I Wish They Were Lucky

When I was a kid, I pretty much went where I wanted. My parents never asked and I never told. As long as I was home before dark, no one cared. I could have been dealing blackjack at a blind pig in downtown Detroit for all they knew.

Every kid I knew lived like that. We pedaled our bikes barefoot, jumped off them and let them fall on the gravel. At night, we washed our hands and watched the water make clean streaks on our filthy arms. Nothing smelled better than the wild and the sun on the backs of our hands.

We weren’t afraid and we weren’t careful. I don’t remember a single time of being afraid of an adult when I was a child unless it was of my father’s deep preoccupation with the welfare of his Ben Franklin Store. Adults to me were neither here nor there. They ignored us. They let us be weeds.

Yesterday in our town, a kid playing at the neighborhood playground was shot in the head, caught in the middle of a gun battle between two men. In the paper today, her father said she was brain dead and then later said he hoped that she would pull through. He’s hoping against hope. Who wouldn’t be?

Now every parent in this girl’s neighborhood is laying their own body across their child’s. There is no safety. There is just danger. And fear. The parents are afraid. The children are afraid. They will never ever be free of that.

God, I’m thinking. Why was I given such a gift? To not be afraid of people? To not have to be afraid of people? Why could I be feral, pretend to be a wild horse, careen my bike down a dirt road and smash on the brakes to make the dust fly? And what has that meant for me as a person that I wasn’t afraid of people hurting me? And what does it mean for children now that they have to be afraid of people and they have to figure out how to grow up with their mothers forever throwing their bodies over them to protect them from everyone and everything, even light and energy and things that would make them happy and free?

Once I ran a planning session about youth recreation in which I asked each community leader to draw a picture of their youth and label it with one word. The police chief drew a picture of himself on a bicycle on a hill overlooking a town and he labeled his picture: lucky. In presenting his art, he described the wonderful freedom of his childhood, the abandon of it, how he rode his bike into the hills and was free, all the time free.

No child now will even know what that is.

It isn’t just nostalgia. It’s a grievous loss.

A whole generation of children growing up worrying about what happens next. That’s not the stuff of childhood. It shouldn’t be.

That’s for grown-ups to figure out.


6 Comments on “I Wish They Were Lucky

  1. Reblogged this on Red's Wrap and commented:

    This is a repost. I went looking for posts talking about luck and found this one. We had it good – those of us who were able to grow up without worry. We were lucky.

  2. Seeing this made me think of an article I read (late of course) in the Atlantic. I’ll include a link at the end of this comment. The point made is that we need to find ways to let our kids be the way you were as a kid, risks and all. Otherwise they don’t develop key skills and confidence. On the other hand, if they are die then none of that matters. Anyway. I’m glad I was a kid when I was. And I’m glad I don’t have to worry about a small child any more. Here’s the link: http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/03/hey-parents-leave-those-kids-alone/358631/

  3. Gah, you made me tear up at my desk. I remember when I was in middle school, we would have city wide manhunt games in our local Metroparks (which are city-spanning huge areas of wilderness in the middle of suburban and retail areas) that lasted all day long, until the streetlights came on. We knew to not talk to strangers, but we were most definitely on the look out for someone from the other team more than anything else. My son is now 16 years old, and we live in a decent neighborhood, but if he walks to a friend’s house I can’t relax until I get the text that says, hey, I’m at Chris’s or what have you. I remember watching the news coverage of the Columbine shootings when the kid was still running around in diapers with a pacifier, just looking at him and back at the tv, already horrified for what was to come. It is, for certain, a grievous loss.

  4. Love your descriptions. The line about the clean streaks down the arms brought back a lot of memories. We live where kids can still be free, luckily. Where they can still see the Milky Way at night, rock climb, swim in the river, build camps in the woods. They do have to watch out for wild animals and they do have to be self sufficient out in the woods, so maybe they are not completely fear-less. At least it’s a different type of fear than what you describe. However, after all that wilderness freedom, my son, now 18, has chosen to live in the city where friends are and where he can walk to a movie instead of drive over an hour one way. Where, as he says, he can be spontaneous. Where, as I say, I now have new fears. Back to your post though, you are so right that this is a grievous loss.

  5. One of the reasons why I think wilderness programs are so very good for inner city kids. It’s a nirvana they didn’t know existed . . .

  6. I grew up just as you did. I hear what you say. But here’s a but: where I live now, there are no bullets (yet) and there is no real reason for kids not to live as we did (outside the lack of adults around, always, just in case, and outside of lack of places for kids to go where they will be tolerated.). The fear parents hold here, mostly for stranger pedophile snatchers, is irrational in ways that fear of bullets in some neighborhoods is not. The fear of what happens next is about jobs and the environment, that sort of thing. And also for us to begin figuring out.

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