I was riding in a car today with a fellow boomer and we happened to pass, within a few minutes of one another, two yards with trampolines with those giant 12-foot safety nets around the perimeter.
“When I was a kid, we played on trampolines without nets and nobody ever got hurt,” my friend observed knowingly.
I gave him an incredulous look. “Do you not remember that we spent three years of high school learning beside a quadriplegic former jock moving himself around the hallways with a mouth-operated joystick on his wheelchair? And he was the second person in our class to be seriously injured in a trampoline accident?”
“Oh, yeah,” my friend said. “I forgot about them.”
This kind of thinking is rampant among baby boomers who tend to have an idealized version of their own childhoods. You hear this total bullshit come out of their mouths all the time.
“My mother smoked and drank when she was pregnant with me, and I turned out fine,” usually comes from someone like a woman in her 60s who has zero contact with her three adult children she screwed up emotionally for life.
“My parents beat us kids all the time and we survived,” usually comes from someone like an elderly alcoholic biker whose life has been a series of dead-end jobs because he never outgrew his inability to control his anger and resentment when someone disagrees with him about small things or tells him what to do at work.
But this bit of stupidity is always my favorite: “We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. Nobody had to know where we were every minute of the day.”
I have first-hand experience with this because my two best friends, Jake Surber and Jon Simpson, disappeared on Aug. 30, 1975, during a trip to the state fair. I was supposed to go with them, but my mother refused to let me go because she didn’t have the money.
Jake and Jon didn’t return home that night. Their bodies were found later in two different locations, both sexually assaulted and brutally stabbed. They thought at one time that the killer was found and prosecuted, but it turned out maybe they got the wrong guy.
So I’ve been especially attuned to crimes against children my entire life. There were a lot of child rapes and murders, and horrific parental child abuses, even during the so-called golden years about which baby boomers wax nostalgic. Those crimes simply did not receive the same media coverage they do now.
Children are definitely safer now than they’ve ever been, precisely because products are required to be (somewhat) safer, cars have three-point seatbelts and rear-facing child seats, head protection is more common when kids are taking part in risky activities, and parents can keep better tabs on them through cell phones and the internet.
The golden age of childhood that my contemporaries romanticize is a figment of older imaginations who have shitty memories. The only thing that often surprises me is how unaware they are when they do it until you point out to them the wide gap between what they believe and what actually happened.