Parenting is wonderful — all those opportunities for guilt. Here’s one that’s been worrying me recently:
My boys don’t get a chance to run wild with their friends in the afternoons after school like my sister and I did. When we came home from school (in the 70s — when the sun always shone etc etc) we’d pretty much go straight back out to play with the kids on our street; we’d be in and out of each others’ houses and we wouldn’t stop playing until someone’s mum (normally ours) called us in for supper.
When my boys come home (after the after-school clubs like Judo and Fencing and Swimming etc), they might have a friend or two from school or nursery over — and they always have each other to play with — but (a) it’s not casual and normal, it has to be arranged between parents, (b) it’s always the same friends, (c) there’s always a parent in the background and when things get shouty/ tearful, we normally get involved.
Which is all good. I like my boys’ friends and right now (especially for the four-year old) I’m happy to be involved when the playing goes a bit awry. BUT I have been nostalgic for my own kind of experience as a child, and this hasn’t been helped by a course I’m doing (because I’m That Kind of Parent) called Raising Confident Children. It has only just started but there is an emphasis on allowing children space to play with others — not always those they go to school with — in parent-free (or parent-lite) environments so that they can learn about how kids interact when they’re free to do and say what they want, not when someone’s mum is in the next room listening for signs of discontent.
Anyway. I need to do something about it — I just don’t know what yet.
Related to all this is that I recently re-met one of the boys we used to play with in our street (his daughter now goes to the same nursery as my youngest). He was three years older than us and wonderful — funny and wild and truly insane. We were utterly in love with him and convinced he was invulnerable (he needed to be — he did really crazy things like lying down in the road and only scrambling up when a car got really close). He was a major part of our (remembered) freedom to do exceptionally stupid things in the name of being kids.
So, we were talking and remembering the stuff we did, and he asked me if I remembered that our next door neighbour had used to beat his son (another of the boys we played with) with a switch or sometimes a belt unless he instantly obeyed him. I hadn’t known — or I hadn’t remembered. It always happened when they were inside. And then we talked about the other boys on the street — turns out there wasn’t one in the group of kids we played with whose father didn’t hit him regularly, and sometimes it was proper, alcohol-fueled beatings.
It makes me sad that the funny, wild boys we played with had such a grim thing to go home to, and that we never knew. It makes me sad that all that energy and imagination ended up in trouble with the police, dropping out of school early, in one case even with a prison term.
So. I guess that while I am nostalgic for the 70s, and for all the freedom we had, there’s a lot that has improved since then.