(SNN) - I grew up in a neighborhood full of kids who got to be kids. We played outside for hours and our only fear was encountering a garter snake or getting beat up by the neighborhood bully. Our parents allowed us to bike down to the park and play Kick the Can after dark. But my mom did not want me going down to the creek behind the houses at the end of the road. I played there often
Even though it was spooky, muddy, and dank, the creek had such a powerful draw. Some of the kids rigged up a rope swing on a big tree at the edge of the bank so that we could swing over the water and land on the other side of the creek. Most of the time, I landed in or very near the dirty water, much to the delight of the boys, who always seemed to clear the water just fine. We worried about witches who built traps out of branches or the scary ghosts that we were sure we saw floating above the enormous trees. We weren’t worried about a bad man lying in wait to grab little girls or boys and take them away from their mommies and daddies. It didn’t even enter our thoughts that some crazy person might be hiding behind a tangle of vines, gun in hand.
What we thought crazy was the rumor that one of the boys had carved something naughty into the trunk of one of the trees and that the neighborhood bully would appear any minute and threaten to beat us up if we refused to look at the offending work of art. But we were never forced to look at some naughty man who might be hiding in the woods. There was no such man.
The kids in my neighborhood do not play Kick the Can at night. They can’t enjoy the fun of being scared when playing in the woods around the lake across the street because they aren’t playing there. When they do come outside to play, they may take a quick bike or scooter ride around the neighborhood, but their mom is walking behind while the family dog chases a ball. Sometimes, they play in their backyards, but in the safety of a playhouse, which mom and dad can easily watch from the family home. Even when going to school, the kids are either walked or driven to the bus stop by one of the parents. They are not left there to wait alone.
Kids are still kids. They play. They have fun. But now the rope swings have rotted away, witches have abandoned their traps, and the ghosts are just memories in the minds of today’s parents and grandparents. I hope they are telling the children delightful stories about a creek at the end of a road.
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