Last week I was in Helper on a photo assignment. Photo assignment sounds so professional. Anyway there I was cruising around Helper at 10 in the morning looking for people doing whatever they do at that time of day.
I found a lot of what you would expect. There were many people dong a bit of yard work. Some were working at their own homes; others at places of employment.
What was missing as I drove all around the winding streets of Helper were the kids. I went by the schools, parks and playgrounds. I gazed into backyards as best as I could from my car. I looked at the paths leading up into the cliffs and bluffs that surround Helper. Not a child to be seen.
It seemed odd to me that at the coolest part of the day there were no children out to play. Not one child riding their bike. No sprinklers being run through. The swings and slides at the park seemed abandoned.
I know there are kids living in Helper. I have seen them at other times, but that day there was an unnatural lack of even one child out being a kid.
Where were they? I don't know. Ten o'clock seems a bit late for sleeping in. Maybe they were watching cartoons or playing video games. Maybe they are all off to day care because their parents have to work.
I have noticed the same phenomena in our neighborhood. I know we have kids because I see them gathered at bus stops during the school year. But during the day our neighborhood is as quiet as a mouse.
I have a hard time getting my grandkids to go out and play because there is nobody else around. Occasionally we see a few kids with bikes or scooters whiz by, mostly in the evening. But for the most part the kids are invisible.
I remember my mom sending us out of the house in the morning and we weren't to come back in until lunch or if we needed to use the bathroom. Then it was back out until supper.
We gathered in groups and played games in each other's backyards. Our yard hosted some of the most cut throat games of croquet you ever saw. When it was too hot to run around, the girls all played Barbies next to the boys having a war with their GI Joes.
We had bike races and pushed the limits with our home made skate boards constructed out of our metal roller skates. We made forts in the woods and rope swings that could send you crashing into the side of a huge cottonwood if you weren't careful.
We usually weren't.
Do we give our kids the same freedoms to play and explore as we used to? It doesn't seem like it. We have cocooned them with helmets, rules about stranger danger, and put them in camps. They stay home during the day so we can keep them safe. Backyards are all fenced in to define our spaces.
There will not ever again be summers like I had as a kid. In some ways that is good. We have learned a lot to keep our kids much safer now. But in many ways it is sad, too. We learned a lot about taking care of ourselves in those carefree days of summer. We learned to socialize, follow rules not imposed by our parents, and take care of each other.
The kids of today will learn these lessons too, but I'm not sure they will have as much fun doing it.