“Back in the day,” when the Suburbo first bloomed, in the 1950’s, they were a wonderland for children. Parents did not worry about White Abduction Vans and potential pedophiles around each corner and the Baby Boomers roamed far and wide in their neighborhoods (once they were a certain age). “Sandlot” sports abounded and the bicycle was the primary mode of transportation for kids. And KIDS were everywhere!
On our dead-end street (Thompson Drive) in Bay Shore, there were eight houses from the corner cross street to the “woods” at the end of the road. In those eight houses there were twenty-four KIDS! There was an age-range that provided everyone with playmates and, when you factored in KIDS from beyond our “block” to the rest of our subdivision neighborhood (kids you knew through our walking-distance school), you could engage in baseball and football games, hang out under the street lamp on summer evenings or just cruise around on your bikes.
There was a wide-open area (field) behind the houses across the street from our house and the construction company that built our development left the foundation forms there. Theses were approximately 6’ X 6’ wooden forms (two by fours & lath sheeting) and we actually built a backstop out of them in the field and created our own baseball diamond --- the home of the “Thompson Drive Sluggers – Better than the Yankees” (painted on the backstop). Some of the older kids in our group knew guys from the neighboring town (we lived on the border between Bay Shore & West Islip) and, before you knew it, we had regular baseball games going! No grown-ups, no umpires. If there was a dispute over a safe/out call, we hashed it out or simply resorted to that old stand-by “the do-over.” As noted in Craig Lambert’s Shadow Work,
Do-over’s teach kids some basics of sportsmanship: respect each
other’s opinions, set aside the rhubarb, and keep playing. (p.84)
In the same way, we walked to school on our own (or rode our bikes), walked (or biked) to the Main Street pizza place or movies and, generally, did quite a bit without parents (or any adults) around. It was a different world, for sure. Was it better? Certainly the absence of security concerns made life easier on KIDS and parents. But it also led to a sense of self-reliance and agency for kids at an early age. There was less analysis and psychology (except for the well-worn “Dr. Spock’s Baby & Child Care”) and we only had a handful of television stations. Newspapers and comic books were our primary “literature.” In my own case, thanks to Mom, I became a member of the Landmark “Book of the Month” club (where noted authors --- like Robert Penn Warren --- wrote books for kids) and learned to love reading.
TV was black and white (as was America!) and we still had a milkman, a Drake’s Cakes delivery truck (for bread and pastries), and even an itinerant knife-sharpener! Neighbors “watched out” for each other’s KIDS and almost all the Moms were “stay-at-home” mothers. As noted, it was a different world. So, observing today’s Suburbo, where everything kids do is overseen by adults one has to wonder if our careening ahead into a cyber world where “everyone’s connected” and Artificial Intelligence & robots are becoming more omnipresent is the “best” future we can fashion.
Don’t get me wrong: I love the gizmos and gadgets and all the high-tech directions we’re heading in (bravo, Elon Musk!) but if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that progress always has unintended consequences. We’ll never go back to the innocence of the ‘50’s suburbs (and probably shouldn’t) but we might consider getting out of the way of KIDS a little bit, giving them a little room for “do-over’s” and the like.
Thanks for reading!