when I was a child. And as soon as I stepped outside our front door, the world was my playground.
I could ride my bike to the center of town where I would meet friends to play a game of baseball, football, kick the can, ghosts in the graveyard or whatever game our imaginations came up with on that particular day. There weren’t any coaches or drills. We made up our own rules and when a conflict arose, we would solve the problem on our own. And yes, every once in a while, the person with the ball would get mad, take their ball, hop on their bike and go home. To which we would just shrug our shoulders and start a new game.
We rode our bikes down to the Shepaug River along Route 67. We would fish, catch minnows, catch frogs and swim. If we were feeling especially daring (especially as we got older), we would swim our way out along the six-foot waterfall and jump off into the raging waters of river below.
We played games in the acres of woods that surrounded our house and we spent hours playing in the rock Quarry across the street. There were long days in the summer, or on a warm Saturday, when we would all meet at the bottom of the hill and walk the paths out to the Mines. If we were lucky, one of the gates that sealed off the tunnels would be open just enough so we could shimmy through the bars and explore the caves. Armed with nothing more than a couple of hand held flashlights, we dodged bats, animals, and bottomless pits that we threw rocks into but never hit solid ground below.
My parents were divorced. And although my Mother lived in the country, my Dad lived in a more suburban town. And yet, I had a similar kind of freedom.
I rode my bike to the beach where my friends and I would play beach games. We took out boats, rafts or any kind of inflatable we could find and set sail on Long Island Sound to explore other places along the shoreline. And when we were bored with the beach, we would head off to the local ball fields, pizza parlor, local stores and ice cream shops.
We were normally pretty broke, so we would scrounge up as much money as we could find and when we finally bought something, we would split it evenly among the group. And as long as I was home by a specified time (normally dinner), there weren’t many restrictions on where I was allowed to go. If my legs could take me there on my bicycle, I would meet my friends and have a great day of adventures.
We told our parents generally where we were going and with whom we were going to be hanging out with but if plans changed, we rolled with the punches. We didn’t have a cell phone to call home to let our parents know about our change in plans.
As long as we weren’t grounded, the world was our oyster. In fact, our parents expected that we would go outside and play unsupervised. It’s just the way it was, the way it had always been and we loved our freedom to explore the world around us on our terms.
We laughed, we joked, we had fun and we got into a little bit of trouble along the way. And through it all, we learned how to deal with tough situations, settle conflicts among ourselves and create a fair, safe place for everyone. We owned our little corner of the world and as each year passed, our corner of the planet grew exponentially bigger…
Why the trip down memory lane?
The world has dramatically evolved over the past twenty to thirty years. We have seen medical advancements, technological advancements and as a society we have moved at mach speed over the past two decades. It is mind boggling to see the advancements that we have made and continue to make as a society. But as I marvel at how far we have come, I am saddened by our biggest mistake over the same period of time: our failure to preserve a safe world of freedom, exploration and possibility for our children.