Nostalgia is commonly used pejoratively. As if the very idea of looking backward in time and saying, hmm, maybe we lost something between then and now were… bad? The American Psychological Association considers nostalgia a subset of depression, which is, ahem, depressing. But then I guess if you’re stuck trying to prop up the present as better than the past, at this point, you have to do some serious philosophical dancing.
Whatever the case, call it what you will, but one of my goals for us in living the way we do is to provide our children with a world that resembles the world of 1984. With maybe some notable elements from 1969 thrown in. But not having lived through 1969 I can’t even try to authentically replicate it. 1984 though. I know some things about 1984.
In 1984 no one was looking at their phones. In 1984 no one was wearing masks. In 1984 no one was wearing helmets. In 1984 no one went on play dates. In 1984 playgrounds were made of metal. In 1984 no one called the cops on kids left alone for the day. In 1984 everyone expected children to be self-governing individuals capable of surviving the day unsupervised and no one thought twice about it.
This is how I grew up. It’s how my peers and elders grew up, and from what I’ve seen of the world my peers and elders are considerably more capable individuals than the people who’ve grown up in the hyper-managed, ultra-safe, everyone-gets-a-trophy world kids inhabit today.
I want my kids to grow up the way we did. Yes, they get hurt sometimes. You should have seen Lilah’s toe when she caught it on a root while riding her bike barefoot. It happens. One minute you’re riding along, the next minute your toenail is gone. Childhood is supposed to have sharp edges and moments of pain, it’s how you learn and grow.
I picked 1984 somewhat at random, but the point stands that part of what I want to do living this way is provide my kids with access to the freedoms that I enjoyed and give them room to figure things out for themselves, explore new places, learn new things, meet new people, and build and sustain relationships — on their own.
To be able to do this is a skill everyone has to learn, but we’ve had several generations now that were never given the chance to do this and… it’s not good. These grown men and women are only couple steps above helpless in many cases and we’re all starting to see the effects of that. When Mommy and Daddy are always there to fix things and suddenly they aren’t….
To be a self-regulating individual capable of exploring the world, learning on your own, and building friendships as you go, requires practice. It requires the space to make mistakes and find the success that builds confidence as you go. Our kids need to work things out themselves, to reason things out themselves without anyone telling them the answer.
This is a big part of why we keep coming back to Washburn. It’s not just that parenting has changed since 1984. Culture changed too. We no longer have a culture that allows kids these freedoms even if the parents are willing to give them. Parents go to jail for these things in some places. Utah, Oklahoma, and Texas have actually had to pass laws legalizing the act of letting kids roam around unsupervised. Wisconsin has no such law that I know of, but in small towns around America the culture of letting kids roam remains much more in tact than it does in more populated areas. This is a big part of why we spend so much time on the fringes.
The people we’ve met, the people who are here regularly, they think like we do, they grew up like we do. The sort of people who’ll call the cops on an unattended child, do not come here. And so we keep coming back.
This means that a good bit of what we’ve done this summer — is nothing. We’ve stayed around town and let the kids wander the creeks, make friends, ride their bikes around town, make food over a fire, fish, swim, and whatever else they want to do.
And sure, I was there to take these pictures. I like to swim. I like to explore. But these are just a handful of moments. The kids had most of the summer to themselves. We let them wander around in a kind of mile or two radius where they could get up to whatever they wanted. I’m grateful to all their friends’ parents who also let their kids roam around and to the people of Washburn who’ve made a community where that’s possible. Where bikes won’t be stolen, no one calls the cops on kids, and the world is, well, more like it was in 1984.