When I was kid - a mere two decades ago - I distinctly remember the sound of my mother calling me into the house for dinner. She usually had to holler pretty loudly, standing on the back porch step before heading back inside. She always trusted that we would just show up a few minutes later, and never had to worry about where we were.
Today, this amazes me. We lived on a small farm that had fields in every direction. When I think back on where we were many of those times, as opposed to where we lived, the reality of it frightens and astounds me. We didn't have any cellphones - mom didn't have a way to get a message to us, or ask how far we were going, or even pin-point where we had gone. I actually google-mapped what I considered my play-territory as a child, and from the sky, the expanse seems intimidating. I can't believe my legs ever wandered that far!
As you might imagine, the sound of our mother's voice didn't always reach us. Whenever we didn't show up, she'd get on the telephone. Back then, people knew their neighbors and their phone numbers, and this is the reason why. Mom would call the closest neighbors first, to see if we'd stopped in to beg a treat or a drink while we were out and about. Sometimes if we hadn't stopped in, the neighbors would just have happened to hear or see us out the windows anyhow. (We were a rowdy bunch.) After mom figured out which direction we were heading, it was a simple thing to either guess where we had gone, or call more neighbors in that area to pinpoint a spot. When she knew where we'd be (or close to it), she'd call someone up to send us home or recruit one of the other kids to run after us. More often than not the nearest neighbor would just come out their back door and yell at us, "Hey! Your mom wants you home!". Then we'd scatter. It didn't matter how many other farm kids you'd picked up along the way, when one mom wanted you home, it was time for everyone to check in.
When I was a kid I didn't see anything wrong or worrisome about any of this. It was just the norm. Now, when I think about my own kids, I feel guilty about the amount of time they spend inside and I feel bad that they don't get the same out-of-doors experience that I did. I'm afraid to let my son play in the backyard unattended, let alone a mile away! Granted, we live in the suburbs right now, but I think I'd be even more worried by the knowledge that he could be in the middle of a field somewhere, or lost in a woods. Even I can remember a few times as a child that I thought I was lost (although I told the other kids I knew exactly where we were), and I was very relieved when things started to look familiar again.
It's hard to believe that this was the way of things just 20 years ago. I'm not an old woman yet, by any stretch or standard, but it seems like life has become so different so rapidly it might as well have been 60 years ago.
What does everyone else think? What's the biggest change you see in today's children vs. your own childhood?
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