Occasionally, I receive on my Facebook page a nostalgic essay reminding me that when we were kids we didn't use seat belts or wear bike helmets, we sat in smoke-filled rooms, didn't wear sunscreen and we survived. Every time I get one of these messages, I cringe. I understand that whoever sent the message is trying to recapture a gentler, more carefree time, one that made us supposedly tougher than today's children.Yes, looking back on my childhood, I remember having lots of free time, lots of friends who lived several blocks away. Yes, I crowded into cars without protection and sailed around the streets on my bike with no helmet. I also lived a privileged life.
I lived in a safe suburban neighborhood (though Communists supposedly lurked around every corner). I wasn't restricted where we could live or even walk because of the color of my skin. I rarely saw people walking down our street (there were no sidewalks), strangers just didn't come through. But I also remember the accidents: teenagers joyriding and playing 'chicken' with trains, boozed-up college students driving down two-lane roads and crashing into other cars, and adults thrown out of car windows because they weren't wearing seat belts. Some of those people didn't survive the crashes, some have gone through life with terrible scars.
That's why I cringe. I think back on my childhood with fondness, but I am glad we have enacted government protections so that kids ride more safely in cars and wear helmets when they ride scooters, bikes or skateboards. I'm glad I can 'buckle up.' I'm glad I don't have to sit in rooms filled with someone else's smoke. I look at the slight scars left from skin cancer treatments last summer, slather on sunscreen, and don my hat. I'm glad I made it through those years alive.