There's a line in the 1986 movie Stand by Me about "never having friends like the ones you have when you're young." This came to mind recently while I was going through old photos from my childhood and found a faded black and white snapshot of my 8-year-old self with an arm around my first best friend, Robbie. He lived across the street from me and we were best buds until my family moved to another town the same year that picture was taken. Through the years I'd see him every now and then. The last time was when he was pitching a baseball game for UC Irvine, where he'd earned an athletic scholarship.
Seeing this photo made me remember the simplicity of those times, at least to an eight-year-old. It was the late '60s... We didn't know there was a war, and protesters, and hippies. Our lives revolved around kickball, Big Wheels, and Winky Dink and You. We climbed trees, built forts out of cardboard boxes, and roamed our little neighborhood safe in the knowledge that in almost every home was a stay-at-home mom who could keep an eye on us from her kitchen window, and scold us when we acted up. Life was pretty good back then.
My favorite memory is of Robbie's garage. His father worked for an ice cream company and he made sure that their garage freezer was packed full of Push-Ups, ice cream cups, Fudgesicles, and rainbow popsicles. That's probably where I developed my love of ice cream which, unfortunately, plagues me to this day.
This photo is the only one I have of Robbie. The picture is bittersweet. It's a souvenir of a simpler time, of friendship, and of childhood fun. But the picture was taken on the very day of my family's move from the neighborhood, so it represents the end of that friendship. And an end to those simple times, which are now gone forever.
My own kids don't have the freedom to roam like I did. Their playtime is organized and supervised. The back yard is their domain, while the front yard is off limits. We're supposed to be suspicious of our neighbors because the media has filled our heads with images of unlocked guns, child molesters, meth labs, and irresponsible parents.
I know today's world is not as scary as the media portrays. The fact is that violent crime is at an all-time low in this country, and has been decreasing for thirty years. And the looming specter of a stranger abduction is, in reality, almost nonexistent. Of the 800,000 children who went missing last year, less than 200 of them were stranger abductions.
But still, once that idea has been placed into a parent's head, it's hard to get it out and feel comfortable about turning my back, even for a minute. My common sense tells me that the world is a much safer place now than it ever has been, but my emotions are irretrievably scarred by the culture of fear that we now live in.
Even people without kids are nervous. A few weeks ago we were in Sandpoint, Idaho, poking around the touristy downtown area. We stopped at the Cedar Street Bridge to browse the Coldwater Creek store there.
In the middle of our browsing, our daughter started her little dance and whispered, "Mommy, I have to go..." so off to the nearest bathroom on the upper level of the bridge. My son and I looked at old photos on the wall while we waited. Soon a middle-aged couple and their friend stopped to look at the photos too. Just then, the screaming began.
"No no no! Aiiiieeee!! Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!" Something like that anyway. I hear this stuff practically every day and I know how to read all the different noises my kids make, so I didn't react at all. But the couple next to us became very concerned, probably because of a recent child abduction that had brought national attention to our area. The woman didn't waste much time and announced loudly that she was "going to investigate!"
We waited a few moments, with a small crowd gathering, and me pretending not to know what's going on. Pretty soon the woman emerged from the bathroom, spread her arms, palms out to calm the masses, and authoritatively stated, "It's okay! Everything's all right. She just saw a spider web!"
Audible sighs of relief followed, and the crowd dispersed, glad that the screams of terror coming from the public restroom were simply a little girl freaking out over a dusty old spider web.
So, my kids are growing up in a different world, with dangers both real and perceived. But I'm not so sure that's a bad thing. They are healthier, happier, and smarter than I was at their age, and they will have opportunities in the future that we could not have even imagined thirty years ago. It's kind of like what my childhood was like as compared to that of my parents.
The only constant that I hope holds true for my children is that they find one or two "friends like the ones you have when you're young." And may they have a freezer full of ice cream!