I think about the lives my kids and all of their friends lead today, and I realize that I shouldn’t be here. It is only by the grace of God or munificent fortune that I failed to die at a young age. Here is a list of things I can’t believe I survived, and I didn’t even bother to include eating raw egg, not washing my hands, and playing with turtles and rodents.
Riding my bike without a helmet. Riding my bike without a helmet, really fast, down a long really steep hill, with a playing card clipped to the rear strut, and turning around to look down at it, and hitting the front of a parked dump truck at full speed. Without a helmet.
Walking home from school. Walking home from school, at the age of 7, crossing Twelve Mile Road in Farmington Hills, and not looking both ways, and getting tagged by Mr. Shoemaker’s sedan so hard I flipped head over heals and my shoes flew off. And then accepting a ride home from him.
Running away. Running away from home at the age of ten, in the dark, with my parents watching, and traveling less than a mile before building a small fire in a field and sitting down to wait for my Dad to show up.
Getting towed behind my Dad’s Pinto. Getting towed, behind my Dad’s red Ford Pinto, through the snowy streets of Auburn, on a ten-foot bobsled with a bunch of other screaming, laughing kids, and having it flip on a corner and scatter us all from curb to curb.
Climbing trees. Climbing as high in trees as I could possibly climb. Climbing until the branches bent under my weight, and then swinging like a monkey and falling off and breaking my left arm.
Setting stuff on fire. Setting stuff on fire on the hearth of the old brick incinerator in our basement, and pouring in a can of lacquer thinner to see what would happen, and finding out that what would happen is that it would explode and set a quarter of the basement on fire, with my parents out to dinner.
Fighting. Fighting with other boys in the schoolyard during recess in the days before “Say no to violence!” posters, when we would beat each other senseless while 2/3 of the rest of the school, including every single girl, stood in a circle egging us on.
Bumper skating. Bumper skating behind the municipal buses in Auburn, NY, crouched down low where nobody could see us, as a primary means of wintertime transportation.
Ingesting pesticides and hydrocarbons. Ingesting pesticides and hydrocarbons while riding our bikes right behind the truck that sprayed a thick fog of malathion and diesel fuel to control mosquitoes in our neighborhood in Indiana. It was cool inside that fog.
Setting half the woods on fire. Setting half the woods behind our house on fire while attempting to erect an epic tree fort, and learning that copius amounts of gasoline are not necessarily the best ant control methodology.
Playing with electricity. Playing with electricity mostly by cutting the plug and some cord off an old appliance, stripping the wire ends bare, then plugging it in and touching them to stuff, like twelve volt DC motors and six volt solenoids.
Funny thing is, I look back over that list and I think I had a pretty normal childhood. Our parents didn’t hover over us. They let us get out of the house, try stupid stuff, get burned and break bones. I can’t count the high-speed bicycle crashes I was in, and nobody wore a helmet. No teacher ever broke up one of our fights. No parent ever called the fire department because they saw one of us fifty feet up a maple. Nobody panicked when the sun went down and we weren’t home. Nobody required us to ride in the car to a friend’s house half a mile away. I ask myself whether the world today is more dangerous, and the answer is that I don’t believe it is. I think we’re the ones who have changed.