October 1, 2021 | OPINION | By Emma McDermott | Photo by Emmaline Hawley
At 3:15 every day I would race home from school on my blue bike as fast as I could. And I mean race; my backpack straps were soaked with sweat, the crossing guards would yell at me for not walking across the street, and there were definitely a few close calls with slow-to-react neighborhood dogs. I lived at the top of a hill, and I’d count the squares of concrete from the bottom to my house as I pedaled, gasping for air. Reaching the top, I’d jump off, wheels still spinning as my bike clanged to the ground and I ran inside to grab Goldfish and strawberries.
All this so that I could play with the kids on my block as soon as I could, for as long as I could. Between the hours of 3:30 and 5:30, I was outside on someone’s front lawn, entertained by the simplest, stupidest things. There was a decent strip of houses on that brick road –– Washington Avenue –– with elementary school-aged kids who all gathered in that hazy afternoon glow to play whatever games we dreamt up before dinnertime; it was when the crickets got boisterous that we knew our time was running low.
These warm afternoons are what I remember most about growing up. So many water balloon fights, blanket forts, picking of as many dandelions as we could bowl up in our t-shirts, and protesting when it was time to go inside and say goodbye to the three redheaded kids two doors down. We knew we’d play again the next day, but there was always a kind of tragic quality to the end of a golden afternoon. Those days as a kid were, to put it plainly, awesome.
You relied on your parents for pretty much everything. And if you had siblings, you had these other little people subject to the same rule –– the only people who really know what you lived through during those formative years. There was something comfortable and safe about that. Yes, life was pretty much the same every day, but that predictability was something I kind of liked. And as a kid anything could be made fun. Looking back now, every day as a kid was like what a weekend is as a young adult.
There were, of course, some limitations that came with childhood. For one, you didn’t really have free will. You had to do what your parents said –– you had to squish close to your siblings for an obligatory holiday card photo even though they would pinch you just enough for it to hurt but not so much your mom would notice. You had to do the dreaded “Mad Minute” every Friday at school. You had structure, albeit imposed.
Your problems were small in the grand scheme of things. Bee stings. Bloodied knees from riding your scooter down the hill too fast. Running day in gym class. Siblings kicking down your sandcastle to spite you. Not being able to see over the person in front of you at a baseball game. Your egg breaking during the egg toss. Eating your peanut butter and jelly gingerly because you had so many wiggly teeth. This is the stuff you dealt with as a kid.
It’s not that I necessarily want to go back to the days of a 7pm bedtime (seriously, Mom?) and having to invite every person in class to birthday parties. But I do wish I had understood at the time with how much love I would look back on those days. I don’t think I got it until it was over.
And it’s not that that’s completely lost now. My parents pick up when I call and still give their two cents on what I’m up to –– my mom sent me a helmet when I told her I’m learning how to skateboard, for example –– and my siblings continue to hone their talent of annoying me, which happens so often I can’t even start with examples. But it is different than it used to be.
Now, I rarely see those kids I spent every day with; we’re spread out all over the country. Instead of having lemonade stands and juggling contests after school, I pour my time into more age-appropriate pursuits. And I know that those activities I adored as a kid would put me to sleep now, but it’s kind of fun to remember what made our little worlds go round in those days.
It’s possible, even highly likely, that my future self will look back on these college days the way my college self is looking back on my childhood days. Maybe I should quit while I’m ahead, go do something I’ll remember in fifty years, and leave this kind of thing to 10,000 Maniacs.
But oh, to be an 8-year-old. That was the good stuff.