When We Were Free to be Kids


By Theodore P. Savas

My son asked an interesting question during the endless summer that finally ended this week: “Papa, when you were a kid, what did you do in the summer?”

How do you tell a 7-year-old who has almost everything that it was better way back when without almost anything? And that as kids, we perfected the art of doing nothing for days on end—and loved every hour?

How do you put in plain words we enjoyed ourselves without Xboxes, Playstations, cell phones, computers, and TVs in cars? How journeys of exploration and adventure did not include a hand-held device indoors on a sofa? That off-limit swimming holes were so much better than swimming pools in the backyards of homes we would have considered mansions available only in our dreams?

Can he possibly comprehend that when we left the house not long after dawn in cutoffs and a T-shirt, mom never asked where we were going? That catching pond frogs and building tree houses with rope swings was better than having 471 TV channels? That staying out all day and doing whatever we wanted and making our own decisions was (gasp!) normal? That our summons home was the street lights popping on and not a call on a cell phone?

Would he believe that we hoofed miles around town or rode our bikes (spray painted cool neon colors) with friends seated between the handle bars, holding on for dear life while trying to keep their toes out of the spokes? Or that those same spokes made the coolest “tat-tat-tat” sound if you attached a playing card with a clothespin? That no one had heard of a bicycle helmet, and that we would not have been caught dead in one anyway?

That digging for night crawlers so we could fish in a muddy creek for bullhead with a bamboo pole and a red and white bobber (with your brother yelling at you for tangling his line) beat the pants off sitting in an air-conditioned house playing Nintendo?

Can you imagine the damage I might inflict on the psyche of a modern-day El Dorado Hills child if I told him our idea of pure drinking water was letting a garden hose in a stranger’s backyard run for several seconds before taking a warm sip? Or that “organic food” was eating Mr. Weydert’s sweet corn raw off the cob out in the field before heading to the barn to wash it down with milk straight from a cow’s utter?

That nothing was more fun than a round-trip sneak attack on Mr. Bogart=s apple tree, hiding among his leafy branches happily munching green apples while stuffing another half-dozen in our pockets and planning our getaway? That spine-tingling terror could be had crawling on our hands and knees into old lady Taylor’s backyard (we thought she was a witch), pushing aside a large piece of slate hiding a well, dropping in a rock, and being brave enough to stay put long enough to hear the splash?

Today, kids can’t play in their own front yard without adult supervision. We used to play king of the hill on a large dirt and rock pile in someone’s driveway blocks away. When we got hurt or broke something, we went home for a band aid and iodine (and occasionally a well-deserved belt-to-bottom spanking) instead of to the lawyer’s office with dad to sue the homeowner.

Can today’s children even begin to conceive we waged war from behind stacked up Culligan salt pellet bags with REAL WWII rifles our dads brought home from Europe or the Pacific, decked out in authentic German and American helmets and canteens—and that it was much more fun than playing Age of Empires or Call of Duty on a PC over the Internet with a stranger? Would they believe every 9-year-old had a BB gun, every 12-year-old a .22 or 12-gauge, and responsible use was shooting cans off a fence or nailing an egg-stealing blackbird—but never a robin?

How could I get my son to understand that sleepovers meant Jiffypop popcorn on the stove (usually burned black), “Kick the Can” in the backyard and, if you were very lucky, one scoop of vanilla ice cream smothered in Hershey’s syrup? Or that bedtime meant squeezing into the hot top bunk with your buddy (not a single soul had air conditioning) while your friend’s two brothers crammed into the bottom bunk and fought their way asleep?

How could I explain all this in a way that made sense?

“Long ago,” I began, in an effort to answer his question . . .

“You mean back in the olden days?” my son interrupted.

I smiled. “Yes. Way back when.”

“When what?” he asked.

My smile melted away and I let loose a heavy sigh. “When we were free to be kids.”

Theodore P. Savas is a Managing Director, Savas Beatie LLC 

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One Response to When We Were Free to be Kids

  1. William Hicks August 13, 2017 at 7:55 am

    All that instead of helicopter parents that make every decision for a kid so that kids never grow up to be able to make their own decisions as adults, not to mention as children.

    We are doing a disservice to children and future adults.


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