For as long as there have been parents, we have delighted in telling our kids just how hard we had it at their age. “Back my day,” ancient cavemen probably grunted to their offspring, “We no have fancy stone arrowhead. We had to take down wooly mammoth with bare hands.”
From our own parents, we heard (and subsequently rolled our eyes at) tales of hardships such as walking to school in the snow, barefoot, uphill both ways. It’s our obligation to let our kids know not only how tough and hardy we are, but also how lucky their generation is to have all these modern luxuries at their disposal.
I’m just in my mid-30s — not exactly ancient, unless you ask my children — but things have changed a lot since I was growing up. The world looks different now than it did in the ’80s and ’90s, and some of the things that were a normal part of my childhood sound absolutely primitive to my own children.
For example, when I was in elementary school, you could get an actual spanking by the principal if you were really acting up — a custom that everyone now realizes is totally outlandish by today’s standards. (I’d be livid.) But back then, every kid trembled at the thought of the big wooden paddle hanging on the wall in the principal’s office.
That’s just one of the many things I tell my kids that makes them look at me with a mixture of amazement and skepticism. It’s also fun to bring up other old-fashioned hardships we faced, such as having to…
1. Look up information from actual books in the actual library.
None of this worldwide web nonsense for us when it came to doing a school research project. No, sir! We had to haul our asses to the library, rely on the Dewey Decimal System to help us locate the right books, leaf through said books until we had the proper information, and then document our sources — all without a single iota of help from Google. THE HORROR.
2. Handwrite things.
Those reports didn’t write themselves. We had to write them with actual pencils until our muscles cramped and the side of our hand was smudged with lead. If we were really lucky, we got to use a typewriter or a word processor, which was cool until the printing process, during which you had to tear off all those paper edges.
3. Poop without a smartphone.
Nowadays, bathroom breaks are 120% longer, as they are a perfect opportunity to catch up on social media. (You know you do it too!) But when we were kids, we had to take a book with us. If we didn’t, we were relegated to reading the back of a shampoo bottle or can of air freshener — or, heaven forbid, just doing our business and getting out.
4. Rewind movies.
There was no such thing as “on-demand” when we were growing up. In fact, we couldn’t even be sure our movies were going to start at the right place. There was hardly a bigger bummer than popping a newly rented video into the VCR, only to have it start playing at the end credits and having to wait five minutes for the damn thing to get to the beginning. “Be kind, please rewind” became every video store’s credo.
5. Dial a rotary phone.
I don’t know why kids these days are so appalled at the thought of dialing a rotary phone. It only took half an eternity to dial all the digits (as long as it was a local call with fewer numbers, that is) — unless you made a mistake. Then you had to start the dialing process all over again. Okay, so maybe I do see why they’re so appalled.
6. Get a busy signal.
The worst sound after all that dialing was the annoying “errr-errr-errr” of the busy signal screeching into your ear. Call waiting was a thing, at least in the ’90s, but not everybody had it. So if you were trying to get an urgent message to your bestie, but her teenage sister got on the phone first, you’d have better luck actually biking to her house to tell her in person.
7. Pick up a phone without knowing who was calling.
It could have been Grandma. It could have been our best friend. It could have been the neighbor asking Mom to babysit (again). It could have been the freaking police. When the phone rang, we never knew beforehand what we were getting into — we just had to go into it cold.
8. Manually roll down a car window.
Why did we all have arms of steel? Because we had to use old-fashioned manpower to crank down our car windows, that’s why! No cushy one-fingered button pushing for us!
9. Wait for film to be developed.
“Instagram” just has a ring to it; “Drop-Off-the-Film-and-Wait-a-Week-agram” does not. There was no such thing as instant gratification when it came to old-school photography. Unless, of course, you count Polaroids, but the film was so expensive it would take an entire month’s allowance. And you still couldn’t guarantee you’d get a pic where your eyes weren’t closed.
10. Pay without swiping.
No use being impatient in the checkout lines back in the day, because everybody took forever. First, the cashier had to manually ring up every-damn-thing. Then our parents had to either write a check or count out the money. Maybe that’s why they started putting magazines in the checkout aisles — to keep us from dying of boredom.
11. Wait until Saturday to watch cartoons.
Kids these days will never know the joy of Saturday morning cartoons — or the agony of having to wait until then to get our animation fix. We couldn’t just turn on the TV and watch The Smurfs or He-Man and She-Ra at a moment’s notice. We had one day on the weekend to view our favorite cartoons. And if we missed out, tough luck.
12. Get up to change the channel.
Our parents probably had kids for two reasons: someone to carry on the family legacy, and someone to get up and change the channel on the TV — because remote controls didn’t always come standard.
13. Deal with a limited flavor selection.
We had one flavor of Cheerios: Cheerio-flavored. Gatorade, when it was first introduced, came in lemon-lime and orange — that’s it. And our Doritos were always nacho cheese…until “Cool Ranch” came along, and then we had a whopping two flavors to choose from. There was no “Mountainberry Splash” or “Biscuit, Gravy & Sriracha.” Our convenience-food selections were pretty basic.
14. Go on a road trip without a gadget or DVD player.
It’s hard for today’s kids to imagine, but when we had to be on the road for an extended period of time, there were no minivans with built-in DVD players. There were no tablets or iPods. If we were lucky, we had a Walkman (which we probably had to share with a sibling). This meant for the rest of the time, we had to — gasp! — play games like I Spy and have actual conversations.
15. Wait for the internet.
When we finally did gain access to the internet, it wasn’t as easy as turning on the computer and pulling up a website. We had to dial in, and then wait for the telltale screech that let us know the modem had connected. And then we had to wait for the screen to load. And if someone decided to pick up the phone somewhere in the rest of the house, it booted us off and we had to do it all again.
Secretly, I’m thrilled that my kids have the modern conveniences I didn’t — because let’s face it, can you even imagine parenting without the Internet?! — but preaching about how tough we had it is just part of a parent’s job description. We may not have had to walk to school “barefoot in the snow uphill both ways,” but we had to drag around a boombox, stay tethered to a wall via a telephone cord, and live without online shopping. And that’s almost as horrifying.