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I'm glad I grew up in simpler time: How do kids enjoy their lives today?

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Posted: Wednesday, June 9, 2010 12:00 am

I'm glad I grew up in a much simpler time. These days, it must be very difficult for kids to enjoy their daily lives.

For example, as a youngster, I always sat in the front seat of the car. I was not restrained in some sort of straightjacket child safety seat. There were no lap or shoulder belts. There were no air bags to decapitate me. All I had was a plastic steering wheel, so I could pretend to drive — just like my dad.

This doesn't mean we were immune from safety issues. Once, my father hit the brakes and propelled me into the windshield. Everyone in the car panicked. They thought I was seriously injured. To help ease the tension, I put on a crying act — just to reassure them that I was still alive. Seventeen dollars and a couple of hours later, the windshield was fixed, and we were on our way. I didn't even require a bandage. As a result, my head is much harder today.

When we went swimming in the river, we weren't required to wear life jackets. Amazingly, none of us drowned. My older sister would try to hold my head underwater — just to see if I could escape from her clutches.

Back in the second grade, my dad bought me a used bicycle for $2. We didn't have to wear those nerdy-looking helmets. We didn't have to watch out for cops — just in case we weren't wearing one. We could ride on the sidewalks and against the traffic. One day, on the way home from school, the fork broke. I went tumbling over the handlebars. I picked myself up, brushed off a skinned knee and carried my bike home in two pieces. Dad repaired the fork and gave me a brush, along with can of lead-based enamel paint. I covered the whole rig in bright blue.

School was a different experience as well. Although we lived in very dangerous times, teachers didn't scare us with propaganda films about the world coming to an end — just because our folks drove SUVs. OK, maybe we got propaganda films on STDs, but none of us knew what sex was anyway.

Science was taught not as an absolute, but as a discoverable process with constantly changing conclusions. Teachers gave us very optimistic views about our futures. They emphasized the strengths that united us as a people and de-emphasized imperfections that weakened us as a nation. We knew we were all very lucky to enjoy the freedoms of being Americans. We were proud to be competitive, No. 1 and not afraid to pray about it in class.

The school cafeteria was a different place too. We had all the fat and sodas we wanted. Obesity was not considered a national epidemic. Maybe that's because we had a lot of physical play activity and were not addicted to computers. Our parents were not burdened with trying to protect us from Internet porn, gang violence or street drugs.

Speaking of parents, I'm glad I grew up in an era when most of us had two of them. I was lucky to live in an age when families put their kids as priority one. I'm thankful that I had a father, who could show me how to repair bicycles, play baseball and build radios, and guide me toward future careers. He was always there when needed — especially when a little discipline was in order. It's true that he made me use a power mower that had no safety equipment. But last time I looked, all 10 fingers and toes were still attached.

Despite the fact there were no federal and state officials constantly looking for new ways to restrict my freedom, I never broke a bone or had a stitch. Even today, over 50 years later, and after eating all that fat and sugar, I have no heart disease. I have only one dental filling and no additional cavities. I have no brain damage from lead-based paint. I'll admit however, that I may have some dementia from decades of watching network television. As a matter of fact, I don't know any of my friends who had serious injuries from being kids either.

On second thought, I did know one girl who was electrocuted while changing a light bulb. But as yet, I don't think the government has come up with a solution for that one.

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer and satirist.

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