Safety Dance

This is how I know it’s Spring now that I’m kind of an adult: I’m craving increasingly lighter beers with citrus in them. I know, I’m a girl. Leave it alone.

This is how I knew it was Spring when I was a kid: The smell of smoke from all of the accidental forest fires around town, all of which were set by kids in my neighborhood. And by “kids in my neighborhood,” I mean my two older brothers. It’s not as sinister as it sounds. Every Spring, caterpillars would set up cozy little cocoons in the trees surrounding our house, and every Spring, my brothers, armed with Bic lighters and cans of WD-40, would hunt down the cotton-candy-like cocoons. For those of you who weren’t raised in a house with two cars up on blocks in the front yard: The great thing about WD-40 and a Bic lighter is the blow-torch effect you get when you combine the two. Don’t judge us too harshly: We didn’t have cable, so we came up with our own entertainment. Imagine two middle-school kids in whitewash jeans and RATT tank tops all jacked up on Rambo fantasies heading into the woods with redneck blowtorches, and you’ll get a good image of what I’m talking about here.

The truly disturbing part of this story isn’t the satisfaction that my brothers got from scorching sleeping caterpillars. It’s that my parents were perfectly fine with two children wandering around the neighborhood with homemade bombs.

Can you imagine parents letting their 11-year-old kid loose in the woods with a blowtorch in 2012? Hell no. I don’t even think I’ll let my kids walk to school alone when they’re 11.

But my brothers and I were lucky to be raised during the ‘80s, when kids spent their free time playing elaborate games of “war” armed with air-pump BB guns and Roman Candles.

Safety was a different issue back then. A non-issue, really. Seat belts were for pussies. Bicycle helmet? What bicycle helmet? Quality time with my dad was when he sat me on his lap while he was driving and let me steer the station wagon down the interstate at 80mph. MTV wasn’t allowed in our house, but driving a car at 7? Sure.

Today, there’s a five-point safety checklist I go through before I’ll even start the damned car with my kids in it. If I forget to lather my kids with sun screen for a 30 minute session in the park, I feel like calling DSS on myself. They wear Water Wings for their tubbies and have never even walked outside without hard plastic on their heads. I make the dad in Finding Nemo look laid back.

On the one hand, I feel sorry for my kids and their peers, as they’re being raised during the “Golden Age of Irrational Fears,” where everything is padded, locked, and kid proofed. They will probably never know the joy of playing Bow and Arrow Chicken (two people stand together, one shoots an arrow straight into the air. Last one to move wins. Awesome). If I could figure out a way to wrap my kids in bubble wrap before they played soccer, I’d do it. Life was just more carefree when RATT’s “Round and Round,” was getting heavy radio play. Each morning, kids were simply let loose into the neighborhood with their throwing stars, fireworks, and stolen Hustler magazines, free to reenact scenes from Lord of the Flies as they saw fit.

I couldn’t imagine being raised any other way.

On the other hand, I can’t believe we didn’t blow ourselves up. With all the flammable hairspray bottles lying around our house and almost complete lack of adult supervision, it’s a damned miracle any of us made it out alive.

So while I appreciate the laissez faire approach to parenting that seemed to be the federal mandate in 1983, I’m going to stick with my overprotective micro-management approach. Now, can anyone help me build a prototype of that bubble-wrap suit I keep dreaming about?

Children of Former Decades: What’s the craziest thing your parents let you do? Steering the family car on a road trip is up there for me. Encouraging me to strip antique furniture with industrial grade acids might also make the list.

21 thoughts on “Safety Dance

  1. I too am a child of the 80’s and I totally agree that things were so much more laissez-faire. The main thing that comes to mind is all of the unsupervised time that I had. It’s not so much that my parents allowed me to do anything in particular that seems insane to me as a parent, as that I used to just head outside at some point in the morning and wander around doing whatever came into my head. I came home to a completely empty house after school. My sons are never really EVER just alone without any adult supervision. i actually sometimes wonder if something is lost from all of that safety– like maybe some of their independence or sense of adventure or whatever. (Of course my children are only 5 and 3.)

  2. I enjoyed many of the same freedoms as yourself. When I was the first grade my mother brought this badass home for me:

    I think I still have it somewhere. To pass on to my daughter of course – but only after she becomes a crack shot with the Daisy.

    Our society may be getting exponentially “safer” with each generation. For instance, my father bought a WWII Service Harley Davidson when he was 12 with money from his paper route. Having never been on a motorcycle before, he promptly drove it into the side of a mountain. He also told me he was able to purchase cans of black powder from the drug store. Which he promptly exploded.

    • Man, the Survival Knife was the Bees Knees. With that thing in your hand, you could literally fish, orient yourself, cut stuff, and start a fire. What else could a first grader want out of life?

      • With my Rambo style survival knife strapped to my hip, I once jumped from a 20 foot high cliff into a pine tree. I noticed to late that the tree was dead and hit every branch on the way down as the one I grabbed broke off. I still have some interesting scars on my lower back. Mom just put some peroxide on me, picked the bark from my wounds and sent me to swim in the lake.

    • Ehh who needs black powder. Cans of Axe and hairspray work just fine for explosions, and stinking up the neighborhood.

  3. Long (re)live the ’80s! I lived in the woods by some catfish ponds and loved seaweed-covered-mudball fights and setting cat tails on fire (the ones that grow around catfish ponds, not the ones on felines). And the Bic+hairspray? The “bad” kid in our TAG class once used that to set a chair on fire. In first grade. He was also the one who taught me to dog-cuss someone out with words I’d never heard, used in combinations that to this day I have still never heard. I believe he called me a “BLEEP ol’ mother-BLEEPIN two-BLEEP BLEEP.” True story.

  4. I’m a child of the 90s, and all the boys in my class were still wild about nunchucks and throwing stars, thanks to some mutant turtles on TV. I used to wake Mom up at ungodly early hours on the weekend begging for breakfast, which is probably why she taught me to cook scrambled eggs and French toast at the tender age of 8 (I think). Maybe 10. I know I was in elementary school. So here I was, a little kid, cooking by myself with Mom sleeping. She did make me promise never to cook when I was home alone, though. As I write this, I’m thinking to myself, “that can’t be right.” But it was.

    • OK, you children of the corn…89’s, 90’s, shmities – why do you think we parents were so ‘liberal’ with you. It’s simple, we survived the 50’s and 60’s inventing the things we taught you to do. Parental supervision? You just don’t know what’s it’s like in a small town. Sure we were given carte Blanche to wander and play. But believe me, one real misstep and my mom knew before I got home. Heck, we played ball in a field a mile away from my house – cell phones? No, mom simply called my name (loudly) and the call reached my ears within minutes (thanks to the whole town knowing my parents). That’s not the case today, so I support daddy-drinks in his quest for bubble wrap for the twins. As to that stuff he purports they did as youth, it was way worse and we still are discovering stuff all the time.

  5. Growing up in the 70s and 80s! When I was very young, my brother and I never wore seatbelts in the backseat, and we just slid around the enormous bench seat. And NO ONE wore a helmet while riding a bike – even when we built rickety wooden ramps to jump over the ditch. I don’t think any of us would have been caught dead with a helmet on. And of course, the wet, wrinkled, old Playboy hidden under a rock deep in the woods.

    When I was older, I remember getting together with my friends to battle it out with bb guns and bottle rockets. Our “protective” gear was some thermals under our regular clothes.

  6. Best story like this came from my old Scottish co-worker who was about 5 years older than me. Youngest of 3 brothers. When he was probably between the age of 10 and 12, his dad found their homemade distillery. “What are you doing with this, kids?” “Making some to sell to our friends.” “Okay, well be smart about it. I don’t want parents calling me and saying that their kids went blind.”

    All this modern care and attention has a price. Why do you think people who are 25 years old today still act like complete jackasses? There was a survey that showed people these days don’t feel like they’re grownups until they hit 26. It’s because they never had the chance to get their fill of stupid crap in the earlier years. In fact, I’d bet that you could do a serious psychological study based on the hypothesis that helicopter parenting leaves American young adults with a solid 5-8 year backlog of unfullfilled stupid crap that they have to work out of their systems by the time that they finish high school. Think about that. We’re coddling ourselves into a national stupid crap surplus. At this rate, by 2025, the average 30-year-old will still be shooting his bros in the ass with a pellet gun for laughs.

    Who am I to talk? And I’m a big offender, too. I hate to see my boys get hurt.

    I don’t know, maybe hospital visits were cheaper when we were kids.

    • We were less likely to go to the hospital, too. I remember my brother breaking a lightbulb with a bed slat while “playing” the theme song to Airwolf. He got a nasty cut on his forearm. We were alone at the time and thinking back, it should have needed stitches. By the time our parents found out it was scabbed over, so they just bandaged it.

  7. Reading this brings back great memories. Growing up during the 80’s in the (back then) rural part of North Georgia, it wasn’t uncommon for my parents to bring me over to a friends house to go “squirrel hunting”. My parents would drop me off with a few dollars to spend at the local convenience store, a 16 gauge bolt action shotgun, and a box of ammo. I think I was 10 years old. We’d run around the property and blast holes in anything short of the family cars and home.

    Then there’s the quality time I spent during the summer of my 4th and 5th grade years, when my mother would drive a group of us to Six Flags and drop us off with our season passes and 5 bucks to spend for lunch, then pick us up at closing time after fireworks.

    Thinking about what we learned from those times, I am in agreement that there was alot of responsibility learned and decision making skills formed. My boys who are now aged 10 & 11 have their every move critiqued and monitored. When they get home from school today, I’m going to tell them to get a few things out of the garage to go clear up the kudzu in the woods behind the house and see what they do.

  8. I’m new to ‘daddrinks’, tho I do hear entertaining renditions of your family going-ons from Liz at work. Really appreciate the pointers on tent catapillar extermination-very timely and on my ‘to do’ list. Thanks!

  9. Syphon gas form a car with a dirty section of garden hose, ride my Green Machine down the hill and jerk the brakes on sand in the middle of the circle, at the bottom, spinning uncontrollable into the yard.

  10. Oh, memories. Lighting fireworks in the driveway. Shooting paintballs at passing cars. Riding bikes in summer thunderstorms. Wandering into kudzu filled woods and praying for no poison ivy. Walking to school alone in elementary school (we lived about a 15 minute walk away), sometimes early to stop at a friend’s house on the way to watch morning cartoons.
    But then we were latchkey kids, our parents didn’t give permission, they just didn’t know.

  11. Riding in the back of a pickup and sitting on the wheel well, riding a bike without a helmet, and drinking out of the garden hose. Oh, and let’s not forget about one of the most dangerous things ever—eating the damn cookie dough!! hahaha

  12. aaah, ok, shotguns wins. But, we had a knife in the classroom from 1st grade that everyone used to sharpen their pencils with. The teacher would just pass it around if anybody needed it.
    Grew up in northern Norway, though.

  13. The scene: New Jersey in the 1970s. Double knit slacks, reversible, with a Danskin bodysuit on top. Wooden soled Dr. Scholls on bare feet – the shoes that hurt your arch like a bitch if you made one false move. Flock of bicycles at dusk, pedaling like mad to reach the ice cream truck, which followed the DDT-ridden mosquito fog truck. Every single breath was toxic, every lick of ice cream pre-moistened with DDT. It was awesome.

  14. I was a kid in the 80’s and was the only one in my area who successfully caught a rock and cement wall on fire. I was so proud of that after the initial fear wore off after I was able to extinguish it. Good times……Now I’m about to be 40……..where do I get that kind of recognition now at this age in this current state of the world…….without going to prison for it

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