I read this article a few days ago, and it has made me think a lot about growing up in New Boston: http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/03/hey-parents-leave-those-kids-alone/358631/. The article examines children and risk taking, and how, over the past thirty or forty years, there has been a significant trend towards overprotecting children. Interestingly, life now is no more dangerous than it was in the 1970s-- but perceptions and fear levels have changed drastically.
I grew up in downtown New Boston, NH, with a tiny back yard compared to those of my friends. Despite or perhaps because of the size of our actual yard, the town itself served as our playground. Garrett and his friends ran around town, earning the nickname "the lost boys." I remember measuring my age by milestones such as being old enough to walk to Dodge's General Store alone, and later, being tall enough to swing my leg over the railing on the porch, where I would sit with my friends eating ice cream and drinking soda. It was a big deal when I could climb onto each of three levels on the small memorial across the street, and when I finally mastered the rope swing at the nearby river. I could walk to the library by myself, where hours disappeared as I read in the yellow leather chairs.
At friends' houses, we played in barns, jumping out of hay lofts into piles of dusty hay. We balanced on rocks to cross brooks. We built elaborate fort systems at an annual Labor Day party, the fort community growing larger each year. We ice skated on ponds. We got poison ivy. We were stung by bees. We stayed up until midnight, lying on trampolines.
I walked to school-- past the baseball field and the playground, up the hill. It was about 1/4 mile away, and I was envious of the kids who got to take the bus. It was a special treat to sit on a bus with a friend after school. I can still recall the smell of the school bus seats, the way the bus drivers knew everyone's names. The hierarchy of who sat where, and the strangeness of seeing classmates climb off and go into their houses-- the disconnect of seeing where people lived. Still, I vividly remember what it felt like to walk home from school. I remember having five or ten minutes to myself to think about the day. I remember decompressing, before I knew what that meant. I remember the sound of ice crunching under my boots, of birds chirping in the spring, of kids playing on the playground as spring turned to summer.
My childhood was not perfect. My parents, and many of my friends', divorced when I was in elementary school, and there were certainly years when our outdoor adventures were an escape from what was going on in our homes. But when I look back on my childhood as a whole, it is with a sense of gratitude and nostalgia. Biking around Mill Street; mastering the monkey bars at the playground; climbing the tree in the back yard with my feet in the right places so as to avoid the power lines: these experiences, these freedoms, built the foundation for the life I love so much today.