I’m kind of a freak about certain things. I don’t like my son drinking anything other than breast milk or water. I get twitchy if we skip veggies (I don’t consider corn and potatoes as acceptable veggies, Dear Husband!) two dinners in a row. I try to avoid processed foods. I worry about pesticide residue on produce. I don’t like driving fast, vehicles with less than four wheels, or dare devil stunts. I’m big on car seats and helmets, and skeptical of medications and chemicals – doctor recommended or not. This is just the beginning of a long, long list of stuff on my worry reel. If you could look back and see how I grew up, you’d be shocked that I’m worried about anything. My parents are fantastic parents, but some of the stuff I experienced in childhood makes me wonder how I survived. A lot of it I think is shared by my peers. There were certain things that hadn’t yet been recognized as dangerous in the 1980’s and 90’s. Most of this was normal for that time. But here is a little list of stuff that I did that I would probably never let my kids do.
1. The Fry Daddy
My Dad went on a frying kick. For years. He had a deep fryer called a Fry Daddy and he loaded it up with Crisco and fried EVERYTHING. We ate it up. What is better than fried stuff with salt all over it? How none of us have high blood pressure or diabetes yet, I don’t know.
2. Raw Hot Dogs
I used to eat hotdogs cold, right out of the package. Not too crazy right? Oh yeah, I’d dip them in the sugar bowl…repeatedly. Because nitrates and sugar go hand in hand, right? I do not recall ever being told not to do this.
3. Pop Only (That’s Soda for my West Coast friends!)
We drank pop constantly. Not once a week or one a day. We drank pop and only pop. By the two liter, with every meal and in between. Coke mostly, once in awhile Sprite; which I thought was “healthy” pop because that’s what Mom would make us drink if it was late and she didn’t want the caffeine in Coke to keep us awake. Once in a great while we’d drink milk (long before hormones and antibiotics were a concern) but I never remember being made to drink water, EVER.
4. Carseats? Whatever.
Every year we drove from Michigan to Rhode Island for our family vacation. We drove through Michigan, Canada, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and into Rhode Island most of the time pulling a trailer full of camping equipment. And all three of us kids sat in the back of the truck…not the backseat…the BACK. There was a top on the back of my parents’ pick up and they put a mattress in the bed of the truck with a few blankets. We had a boom-box, books, notepads, markers, snacks and extra stuff that wouldn’t fit in the trailer. And we stayed back there the entire trip! No seatbelts, no booster seats, just floating around having an awesome time. The drive was seriously one of the most fun parts of the vacation, but I don’t know how we are still alive.
5. Complete Freedom
Once we moved to Northern Michigan from Detroit, I think the big open rural spaces charmed my parents into being completely carefree and trusting. We were allowed to go wherever we wanted. We would take off on our bikes or on foot and go into the woods, down the road, through all kinds of property that didn’t belong to us and return home when we got hungry. Hours, and hours, and hours of wandering. We met new people, went into their houses, played with their kids. We scurried over bodies of water on fallen log bridges, explored deer hunting coops and found all kinds of wild life. There was only one time that my Mom came looking for us and she found us over a mile down the road having lunch with our new friends. Since that time turned out ok, she never worried again. There were no cell phones for us to check in, and had we been abducted or mauled by bears, our parents would have had no way to tell the police where to start looking. “Well, they left here about six hours ago officer…I think they went that way?”
6. Exposed Electrical Work
My parents gutted our farm house and rebuilt it themselves. It is pretty impressive. They just kind of did it little by little as the years went by and figured out how to do plumbing, electrical, flooring and drywall. They did a great job. However, for a looonnngg time we had no switch plates, or even walls in many rooms of the house. There were wires hanging out everywhere. I can’t tell you how many shocks we got fumbling for a light switch in the dark. Your finger slips in there and you almost end up on your ass.
7. Teach Yourself to Swim!
When we went to Rhode Island, we stayed on a lake (The Pond. They call them Ponds on the East coast) and we had total access to the water whenever we wanted to go in. Mom and Dad swam a little too, but not all day like we did. Many times, I’d be down there alone. Swimming around in water thirty feet deep in places. We never had swimming lessons, we never had strictly enforced life jacket rules. We just knew not to drown. I taught myself to swim in that water by wearing a lifejacket while swimming out to a dock anchored in the very, very deep water. I climbed onto the dock, TOOK OFF the life jacket and jumped in. I swam around and around the dock, grabbing on when I needed to and eventually I made it around without having to hold on at all. There, I could swim. I later taught my little sister how to swim in that very same pond.
8. San Diego. Oh, San Diego.
For my sixteenth birthday my parents let me go to San Diego with my fifteen year old cousin and her best friend, also fifteen. We stayed with my other cousin who was twenty-five at the time. She lived on the beach. She worked, and surfed and had a pretty packed social life. We spent three weeks doing everything and anything we wanted to do. Smoking, drinking, meeting guys, we pierced body parts and spent the night in a car on a beach in Mexico after clubbing all night. What the Hell were my parents thinking? They thought I was a responsible good kid. And I was. But I was still sixteen for Christ’s sake. Most fun time of my life, but I do not know how we weren’t raped, murdered or sold into human trafficking. I would laugh directly in my son’s face if he asked to do something like this.
9. I Never Owned a Helmet
I roller skated, rode a bike, rode horses, rode on friends’ four wheelers and other gadgets and never wore a helmet. I actually thought helmets were ridiculous when they became popular around my teenage years. I started seeing little kids wearing them when all they were doing was riding a bike with training wheels. Lame! Now, as a parent, knowing the kind of trauma to a child’s brain that is possible from colliding with a vehicle, a telephone pole, or even the ground is enough to keep me awake at night. If it has wheels (or hooves) and MY kid wants to ride it, he is wearing a helmet. Maybe two.
10. Fire and Firearms
My parents are hunters. My dad is big into guns and the outdoors and living in the country. I learned how to shoot by the time I was eight. They have always had guns all over the house. Not hand guns and automatic weapons, but rifles and shotguns everywhere. They were not under lock and key with the ammunition in a separate locked box, they were propped up in the corner of the living room. We knew not to touch them without an adult’s help, but we knew we could touch them anytime we wanted if we did ask an adult for help. So, there was no mystery. We never laid a finger on a gun when we weren’t supposed to. We also had a woodstove in the middle of our dining room that burned all winter long. I burned my hand on it one time when I was really little and my sister melted her nightgown to the side of it one Christmas Eve, but otherwise I don’t think we suffered any major injuries. I don’t turn on our fireplace for fear of my toddler diving head first into it, and I never let him walk around in the kitchen when I have the oven on. That door gets hot! I do not currently have a gun, but if I do end up having one it will only be after everyone in my household under goes training and gun safety and it won’t be hanging out in the corner of my living room. Between fire and firearms, you’d think one of us would be dead or mutilated, but no!
11. Self Medicating
My parents had a medicine cabinet loaded with bottles of pills and liquids and who knows what else. Some of it didn’t even have labels. We used to help ourselves to things like Tums (they tasted good), Chloroseptic (It made your mouth numb if you sprayed a bunch of it in there!), and Absorbine Horse Liniment (NOT the human formula, the horse formula.) We just tasted and sprayed and rubbed on all kinds of medication with reckless abandon. We never had our stomachs pumped or called poison control to my knowledge. Though, this may explain why my sisters and I are a little…out there.
How unsafe was your childhood? Would you allow your kids to do the things you did?