When I was a kid, I swore I’d never get nostalgic while talking about the days of my youth, like my parents did. I’d never lament a simpler time, or refer to any period of my life as “the good old days.” I’m nowhere near old, so I’m going to say this with as much youthful exuberance as I possibly can: Kids today are missing out, because summer will never be as awesome as it was in the ’90s.
Obviously, the music was on-point, but that’s not the only reason summers were so much better back then. Let’s start with the thing that made all our summer shenanigans possible— we weren’t supervised quite as well as kids are today. I’m not saying we were running wild in the streets, but we were.
It wasn’t because our parents were neglectful; it was just a different time. (There’s another one of those old people things I swore I’d never say.) We enjoyed a kind of freedom that no longer exists. We spent hours playing outside, and didn’t come in until the street lights came on. No one worried when they couldn’t find us, because we were probably eating Freeze Pops over at the neighbor’s house.
We were rarely inside, because daytime television sucked and half of us didn’t have cable anyway. When we weren’t riding bikes in the street or playing ball in the back yard, you could find us at the nearest swimming pool. We swam for hours, until our fingers turned prune-y and our eyes burned from chlorine.
We wore pony tails with scrunchies, and used Sun-In to lighten our hair. Okay, some of us just used lemon juice, but still, it got the job done. We worshipped the sun, because we didn’t know any better. We kept a bottle of baby oil and a Cosmopolitan magazine next to our beach towel, and we listened to music from a boom box.
Yes, we listened to Waterfalls by TLC on repeat. Who didn’t?
We never worried about losing our cell phone in the pool, because cell phones weren’t really a thing. When our friends wanted to talk, they called the house phone, and we’d drag the spiral cord down the hall, out of earshot of our parents. If someone wasn’t home, you left a message on the answering machine or asked their mom to give them a message.
We lived for junk food, like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, FunYuns, and Dr. Pepper. Sometimes we ate pizza, just for a change of pace. We had MTV programming memorized (if we were one of the lucky ones with cable), and stayed up late watching movies our parents told us not to.
We called our crushes at slumber parties, and played games like M.A.S.H. and Truth or Dare. We fearlessly summoned spirits with our Ouija Boards and then stayed awake for hours, because we were too scared to fall sleep.
There was nothing better than 4th of July. We saved all of our allowance to buy fireworks, and lit Black Cats one at a time to keep the fun going as long as possible. It wasn’t unheard of to light fireworks with your parent’s cigarette when your punk stick burned out, and no one called child protective services. Maybe we snuck a sip of our parent’s drink when no one was looking. Maybe not.
And the best thing about all of this? There was no internet or social media to distract us. Or more accurately, to document our shenanigans. We were as wild and carefree as we could be, and there was no evidence. There would always be rumors and stories, retold from friend to friend, or parent to parent, but we were the only ones who knew what really happened. We embraced summer in a way that is no longer possible.
Maybe we know more now. Maybe we know better in some ways. Whatever the case may be, we were the last kids to experience the true freedom of summer, before technology took over and the world got a bit more complicated. Maybe this is what my parents were talking about, all those years ago. Maybe summer time in the ’90s is our generation’s good old days.