As a mom of a 7-year-old son, I'm reminded daily about how much life has changed since I was 7 (which was 39 years ago). That’s right, I told you my age, and I’m not ashamed. Hey, most moms today are old as dirt. But my mom was young. She was 17 when she had me. Parenting has changed so much since I was a kid; when I Iook back at a lot of the things my mother did to me, I’m amazed that I’m still alive. Plus, if I did any of those things today, I’d definitely probably go to jail. Here are some of those things that almost never happen today (unless you want to be admonished by your peers).
1. My mother smoked in front of me, and I inhaled secondhand smoke all the time. Not so long ago I saw an adult smoking in a car with children in the backseat, and I nearly lost my mind. After I got a hold of myself, I realized how long it had been since I’d seen someone do that.
2. Car seats didn’t even exist (and forget about actually fastening a seat belt). I slid around a moving car like it was a Tilt-A-Whirl.
3. My mother would give me some of her beer in a little red plastic cup. When my father would come home, she’d make me quickly put it away in the refrigerator so he wouldn’t catch us having a drink together. I was 4.
4. We had water delivered to our home, but my mother always had me drink water from the faucet. She said she didn’t want to me to waste good water.
I think that one of the most important things I learned was that children know what their parents are doing.
5. My mother once left me in the car while she ran into the store to get a pack of cigarettes. I climbed into the driver’s seat, released the emergency break, and the car rolled backward into traffic.
6. I was up long before my parents in the morning, and I would run out of the house when I was younger than 4. My mother would often awaken to find that I’d feed the dog all of her lunch meat or the dinner from the previous night.
7. My parents never had a Christmas tree, and I wasn’t allowed to believe in Santa Claus because my father didn’t want me to think a white man came every year and gave me gifts, when he had done all the work.
8. I was often left at the home of my parents’ friends with no idea about when my parents would return.
9. I was a guest (largely ignored) at many adult parties where drugs and alcohol flowed freely. In my home, it was customary for me to find the shoe box top with the weed in it or even tiny balloons filled with white powder. I saw so much partying before I was 5 that when all my friends started experimenting with drugs, I already knew the ending to their stories.
Reflecting now on my childhood, I don’t have regrets. I think that one of the most important things I learned was that children know what their parents are doing. Even if I didn’t know what the white powder was, I knew that people acted differently after they put it up their noses. This knowledge helps me be a more thoughtful parent. I’m very clear that children just have smaller bodies than adults; they don’t have smaller minds.