I often wish my son could have the same kind of childhood I had.
I remember summers spent riding my bike with the neighborhood kids from sun-up to sun-down, covering miles and miles of countryside, stopping to wade in a creek or get into some kind of trouble along the way – and my parents were none the wiser.
At least, that’s what I thought.
I grew up in the rural area outside of Rochester. For those of you who have never been, it is definitely “the country.” In some areas, there are miles and miles of corn fields and apple orchards.
I specifically remember a few summers when I must have been around the 10- to 12-year-old range – old enough to be left to my own devices but not yet interested in boys and trips to the mall – when my friends and I had some experiences that were straight up out of the “Stand By Me” and “Now and Then” movies.
In my younger years, we lived near a T-bone intersection and there were a few houses clustered there, all with kids. Some were a few years older, like my sister, and some were my age or younger. Our parents all let us house-jump depending on what we wanted to do that day. So, one morning we might have been at our house swimming, then we might have migrated to another house to play on someone’s swing set.
But also, we would ride our bikes past the cluster of civilization and down a few miles toward the creek that flowed under the hardly-traveled road. We would kick off our flip-flops (yes, I mastered the art of riding a bike with “thongs” on my feet) and wade in the water, picking out crayfish.
We would also sometimes run through the cornfields surrounding our houses that, in the early spring, were not yet growing corn and instead were filled with face-high weeds that would leave whip marks on our arms and legs and burdocks stuck to our clothing and in our hair.
Sometimes we would be gone all day. That is not an exaggeration; if a neighbor’s mom was serving up sandwiches for all the kids, then we didn’t go back home until dinnertime.
We would come back home at dusk, sweaty, sunburned, itchy, dirty, and my mom would ask, “What on Earth have you been doing all day?”
When we got older, we moved into townhouses that were in the center of town, so we were more in the suburbs and less in the country, but the shenanigans were much the same. There were a bunch of pre-teens who lived in the complex and some days we would walk into town and get candy and other junk at the drug store for mere cents.
Other times we would go hang out at the trestle bridge – an abandoned railroad bridge on the outskirts of town that my parents forbid us to go to – and skip rocks in the water, climb on the underside of the rusted, rotted-out beams, and just loiter for no good reason.
One summer, a contractor was building new condos on the other side of the complex and it was as if Walt Disney himself had built a playland for us. Again, all of our parents forbid us from playing on the construction site, but – absent any parenting all day long – we were all over it.
There were these huge triangular roof frames that were bound together and, upside-down, were the perfect teeter-totter. We would all stand on one side so it would go down, and then all but one of us would run to the other side and fling the one left standing up into the air.
Someone always got hurt.
One time I was walking along the cinderblocks that had been placed as part of the foundation, acting like it was some sort of balance beam, and my foot slipped through the one of the big openings and my leg went down to about mid-shin. It left a huge gash on my leg and hurt like a you-know-what.
It immediately started turning purple and blue, and the one neighbor boy thought he could see bone – but no way was I going home to face the wrath of my mother. Instead, I sucked it up and hoped it would look better by the time I went home for the night.
It looked much, much worse.
I came limping in the door that evening and immediately I heard, “Holly Suzanne Toal, what happened to you?!”
“What? Nothing. Why?”
“What happened to your leg?”
“Oh, this? I just tripped. I’m fine.”
“Were you playing on the construction site.”
She gave me the eyes.
“No. I swear!”
She gave me the whole face.
“Seriously! I wasn’t.”
Then she just turned and walked away. I guess my punishment was the scar I still have on my right shin.
As crazy as it sounds, that’s the stuff I don’t want my son to miss. I want him to be out in the sun all day long, riding his bike and running around with his friends, getting into mischief – the innocent kind, not the kind of trouble kids find themselves in these days.
I want him getting a few scars and telling me a few lies, when I know dang well what he was up to.
I want him to be carefree for as long as he can be.
Holly Crocco is editor of the Putnam County Times/Press and mother of a 4-year-old. She can be reached at email@example.com.