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Back to the Beginning
Okay, it's 7:11 am on Saturday, and given that I've had severe stomach problems this week, I'm replacing the pipe and beer/Bailey's with tea and rice. But I'm back.
My sister and I were latchkey kids. This is a term that's probably alien to a lot of younger people nowadays, as it seems that CYF is intent on taking kids away from parents who--horror of horrors--leave them at home alone nowadays. But from the time I was about eleven, I guess, both my parents worked, and Sara and I walked to school longer than that. I was "in charge" of my sister, who is two years younger, during those unsupervised times, but to be honest, Sara has always been beyond her years so she didn't need much in the way of keeping en eye on.
Our elementary school, Our Lady of Grace, was about a twenty-minute walk from our house, and did require crossing a busy street which sometimes (but not always) had a crossing guard.
When we came home from school, we were alone for about an hour or two until Mom got home from work (she worked in the accounting offices of a succession of department stores). So we weren't alone for very long, but the point is, we never got killed or burned down the house, and I don't particularly consider us "neglected." Were we a part of the 80's TV generation? Sure. But my parents did not neglect us--my mother hated the 80's buzz term "quality time"; she felt that quantity was far more important than quality, and I agree. Every moment a parent spends with their child is quality time, and the more the better.
So it was, we'd come home from school and basically plop down in front of the TV to watch cartoons until Mom and Dad got home. Or, actually, I would. I don't remember Sara ever having been as into cartoons as me. I think she played with her Barbie dolls--often having to invent elaborate storylines to explain why I had snuck into her room and placed the wrong Barbies in compromising positions with the wrong Ken dolls.
I'm not going to say there weren't accidents. The first time they ever left us alone for an extended period was when they decided we were old enough to handle being alone while they were at their Thursday bowling league. Microwave popcorn had just come out and was a great novelty. To me, as an 11- or 12-year-old kid, it was popcorn in a paper bag that you put into the microwave. To my 11-year-old mind, I could easily do that. So I dumped a bunch of popcorn into a paper shopping bag (yes, a shopping bag), and stuck it in the microwave. Sara likes to claim I put it in for 12 minutes. It was actually more like 7.
In any case, the bag caught on fire after several minutes.
To her credit, Sara at the time was far more cool-headed than me, and she had just learned in safety class that week that you don't throw water on an electrical fire...so she stopped me from doing that.
Instead, I called the bowling alley and asked for my parents. When my Dad got on the phone, I shouted "FIRE!"
They were home in record time. The bowling alley was about 10, 15 minutes away. They made it home in 4 minutes or so, flat. Still wearing their bowling shoes.
Needless to say, I was grounded for that one.
Talking of fire, like most young boys, I went through a firebug phase as a kid. This started around the age of 12 and lasted until about fourteen. Here's another place where I illustrate the difference between Then and Now. Because here's a list of some of the things we used to do:
1. We made bombs out of gunpowder, gasoline, and sawdust, which we would bury in the ground at the Dirt Pile and light up, then run. They'd go off and make glorious craters.
2. We would build cars out of Legos, which we'd sit G.I. Joe figures in. We'd then wire bottle rockets up to the cars and let them rip. The carnage, as my friend Pete would say, was glorious.
3. We made a rocket launcher that would fire bottle rockets or "D" size model rocket engines, using PVC pipe, screen door screen, a 9-volt battery, and some wires. And yes, we shot each other with it.
Nowadays? Any kid doing these things would be arrested and charged with terrorism, arson, or any number of horrible felony crimes. Now, do I endorse kids doing these things? Of course not. We were stupid and quite frankly lucky nobody lost a limb or got killed. But do I consider myself a criminal and a danger to society? Not remotely. We were kids playing stupid kids' games...doing things because we knew we weren't supposed to.
My piece de resistance, however, was the time I accidentally set my back yard on fire.
Mom and dad were away, I must've been around 13 or so. I got the bright idea (why, I couldn't begin to tell you) to light a glass of gasoline on fire. So I filled a whiskey glass with gas, and set it on the ground. I thought I was being smart by creating a wick, so I ran a shoelace soaked in alcohol from the glass. I then took a lighter to the shoelace. I learned the hard way about gas fumes, when the moment the lighter struck, the entire thing went up in a fireball.
It was on pavement; had I left it go it probably would've burned itself out pretty quickly with no harm done. But being a kid, I panicked. I ran into the house--remembering this time that you shouldn't put water on a gas fire and that you should smother it--I grabbed a large towel which I threw over the glass.
The towel burst into flames and was consumed in seconds.
I picked up the glass (again, I have no clue what possessed me to do so) and then realized I was holding a glass of flaming gasoline. I heard a voice shouting at me to get rid of it, and on instinct turned towards the voice and simultaneously launched the glass.
Fortunately, Sara rolled a critical success on her dodge roll and managed to evade the fireball coming at her. Again, the way she likes to tell it is that I maliciously hurled a glass of gasoline at her. In truth I wasn't thinking maliciously--or at all, in fact. I just wanted to get rid of the ball of death in my hand, and happened to spin towards her voice as I hurled it.
In any case, the back yard is now on fire.
We ran into the house, and got the fire extinguisher, which we used to, well, extinguish the flames.
So now it looks like it snowed in the back yard, in the middle of July.
Next step: we're now out there with brooms (and God bless Sara for helping me, even though I'd just thrown fire at her) trying to disperse the white foam. We succeeded, but of course did not succeed in removing the scorch marks from all over the grass. To their credit, my folks never said anything until years later when I was telling the story, and they said they'd known right away. Why, then, did they not punish me/us? Really, it wasn't necessary. They figured (correctly) that I'd learned my lesson, and honestly, my dad did way worse than that when he was a kid.
However, by and large we had no major incidents, and the house where I grew up still stands today. Did we get into mischief? Oh, absolutely. Some of it really stupid and dangerous mischief. Did we deserve to be arrested and charged for it? No. And this, my friends, is part of the problem with society today--we're too eager to criminalize kids for being kids. Kids are not yet fully developed people, like it or not. They are still governed on many levels by their id, their base desires. They fight, they seek pleasure, they go after what they want to go after. Criminalizing these behaviors, in my humble, is creating crime and mental/emotional problems where before none existed. Tell a kid he's a criminal or got some kind of mental disorder enough times, and guess what? You're not doing him any good, you instead are feeding into that behavior.
Sometimes I hate our current society. Often, actually, I hate it.
Go on to the next entry.