Growing up, neighborhoods were also playgrounds

There’s nothing most kids like more than a road to nowhere. When I was 5, we moved to a house on a dead-end street. Living on a cul-de-sac was definitely the end all, be all. Our block was chock full of kids who played kickball in the street for hours without the interruption of traffic.

The neighborhood girls liked to visit “The Pink Lady” (she lived in a pink house) who would paint our toenails and let us watch “Bonanza” reruns with her. “The Blue Lady” was not as nice, but she grew beautiful blue hydrangeas to match her house and, if you caught her in a good mood, she would let us paddle around her backyard fountain in a tiny blow-up kayak.

Most days, all the kids between the ages of 4 and 12 roamed around the neighborhood together. I guess we went inside pretty near every house within a couple of blocks during summer months. Even so, there wasn’t a lot of checking in with grown-ups … except the ice cream man and the little old ladies named after the color of their houses. A few kids were actually banned from their homes during the daylight hours. One dad worked nights. In the day while he was asleep, his six kids couldn’t come home. We all ran tippy-toe past that house. Believe me, we didn’t want to wake him up!

I really can’t recall any parents who even remotely resembled the “helicopter parents” we hear so much about these days. I know they existed, but in much, much smaller numbers. About a year ago, I read about a woman who was arrested and her child taken from her because she left her toddler in her car while she ran 30 feet to put money in a Salvation Army bell ringer’s bucket with her other two daughters.

Were we neglected back then? In some ways, maybe, but at times I feel a little bit sorry for what childhood has become … a bit more like a hectic turnpike than a leisurely cul-de-sac.