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The Organizing Of Growing Up

Comparing childhood then to today, I don’t know how so many of us in my generation got out alive. I guess when we were living it, neither our parents nor we were aware of just how dangerous life could be  – or later when we were raising our own kids, for that matter.

Back then, we didn’t wear helmets or pads to ride our bikes or go skating, we just got on our bikes and rode; laced up our CCM skates from Sears or Canadian Tire and hit the ice. We fell a lot and sometimes ran into things like trees and each other. I can remember some scraped knees and elbows but somehow, whether it was just good luck or whatever, most of us managed to get through that period in our lives without serious injury.

We didn’t have car seats either. We used to sit in the back seat, or if we were lucky and it was our turn, sit in the front passenger seat hanging out the window and making screeching brake noises when our dads turned the corner or came to a sudden stop. You had to hang on when that happened because we didn’t wear seat belts either. Most cars didn’t come equipped with them.

We only played indoors when it was really nasty weather or had been grounded and then, only if we had too. We were more resilient than the mailman and it took more than rain or snow, sleet or hail to keep us from getting outside.

Sometimes in the Spring, we’d head over to the pond or some backed up drainage pool and build rafts out of scraps of lumber we had found. They didn’t float very well which usually meant we got wet and got hell when we went home. Of course, most of us could swim pretty good back then because we spent a lot of time at the pool and the beach. Typically, after teaching us somewhat aggressively not to talk back to our mothers, swimming was one of the first things our fathers taught us how to do.

We played pick-up baseball in parks and fields, road hockey on the street and a lot of other games that involved a considerable amount of running around and jumping off sometimes reasonably high things. What we didn’t do was put on much in the way of protective gear; our parents couldn’t afford it and nobody much thought about it back then.

This isn’t nostalgia for the good old days, it’s just the way things were. If you owned a pair of skates, a hockey stick, a baseball hat and a glove – you were living large. Typically when we were going to play a pick-up game of baseball, we had to wait until the kid who owned the bat came out because almost none of us owned a glove, a ball and a bat. I still remember standing around waiting for the one guy who owned a tennis ball to come out so we could play road hockey.

Kids were supposed to get a little banged up at times – it was considered part of learning not to do stupid and reckless things.

Clearly our parents were bad parents. They had only a modicum of sympathy if we fell off our bikes and while they enrolled us in organized sports, we were expected to play to try and win. Winning wasn’t everything to them but they were as interested in the outcome of the game as we were. Surprisingly, they were quite consoling when we did lose which was probably more often than I like to remember.

We walked to school in good weather and bad rather than taking buses although we did roll our eyes when our fathers would wax poetically about how they had to walk 500 miles every day through wind and snow to get to their tiny one-room schoolhouse.

We took phys-ed in school. Girls wore those clunky gym bloomer outfits and guys wore shorts and tee shirts. We did exercises, played sports and had five minutes to shower after gym class which meant we drip-dried in the next two classes. Girls, for some reason, didn’t have to shower, the lucky buggers.

Our dogs ran loose; typically getting in the way of our road hockey and baseball games or showing whoever was ‘It’ in hide and seek where we were hiding. They chased cars on our streets and pooped on our lawns and you had to be careful where you stepped or you’d be scrapping the sole of your sneakers against the curb for twenty minutes. We wore sneakers back then, not athletic shoes.

God! It was a deprived and dangerous world we lived in.

On Halloween, we went trick or treating with the admonition not to eat anything until we brought it home so that our parents could inspect it. Back then, the truly demented (and there were a few) used to put things like razor blades and straight pins in apples they handed out. It didn’t result in cancelling Halloween or our parents patrolling the streets with us, just a quick check by them when we brought home our loot. Besides, we had our own way of dealing with people like that. We’d fill a paper bag with fresh dog poop and toilet paper, set it on fire on their doorstep and then ring their doorbell; running to hide behind a bush to watch as they came out and stamped on the bag in their slippers.

Culturally insensitive, we participated in Christmas pageants and concerts at school. We played shepherds and wise men, Mary and Joseph. Sometimes our teachers thought it was cute to dress some of us up like cows and sheep for the stable but most of us thought that was pretty corny. We sang Away in a Manager and Little Drummer Boy at Christmas Concerts and even my buddy Simon, who was Jewish, used to sing in the junior Christmas choir with us.

Simon was one of the lucky ones in school and considered quite cool because he got to celebrate both Christmas and Chanukah. Most of us were quite envious although we didn’t much understand what Chanukah actually was but anything that involved getting presents had to be good thing.

Sometimes we got into fights with each other, usually shoving and wrestling matches with the odd wild punch or slap but mostly just acting tough without actually doing much. Occasionally there’d be a rock fight although if you lived on the prairies and had access to it, spear grass was great. If you opened up the stalk, all the five inch shoots that would later be released as seedlings could be extracted.

One end was barbed and the other kind of feathery and those shoots made great little darts to throw at someone who had annoyed you on a particular day.

Like today, we had bullies back then but we learned to deal with them on our own. If you couldn’t outrun them, you banded together and taught a bully by a little laying on of multiple hands that it was better to leave us alone than try to beat us up. We protected each other and when we couldn’t our parents did. They didn’t form committees and hold meetings to discuss the problem, they dropped around to have a chat with the parents of the bully; sometimes somewhat aggressively.

We learned how to make bows and arrows out of willow branches and a kind of zip gun out of sawed off hockey sticks, garter elastic and clothes pins. You could shoot a half a clothes pin about 25’ with one of those suckers.

At Christmas and on our birthdays, our parents bought us chemistry and woodburning sets, board games, Barbie dolls, figure skates,  BB guns, bows and arrows; lawn darts and hunting knives, hockey sticks and hockey skates among other things. Our grandparents bought us socks, new shirts or blouses and underwear.

We were enrolled in Scouts and camped outdoors in winter where we learned how to create lean-tos out of pine boughs and make a fire with wet branches. Girls were enrolled in Brownies and Guides where they learned how to work together as a team and earned merit badges for everything from cooking to sports.

We played Monopoly, Parcheesi, Risk and Sorry which was kind of a cheap version of Parcheesi; girls skipped and  joined us in games like tag and Red Rover. Girls had this weird game where they put a rubber ball in the toe of one of their mother’s stockings and tied the other end of the stocking to their ankle and then somehow got the ball spinning around them along the ground in a circle . They hopped over it every time it passed their feet. Guys never played it – we not only couldn’t figure it out, we could never get the ball going around us in a circle.

Our families had televisions but we seldom watched them even though we had fewer channels but more actual choice. It didn’t mater, we were too busy to watch television. If it was light outside , we were outside.

Sex was a distant mystery for us and didn’t concern us much until we hit puberty at which point it became a fairly significant curiosity for us. It was our parents who taught us about sex until the government decided to introduce Sex Ed in health class where they taught that you could get an STD from toilet seats among other things.

Our parents weren’t always comfortable talking to us about sex but they certainly seemed to understand it better than the government.

Our parents loved us but they didn’t smother us in bubble wrap to keep us safe. They kept an eye on us but they expected us to learn by making mistakes and sometimes getting hurt. They knew the value of learning how to lose at a game and they understood, just as wild animals do. that play is part of how you prepare children for the adult world.

They taught us manners, respect for our elders and laid down rules. They didn’t rely on the advice of experts or parenting books although some did try the Dr. Spock child rearing method for a time. They relied instead on love, discipline and a lot of common sense.

We were taught how to make our beds, how to shine our shoes, iron our clothes and even how to cook. We were expected to help with the dishes because our parents understood that chores were how we learned to take care of ourselves.

Today, we don’t even teach our kids how to operate a bank account or write a check. They apply for credit cards when they’re old enough without benefit of having been taught how to budget or manage their money. We got weekly allowances, if we lucky (and hadn’t broken the rules during the week) and it was expected to last.

And there were rules; lots of them. Curfews extensions were a privilege that was earned and there was discipline if you broke the rules.

Because of the way we were raised, we learned to be careful (at least most of the time), to be tolerant of people who weren’t like us and most of us were pretty fit. The only fat kids we had typically stayed inside rather than coming out to play.

It was not a perfect time and lots of mistakes were made but I feel sorry for kids today. Their lives are organized; at least until they become teens and give their confused parents the middle finger salute. Other kids grow up without any structure at all. It’s like we’ve lost the idea of a happy median.

Kids just don’t just go out and play, they have arranged play dates. Their toys must be CSA safety approved and the family goes nowhere until each child is strapped into their car seat so firmly, they can’t move. They wear helmets and pads to ride their bikes or use their skate boards, are not allowed to play on the road, even on backstreet cul de sacs and they don’t understand why they’re playing soccer when nobody is keeping score. It seems like an awful lot of effort for very little reward to them I’m sure.

We ate junk food – especially if my mother was cooking dinner. She was a dear lady, a great baker but couldn’t cook to save her life or ours. My father did most of the cooking when he got home from work which meant that most of the time we got a balanced meal but on the nights Mom cooked; God alone knew what we were eating.

The thing is that even though we did eat candy and drink soft drinks, we burned it off. We were active because we were allowed to play. We weren’t told how to play, we were simply allowed to go and play.It allowed us to develop our imaginations and we could create a new game at the drop of a hat.

We went to church or temple or to a mosque every week. We thought our Sikh buddies were pretty cool because they got to carry a ceremonial knife and some of them knew how to play this weird game they taught us called cricket. We sang the national anthem to start the school day and we decorated our schools and wore poppies on Remembrance Day. In other words, faith, respect and national pride were part of what we were taught as we grew up.

We lived in neighbourhoods back then. The kids we went to school with were the kids we played with in our neighbourhoods. It made it easier for us to identify strangers from someone who belonged in our neighbourhood.

Today, kids are bused and driven everywhere and they have no sense of community. Their school is way over there and their soccer and hocky, gym, dance and arts classes are somewhere else completely. We buy our homes based on status rather than community, size rather than neighbourhood opportunities for our kids and our families. We move into a neighbourhood but we don’t integrate into the community. Few of us really know very many of our neighbors any more and neither do our kids.

There were no progressive experts analyzing play and directing how we should do things, we simply played and in that way we learned, we satisfied some of our curiosity, burned off a lot of energy and, most important of all, we had fun.

In society’s earnest attempts to protect its children, it has taken away all of the fun and curiosity that comes with being a kid. We have turned them into little whiners and complainers, more intent on getting their own way or spending hours with their video games than with each other.

The concept of children being different than adults is relatively new in terms of human history. Back in the Middle Ages, children were expected to do their share of the family’s work – survival took precedence over play. When the work was done, children and adults played the same games like leap frog and often played them together.

We changed that during the Industrial Revolution with the introduction of child labour laws and mandatory schooling.

The concept of being a child had evolved and along with it, how we treated children. It became all about preparing children for the workforce rather than for life. Now we don’t actually prepare them for much of anything at all. That’s the state’s responsibility in the eyes of many.

Over the years we improved on protection of children and that is always a good thing. But there is a difference between protecting them and smothering them and we, my friends, are smothering children today. Kids now live in a society where all of the fun is being removed from simply learning how to grow up.

It’s a shame because we aren’t doing them any favours; we’re simply educating them to believe that there is no danger if they follow all the rules – we aren’t allowing them to learn how to deal with failure, or danger. We are teaching them to think they can have anything they want simply by demanding it from others and that life owes them.

Bullying is on the increase as is intolerance. Our children are lonely and increasingly feeling isolated without anchors. Teen suicide rates are increasing at an alarming rate. When I was growing up, I never heard of one kid in any community in which I lived taking their own life. Educational literacy is plummeting at precisely the time expectations have become disproportionately unrealistic. But it isn’t our children’s fault; it’s ours.

We are building a society that is failing them because there’s a hard cold reality waiting for them when they leave school – a reality they are not expecting and for which they are unprepared.



© 2013 Maggie’s Bear
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  • RunningWithTheWolves

    I remember my older brothers taking me out to teach me how to, “winter drive.” We would wait until the stores where long closed, (Canadian tire parking lot, ect.) and I learned how to handle a speeding, skidding car on ice.
    There was nothing to hit, just speed and learning how get a car back into control from a skid. It was sheer bliss!
    I plan to teach my daughter the same way, but it will be
    a challenge to find a spot where there are no video camera’s nd I won’t be arrested and charged….. Thanks, bear for the trip down memory lane today. p.s. I think common sense was much more common years ago.

    • http://abearsrant.com thebear

      I’m glad you enjoyed it but it was more than just a nostalgia. We’re failing our kids today because we don’t have time for them and have lost our perspective about what is and isn’t important. As I commented in an earlier comment, we protect them from the evils of keeping score in soccer games while allowing them access to the Internet, them most unregulated and too frequently dangerous places on earth. We give them things rather than our time; enroll them in activities rather than letting them use their imagination to develop their own and live in neighbourhoods where nobody knows anyone. We drive and bus them everywhere and they are growing up ill-prepared for the real world.

  • Alain

    Does this ever bring back memories. I also remember how we loved to ride in the back of an open farm truck bed – bigger than a pickup when we went to another farm to help with haying or afterwards to town for some pop. I also remember my father having quiet a collection of guns in the house with no gun safe etc., and how we were taught from start that they were tools and not to be played with. He taught us how to clean them and the basics of never ever pointing a gun at anything you did not intend to shoot even if you were sure it was not loaded. Even without seat belts few were killed in accidents and the same with gun accidents contrary to the belief now. In short we had both freedom and responsibility that is so lacking now.

    As some have raised the issue of racism at that time I can share my own experience. I cannot recall anyone causing harm to another due to race although there must have been the odd exception. I do recall not buying into the opinions and views of a lot of adults concerning race, including those of my parents. While I knew better than to contradict them, I saw for whatever reason that it was nonsense. Women were also much more respected than now and were able to end unwanted attention from the normal male by a word or if necessary a slap. The modern day myth that women were all submissive then is also rubbish. I had two very independent grandmothers and the same went for my own mother.

    I agree that the main issue is how we have allowed the birth, development and continued growth of the nanny state where there is no end of petty minds to tell us how to live our lives. The loss of respect for individual freedom tied to individual responsibility is the result and the reason for much of the mess we are in today.

  • http://rodcroskery.wordpress.com Rod in Forfar

    Yeah, but…..

    How about the woman I know whose inability to fend off the private practice music teacher when she was twelve left her to a lifetime of failed relationships? Parents today have wised up enough to take normal precautions. At the time if he wore a suit, he was to be trusted.

    How about all of the classmates of mine who died in car crashes before they got out of high school? Our son didn’t lose one of his classmates, by comparison.

    Some of that hovering-parent stuff comes from realizing that young lives are just too precious to waste.

    • http://abearsrant.com thebear

      How about the significant increase in teen suicide today, the increase in child porn online to which we stupidly while expose them while protecting them from keeping score at their soccer game and to pedophiles who prowl the Internet for children like its a buffet luncheon? How about the increase in over medication for ‘disorders’, bullying and kids carrying weapons? For that matter, how about the alarming number of young people being graduated from secondary school in North America who are functionally illiterate and have no geographic knowledge?

      Of course, there were some sick people back then and of course children and adults got hurt. Welcome to life. Terrible things happen but trying to bubble wrap children rather than teaching them isn’t working. It is creating a generation that is naive, dependent, self-absorbed, overweight and increasingly illiterate and lazy. It isn’t their fault. It’s ours because we haven’t got the time or the common sense to raise them properly anymore.

      • http://rodcroskery.wordpress.com Rod in Forfar


        I made a career of observing young people and doing what I could to rewire their minds. I remember each of them as individuals, rather than as manifestations of a stereotype.

        Over that career I lost one boy to suicide and one seventeen-year-old girl to a predator. Both catastrophes occurred before the advent of computers and pornography.

        I retired on ’04 so my views may be out of date, but I’d have to say that computers and the Internet by and large have made kids smarter and more articulate than before, though with shorter attention spans and little tolerance for B.S.

        I suppose this intolerance could be seen as entitlement, but if there’s no good reason for the restriction, why have it?

        My English classroom was most often in a computer lab, so I saw first hand how kids handled the Internet. When the first airliner hit the WTC, my Grade 12s had a live feed on every screen in the room before the second airliner struck. Their worlds had been smashed together: they’d already seen the WTC destroyed in three films. They were used to grooving to the beautific spectacle of destruction on film. But this time those wiggling bodies were real people dying and it deeply distressed them.

        Not once did I encounter pornography on a student’s computer. By Grade 9 kids had learned enough about how to deal with the Internet not to cause public embarrassment.

        So I guess my point is that many of those bubble wrap kids are damned fine people, good learners with good hearts and quite interesting to an observer.


        • http://abearsrant.com thebear

          Computers and the Internet are remarkable tools but I would debate that they have made our kids, or anyone smarter. The sum of the world’s knowledge is available to us through the Internet but we squander this powerful resource spending more time on Facebook continually posting cute pictures of animals with supposedly profound quotes attached to them. Most of the people who quote Mark TWain, Stephen Hawking or any of the many others whose quotes they pick up at some website that offers quotes, have never read any of the works of the authors they quote.

          Our kids aren’t smarter, they like society are dumbing down.

          They are naive, self-righteous, have an unwarranted sense of entitlement and in too many cases are too functionally illiterate to be successful either in post-secondary or the workforce. They’re clever, not smart and I would suggest that what you saw in a computer classroom is not representative of what they actually do.

          Teen suicides are increasing at an overwhelming rate because our young people are rudderless. They were never taught the fundamental values most of us were taught when we were children. They are the ‘state-raised’ generation and the state doesn’t make a very good parent.

  • Nicola Timmerman

    Actually that should read Negroes, though at the time it would have been a pool for “colored” if it was marked at all. The air force and its schools were of course integrated which caused some tension as the local junior high very reluctantly accepted the air force kids. The base brought much business to the area (we air force brats sat at separate tables at lunch of course!).

    Sorry to see fewer and fewer kids in boy and girl scouts. The local Hawkesbury group is about to disband, faute de leaders and interested kids. When the Hunger Games arrive, not too many kids will know how to survive outdoors, not to mention hunt and fish!

  • bertie

    Who could imagine kids laid in back windows of cars when out for rides.Myself I lived in Eastview (Vanier Now) ,A part of Ottawa..Across the street from my house was a railway crossing where trains passed slowly and we as young kids would hop on for rides down to New Edinburgh for a swim and do the same thing for the return trip hours later.Dangerous ?you bet ,but we didn’t think so.Week-ends were spent out doors ,out at 8 AM and back home by dark.And our parents did not worry about us being kidnapped or anything was going to happen to us.They gave us a little credit for having brains enough to go to a neighbor if we were in need of help,and we were always in a gang so we could protect ourselves from bullies.We enjoyed ourselves. Sundays church for the family,but we found excuses not to attend,because if we did go we had to dress up.Never missed the bean supper,s and sleigh rides on Friday nights in the winter.Many memories,but I really feel they were the best of times.

  • Nicola Timmerman

    I think the guys had showers because they stink more! Good, those gym bloomers were ugly. The only part of gym I liked was the folk dancing, mainly square dancing.

    I remember going missing for hours on my own, possibly because our house packed on a huge field and we were on an air force base so supposedly protected. My brother and I used to dress up up superheroes and sneak around the air force base also for hours.

    I do remember my brother coming back from boy scout camp in 1960’s Missouri and talking about the swimming pool for whites and the other for Negros. So there was some downside to the good old days.

    • http://abearsrant.com thebear

      There were lots of downsides. Racism being only one of them. There were gender stereotypes that prevented women from getting ahead in the business world, corporal punishment in schools and as much bullying as there is today. This post isn’t intended to present a case that life then was better than it is now – just different and as a result, we were more independent; not only as children but as adult individuals within the society. We didn’t rely on the state for everything and we didn’t run whining to the state every time somebody hurt our feelings. We learned the futility of that the first time we went crying to our parents.

      Like you, I grew up on military bases. Discipline was swift and often severe but we had an incredible amount of freedom. We lived, for a time, at a base on the edge of the prairie which was so flat, our parents let us run for miles because they could still see us from the kitchen window.

      I think the problem today compared to then is that we spend a great deal of money and effort to provide everything from protection to ‘things’ and activities for our children but fail to realize that being a child is a learning experience. Part of that learning should be structured but part of it should be exploring the small world around them and we no longer allow that.

  • Steve

    This is so true. I have very fond memories as a kid even though we had so little. I now look at movements such as occupy and weep for our future.

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