Childhood was different in the ‘80s — and I’m sure every era has their own flavor of that sentiment, but it’s particularly true of those who grew up before the internet kept everyone constantly connected.
My own childhood was unique in that I grew up on Marco Island in the ‘80s, offering the interesting dichotomy of being closely connected to everyone else on the island, while oblivious about most of the rest of the outside world.
When you’re raised in such a small space, you know everybody. That interconnectedness allowed a sense of safety and freedom; our parents weren’t concerned about kidnapping, since any unusual car that came over the bridge was noticed and watched. They weren’t even overly concerned about how or where we spent our days, since it only took a phone call or two to ascertain where we had been seen last, and in which direction we were heading.
It was a true “be home when the street lights come on” environment, full of jumping into pools, playing on beaches, building ramshackle tree houses and using our imaginations endlessly to create new places to go and people to be. Our social network was built in, it came with the territory and when we left the island to attend upper level education, we were often classified as snobs when the reality was that we had known each other so well since preschool that we didn’t seek others out because we weren’t looking for a place to fit in; we’d always had one.
Every business was owned by a friend’s parents — from the ice cream shop to the island gym, and every weekend was spent on a sandbar, with each and every cooler available to search through for popsicles or soda and every boat a potential dive platform.
I recently returned to the island to house sit; a house I had grown up in, that had been passed down from my best friend’s parents to her own growing family. It felt like home and the nostalgia had all of the coziness of a well worn quilt. I was so excited to share it with my own kids.
I told them of the games she and I used to play; tying streamers to ceiling fans and making up stories about costume jewelry found in an old box. I showed them the tree that I remembered as much bigger, the one we built precarious treehouse-like structures in out of plywood and rusty nails, with no adult supervision. I pointed out the golf course on which I had tried unsuccessfully for years to teach her to cartwheel on and the 7-11 that had witnessed everything from chocolate milk purchases to illicit attempts to buy wine coolers through the years.
Finally I took them to Indian Hill, a short, steep spot that would make your stomach drop if you drove over it at the right speed — something that entertained us endlessly as teenagers with new licenses.
Maybe my stories were a little too good, because the reality paled in comparison in their opinions.
“Oh boy, guys, we’re going to hit this 51-foot hill and then go hang out at the 7-11 before we go tape some streamers to the fan,” my 13-year-old teased.
“You had the saddest childhood ever, mom,” my 10-year-old added. “When are we going home?”
And they picked up their iPhones and iPads and connected to their friends far and wide, playing games where they built structures out of pixels and communicated via chat boxes — and I’m so grateful that my connection required riding a bike in 98-degree weather; that buying ice cream meant handing my crumpled dollar bills to a friend’s dad instead of using Apple Pay; that my mom had to call six friends to get one of them to open the screen door and yell for me to go home; that I know the blissful feeling of hitting that hill at exactly the right speed.
“My childhood was better than yours,” I said, before turning the car back around for one more ride over that hill, recapturing the innocence of that kind of excitement again, all these years later.
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Ashley McCann editorializes the messes and mayhem of motherhood as a columnist and blogger. Named to Ignite Social Media's "100 Women Bloggers You Should Read," her candid humor and frank advice puts a fresh spin on modern family life.