Beverly Cleary: 'Kids Today Don't Have The Freedom I Had'

by Maria Guido
Originally Published: 

Beverly Cleary is turning 100, and reflecting how things have changed for kids

Beverly Cleary, beloved children’s book author will turn 100 next week. Many of us grew up feeling like the characters in her books were our friends: I’m no exception. Ramona Quimby was the precocious girl I always wanted to be. She was absolutely fearless.

Cleary sat down to talk to The Washington Post about the big day. “Go ahead and fuss,” she said. “Everyone else is.”

Well, 100 is a pretty big milestone so she can’t blame us for celebrating with her. For many of us, there’s no way to look back on our childhoods without remembering Beezus and Ramona. Cleary talked about how much times have changed, and it really makes you think about what different childhoods our kids are having than ours.

“I think children today have a tough time, because they don’t have the freedom to run around as I did — and they have so many scheduled activities,” Cleary said. She remembers a time when children were more free to run around — outside the walls of their homes. She points out that when she was a child “mothers did not work outside the home; they worked on the inside. And because all the mothers were home — 99 percent of them, anyway — all mothers kept their eyes on all the children.”

It’s easy to wax poetic about that time — when all mothers were home. But we shouldn’t forget that for women, times have changed for the better. Not all women want to stay home and tend to kids all day. That doesn’t mean that sense of community can’t still exist, does it?

Households are different. But we all have neighbors. And we’d all do well to get to know them a little better. This idea of “the village” helping out isn’t an idea that we can’t return to — it just takes a little turning outward. Turning outward isn’t easy these days: most of us are on tight schedules and barely have the time to spend with our own families, let alone neighbors we may not know.

Cleary says it was all the mothers keeping eyes on the children that shaped the characters in her books and gave them their freedom. They were able to be out tromping around because of the collective of moms keeping an eye out. But does that collective have to be moms? What about the dads that are home — or the grandparents or nanny. Presumably, there are people inside these walls with their children, right? Why can’t the collective eye we all used to keep on each other exist again?

Cleary lives in a retirement home in Northern California. She mentioned that she doesn’t have a computer, but enjoys writing letters. She adds “when you get to be 99, there aren’t many people to write letters to.”

Thanks for the books, the memories, and reminding us of a time when people noticed each other a little more.

What on earth would Ramona have done if she were cooped up in her house all day? Or running from appointment to appointment? I shudder to think — but Ramona The Brave may well have been Ramona The Bored.

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