I was a child of the ’80s, and as such, I have memories of feeling completely free. My parents allowed us to do things that today’s parents could be arrested for, because back then, free-range parenting was not a subset of 25 different parenting styles; it was just what people did. It was normal.
We may have been oblivious to many very real dangers, but damn, we had fun. Still, once we know better, we do better, which is why many safety laws have been passed since those wild, carefree — and apparently dangerous — days. If I were to let my children recreate some of that 1980s magic I used to experience, I could very easily be fined, investigated, or even spend a night in the slammer. I am talking about things like:
1. Riding in the Bed of a Pickup Truck
My memories of bouncing around in the back of a pickup will forever be etched into my soul. My best friend and I piled in the back of my father’s blue Ford, blonde hair flying, wearing bikini tops and cutoffs, clutching our orange sodas. All we could do was look at each other and laugh. It was bumpy and crazy, and we were innocent 10-year-olds who wanted nothing more than to be doing exactly what we were doing at that very moment. It never even occurred to us that what we were doing was dangerous.
2. Being Left Alone in the Car
My mother would often run in to the store and leave me and my siblings waiting in the car. That is just what everyone did. We would fight, tell stories, sing, read, and hope she would hurry up. And if we were lucky, she would bring us a special treat. I have a friend who admitted to peeing in the seat belt hole out of pure desperation because their mother ended up chatting with a friend inside the store for over an hour. If that is not an epic memory that will make you roar with laughter, I don’t know what is.
3. Leaving Kids Home Alone
For me, my parents started leaving me home alone somewhere between kindergarten and first grade. I snuck some chocolate, tried on my mother’s red heels, and danced around singing Cyndi Lauper songs, using a whisk as a microphone. It was exciting, and I was fine. I didn’t drink any Drano or get a body part stuck in anything. My parents certainly didn’t have a cell phone to check in on me either. Although, even if they had, it’s not like I would have told them about the chocolate.
We kids lived on our bikes, roller skates, and skateboards with nary a helmet in sight. Back in the ’80s, you just got on your wheels and went. It didn’t matter if it was bumpy, downhill, or icy. Nobody protected their noggins.
5. Seat Belts
We used to take some long road trips growing up, and I specifically remember shoving the seat belts in the cracks of the cushions so I didn’t sit on them. My sisters and I would be rolling around on the floor of our Caprice Classic, making forts. Sometimes we would pass my little sister up front so she could curl up on my mom’s lap — she would get car sick, and we didn’t want her in the back with us.
6. Buying Cigarettes and Alcohol
If you knew a local store owner and they were aware your parents drank or smoked, it wasn’t a big deal if mom or dad handed you money and sent you off to pick up their smokes or beer. It made no difference that you could barely see over the counter.
7. Walking Everywhere Alone
When I was in kindergarten, I walked to the sitter’s house with a friend after school. In the morning, I walked a few blocks to the bus stop. If we wanted to go to the playground a few streets away, we walked — alone. Always alone. Our parents never took us to the playground. That was where you went with your friends.
What I remember most about these days from my ’80s childhood is playing outside until the streetlights came on. We would roll around, get dirty, build forts, splash in puddles. We played with the “nice” kids; we played with the “bad” kids. There were no schedules, no tracking devices. We were wild and free and happy. And though I understand why things have changed, I have to say, I feel incredibly fortunate that I have these sweet, carefree snippets to remember. Maybe we’re all just lucky to have made it out of the ’80s alive, but wasn’t it good while it lasted?