Yes, childhood has most definitely changed through the ages. Children were part of the labor force in many countries, and more recently than you might think. And of course, there are many places where children must work in order to survive to this very day. My grandmother or Gram, as most of us called her, told me stories of how her own father and his siblings worked in mills when they were children. He told her of how all of his sister's hair was ripped from her head when it got caught in a machine in the place where she was working. She was no more than ten years old when this happened, and wore a scarf on her head the rest of her life, I was told. Gram's father had a permanent eye injury that impacted his ability to read anything other than fairly large print, and this also happened long before he was ten years of age. His mother insisted that his sister should be allowed to stop working, but the boys all had to remain employed.
So yes, childhood has changed immensely. When I think of how simple things were when I was a kid, it sort of makes me sad for kids nowadays. I remember all of the summer days when we played all day with other kids near our age on the block. We'd wolf down our breakfast, run out the door, and keep running all day. We came home for lunch and dinner, but not much else. We had the best and coldest drinking water available at everyone's house - from the garden hose. It also doubled as an outdoor cooling device. After we drank from the icy coldness, we often doused our arms, feet and legs, and sometimes even our heads. We made forts or free-form tents by hanging blankets from backyard clotheslines and stretched out on the cool green grass talking about anything and everything.
And we all had chores or responsibilities. My most despised was the picking up of dog poop. One of my favorites was drying the dishes after dinner every night. It wasn't so much that I got a kick out of drying dishes, because that isn't the most exciting thing to do, after all. What made it so enjoyable was that Gram was doing the washing while I did the drying. As we stood in front of the double sink, she would talk about all sorts of things with me. I remember telling her about school and my friends and things I had done. She was even kind enough to act like she loved it when I would sing her the newest song we had learned in Music class.
I am not trying to say that childhood was perfect then, or that is perfect or a paradise now. Every generation has grown up with its own set of happiness and worries. All kids can think of things that they'd like to have, and things that fill them with fear. Childhood can be scary that way. One generation's bomb shelter or polio scare yields to another's fear of losing a family member or friend to a disease or war or violent act. The circle keeps turning.
This is why I say that in many ways there is nothing new under the sun. Kids still have varying degrees of innocence and savvy. They still want things and fear things and find increasingly interesting ways to get into trouble. They develop crushes and friendships and romances as they grow. And oftentimes think that their parents have no idea what goes on in a young person's mind or heart. Little do they realize that their parents and grandparents and other generations before them had similar thoughts and feelings and behaviors. Heck, one of the reasons that kids get caught misbehaving is that their parents remember all of the trouble they created when they were young!
Young people who are in the throes of young love are certain that mom and dad don't understand what it's like. They don't realize that unrequited love is as old as humanity. Star-crossed lovers were an old story when the movie West Side Story was adapted from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, as they were old when he adapted it from the ancient story of Pyramus and Thisbe. And our parents and grandparents found ways to get in trouble, too. When my Gram was a very little girl, she made her father so angry that he didn't talk to her for over a week. She had asked him several times for permission to have her hair cut short, and he told her that girls did not have short hair. Keep in mind that this was probably around 1911 or thereabouts. One day she decided that since she had some money, she was getting her hair cut. When her father came home from work that day, she had gone to the barber and gotten her hair bobbed. He was furious, but he still loved her, and he knew that there were many times that he did things that made his parents mad too.
I remember eating dinner one night at the linoleum-topped kitchen table. Gram was to my left, across the table from Liz, who was on my right. As was normal for a growing girl who burned through tons of calories (I wish I could have that back!) I was enjoying eating my Gram's delicious dinner. At some point, she asked Liz what her day at school was like. I remember noticing that Liz's response seemed, well...not normal. In a studiedly casual tone, she told Gram about what went on in her classes that day. Gram's tone grew very casual and a bit cool. "Really? How did you like spending the day at the park today?" Liz sputtered in surprise. Gram somehow knew, probably from the tone of Liz's voice (or maybe from driving around the area, who knows?) that Liz had skipped her classes on Senior Ditch Day. She thought she was going to get away with it, but Gram was far too wily for that.
I don't remember what, if any, punishment Liz got. If nothing else, the trust Gram had in her may have been tarnished a bit after that. I learned by observing, as I was prone to do. I was one of those kids who figured it was easier to ask for permission than forgiveness. On occasion, I would ask if Gram would call in to excuse me from school. She always asked if there was anything important I might miss that day. I was always honest with my answer because she had an uncanny knack for finding things out, and she had a temper that produced some world-class yelling. When my Senior Ditch Day came around, Gram called the school's attendance office and reported that I was home due to illness. She could be pretty cool that way.
So what do you think? Is there much new under the sun? Or do we just experience many of the same things on the way to adulthood as many of those who came before us? I know how I feel right now, but I may change my opinion tomorrow. You never know. But I know that Gram sometimes did that too, so...
The Tip Jar:
As always, I am happy and honored to write for you. It brings me great joy, and I hope that it gives you joy and/or food for thought. If you'd like to support the cause, please visit:
Thank you for reading!