Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
The world was a far different place when I was a child than it is for so many children today. I’m not saying it was better, just different. As a child, my sister and I were allowed out to play in the morning after 9 a.m. For our friends in the neighborhood it was the same. There were only a few rules. They were:
1. Be back home in time for supper.
2. Be polite.
3. If we were going somewhere we were to let our mothers know.
4. Take care of our own stuff because there would be no more to replace it.
Other than those four rules, we were free to run, jump, play, explore the woods, ride a bike, play Cowboys and Indians, catch bugs or toads, play hopscotch, explore the sewers or find a shady tree to sit under and play card games or read a book obtained on those bi-monthly trips to the library. We knew our neighbors and we’d bet marbles or pennies to see if Mrs. Movenna would still be in her bathrobe at noon or if Mrs. Stucci would have her false teeth in that day, delighting in the change in her face when she left them out. We also knew that if we were out of line, any one of those neighbors would be letting our parents know about it too.
The lives of my grandchildren and the children of my younger friends revolve around daycare, after-school care, the YMCA, play dates and school. They are not free to spend the day just wandering, exploring, looking under rocks, climbing trees or playing in the park. Supervision is required to protect young lives from predatory adults roaming the land. Other than perhaps those immediately adjacent to their homes, neighbors are nameless. It’s sad, but entirely understandable. When I think of the freedom to enjoy the places our curiosity and imagination took past generations I feel a pang of regret over the confines the present days require. I expect though that somehow they will have their own amazing adventures that will give them good things to remember as they look back over the times of their lives.
One thing that has not changed is the fact that children are still allowed to read whenever they wish. Reading is still as much the key to education and any kind of worldly success as it has been for past generations, whether born to the soil or émigrés. Reading can satisfy any curiosity, provide escapes from the mundane or provide a sort of voyeuristic experience into the lives and times of other people both real and figments of an author’s imagination.
Sometimes I worry that kids don’t read enough, that they are missing a life-changing and memorable experience especially when I see cars equipped with small television screens so that youngsters can watch movies instead of reading or taking in the scenery. I know, I know, I sound like some old fuddy duddy, don’t I? I’ve nothing against technology or new things. But movies do limit imaginations as children listen to words or watch pictures of someone else’s perception of what the story says, and I worry that they don’t have the freedom of exploring their own lively and wonderful imaginations.
Maybe I worry for nothing, though. One afternoon last week I was sitting at my desk in my office watching the world saunter by for a few minutes as I pondered the report that was due by day’s end. A woman bearing a boodle of beach bags, an umbrella and sand chair was heading to the beach on the bay two blocks away. She was accompanied by a young teenager who was primping in the small mirror she held in her hand, a small boy of about six crowing excitedly about what he was going to build in the sand and a girl of about 11, oblivious to everything save for the book in which she was so engrossed. I watched the girl, feeling her connection with her book. Though it’s not a good thing in this day to be “situationally” unaware—the mother, thankfully, would look back with a fond grin as she kept tabs on the progress of her young chick—I was excited knowing that there will always be readers of the sort this girl was, unaware of the rest of the world and totally immersed in the book, lost in her imagination.
Yes, the world is different, or perhaps not really, we just know so much more about it, than we did when I was young. Yet imagination still thrives even under a mom’s watchful eye and there are plenty of books to grab a young reader’s mind and heart and to get lost in. I’m looking forward to reading columns like this in 30 years written by folks who are, today, the age of my oldest granddaughter and the beach-bound 11-year-old. Since I have a great future as an old lady down the road, it’s nice to know there’s something to which I might look happily forward.
At age 10, Anne realized she was never going to get to be Miss America since reading a book was not an acceptable talent. So she went on to get a job and raise a family. Along the way, she fixed meals, picked up toys, helped with homework, and collected a drawer full of rejection slips for her “great American novel.” It was not all bad, however, since she ended up wallpapering a closet with them. She currently designs and creates greeting cards for her tiny company, The Frog Prints, LLC, and also works full-time as a Training Specialist. Anne is currently tethered to reality by a loving spouse, two dogs, one cat and the occasional hurricane that blows through Florida, although falling headlong and happily into a book is still her favorite “talent.” She can be reached at