I grew up in a time and place where you could leave your car running, doors unlocked and kids inside while you ran into the store. (I should clarify–this is what my parents did; I was the kid sitting in the car.) In small town South Carolina you could count on someone calling you to tell you they’d found your wallet. Kids ran around their neighborhood, walked on railroad tracks, wandered down Main Street. We left keys under our doormats in case we locked ourselves out. Sometimes we left the door unlocked. We ate the candied apples folks gave us on Halloween, never worrying about razorblades or poison or being lured into dark rooms in strange houses.
Sure, some of this stuff might have been dangerous, but everything felt safe. Our parents trusted that we’d be careful, that we’d be home by dinnertime, that when the sun went down and the streetlights turned on, we’d roll our bikes up the driveway and come inside. My folks never talked to me about drugs or rapists or child molesters. Never did they discourage me from talking to strangers. Instead we waved to everyone we walked past, struck up conversations with them. Smiled. Chatted. Trusted.
I look at the world now and wonder why my parents didn’t warn me about those things, why they didn’t feel like they needed to keep me in an ever-protective bubble. Things were just different then, I suppose. They would have warned me, if they’d needed to.
Now it seems children are placed on a constant high alert. They can’t be guarded carefully enough. There’s too much danger, too much to fear.
But then, there are kids like Jeffery James. Jeffery comes over from time to time to play fetch with me and Petey. The other night he went with us on our nightly walk. I hadn’t even seen his mom–never. I trusted that, when Jeffery ran out of his house yelling that his mom said it was okay for him to go, it was okay. So we went. And we had a great time, talking about dogs and holes and the value of eleven cents. All the while, though, I couldn’t help but wonder why his mom didn’t make an effort to meet me, didn’t mind if Jeffery went on a walk with a stranger.
Tonight I met Jeffery’s mom. She stood in her driveway in pajamas, weak and tired. She’d been on dialysis until three days ago. She couldn’t entertain Jeffery, didn’t have the energy to keep him occupied. She was thankful for someone like me who’d take the time to play with her kid. It was only after she said all this that we introduced ourselves.
I felt like I’d fallen back in time, back to 1980’s South Carolina.
Do these things still happen? Are people still trusting–and trustworthy–enough to do stuff like this? Can we take each other’s kids on walks when their parents aren’t able? I wonder what Jeffery’s mom thinks of me, why it is that she trusts me so much. My mind immediately leaps to the possibility that she just doesn’t care, but I can’t allow myself to believe that.
Instead I have to believe that she’s managed to hold on to something most of us have lost. And I have to believe that that’s a good thing.