I have twin grandsons. As they are growing up I can’t help but compare what growing up in California was for me and my children and how it is for them.
I grew up in Santa Barbara, California. I remember walking to the bus stop with my sister (2 ½ years older) and taking the school bus to school and home when I was in the 1st grade. I was a BIG fan of Roy Rogers and loved playing cowboys and Indians with my neighborhood friends. We all had cowboy hats and boots and holsters for our cap guns. My cap guns were my most treasured possession. We all played outside in the neighborhood. There were big fields with oak trees that had some branches spread horizontally we could bounce up and down and ride like horses. On weekends Mr. Marino would bring a string of real horses down from his ranch in the foothills for us kids to ride.
On Saturdays we took a bus to the movies for the Saturday matinees with an Uncle Al stage show, a western, a serial and about a dozen cartoons. I don’t ever remember our parents accompanying us when we Trick or Treated on Halloween. In the summer we would leave home after breakfast and our parents didn’t expect to see us until dinner. It wasn’t that our parents were neglectful, most mothers were home and all looked out for the kids. If a new kid moved into the neighborhood, we’d go knock on the door and ask their parent if they wanted to come out and play. We felt free and safe.
At school we had rings and bars and jungle gyms and teeter totters. We wore shorts under our dresses (yes, we wore dresses to school) so we could hang by our knees from the bars, do a flip and land on our feet. We played hop scotch, jump rope and jacks. We played Kick the Can, Red Rover, Hide and Seek and (GASP!)…. dodge ball. We scraped our knees, we got cuts, we fell out of trees, we broke bones and we brushed off the dirt and played on.
We skated and rode our bikes all day without helmets or knee pads. We snitched pieces of wood from houses under construction and built forts. We went as far as our imaginations took us. One summer when I was 7, we kids put on skates first thing in the morning and wore them all day pretending we were born with skates. Three kids lived next door, Mike 10, Jimmy 7 and Julie 5. At the end of summer Mike told me Jimmy wanted to be my boyfriend. I had no idea what that meant and it didn’t really mean anything except the declaration. The next summer Jimmy came down with polio. He was hospitalized in an iron lung. The neighborhood was quarantined. We couldn’t play with other kids and couldn’t go to public places. No movies or public swimming pools. Our house and Jimmy’s house was separated by a barranca (deep gully). It was about 20 feet across. Julie and I would sit by our backyard fences on either side of the barranca and play dolls. I’d take a doll or toy and put in in the barranca and Julie would come get it and visa versa. One morning I saw my mother at the fence talking to Jimmy’s mother across the barranca. My mother was crying. She told me Jimmy died. That was my first experience with death.
Santa Barbara is an old Spanish town built around the Santa Barbara Mission. Our history was more Spanish than Mexican but growing up in Santa Barbara and in Southern California in general you couldn’t help being aware of our history with Spain and Mexico. I grew up with Mexicans. Our biggest celebration every year was Fiesta. We had two days of parades, horse shows, street dancing and lots of drinking. I was in the children’s parade as a kid and my children were in it when they were kids too. When I was growing up Latino’s were between 15% and 19% of the population of California.
When I was in high school the anti-segregation fight was going on in the South. It seemed remote to us because our schools weren’t segregated. Certainly there were primarily white schools in white neighborhoods and primarily black schools in black neighborhoods, but they all blended when it got to Junior High and High School. I went from a white grade school to a High School that was maybe 50% white but I never noticed.
For most of my life in Santa Barbara I lived on or near the beach. The beach was such an important part of my history. We had picnics on the beach. We built bond fires on the beach. We played Frisbee and threw footballs. When I married we lived in Carpenteria Beach State Park because my husband was the Lifeguard Supervisor for the State of California. My daughters grew up playing on the beach. I made bikinis for a local surf shop and made my girls bikini bottoms to match mine.
When one of the lifeguards asked my 2 year old her Mom didn’t make her a top for her bikini, she told him she didn’t need a top because she didn’t have any boobs.
Their Dad was also a sportsman. When he wasn’t competing in Lifeguard meets, he would dive for lobsters, abalone and fish of all kinds. Or he’d hunt dear, elk, ducks, geese, bear or wild boar. Anything. We had many guns and my daughters watched their Dad clean his guns and learned a healthy respect for them. They didn’t have a curiosity about them. They knew the difference between play guns and real guns.
We had Collies when my girls were growing up. They ran up and down the beach with the dogs. Our yard wasn’t fenced and our dogs were known and welcome by the neighbors. I never had a complaint. My biggest problem was people wanting to keep them. After Christmas everyone in the city would bring their Christmas trees down to the beach and we’d have a huge bond fire. It was spectacular. And on the Fourth of July they had fire works from barges anchored off the coast. Everyone would have fires on the beach and have cook outs and watch the fire works. Kids running around with sparklers.
Very little of that is left today. Dogs and fires and Frisbees are banned from beaches. There are very few places dogs are allowed at all these days and no where without a leash. No bond fires. I expect them to ban fun at the beach….or perhaps the beach entirely. After all sun causes skin cancer. Fireworks are harder and harder to find. There are no dogs and kids running and playing in neighborhoods. They have “play dates”. Kids are bubble wrapped and can’t play without supervision. They can’t explore. Not only aren’t our children allowed to play with toy guns anymore, they are being frightened by our schools into not drawing pictures of guns, not speaking of guns, not pointing their fingers and going “Bang, Bang”. No matter how young they will be suspended and their permanent record flagged. Child’s play has been criminalized.
There are no more rings, teeter totters, jungle gyms or (GASP!) dodge ball. Score isn’t kept in sports and everyone gets a trophy lest their little egos are hurt. Our kids aren’t that stupid. They know some kids are better at various activities than others. What is forgotten is that childhood is a time to learn to cope with disappointment, to learn to compete, to learn that self esteem comes from accomplishments, overcoming obstacles and improving, not from getting a trophy you didn’t earn.
Rules and regulations are changing the way we live and not for the better. Yes, it is a more dangerous world but you can’t protect everyone from everything. In my opinion one of the reasons our world is more dangerous is that since the 1950 illegal immigration from South America and Mexico and people overstaying visa’s from countries that don’t share our values or culture has grown exponentially. From when I was a child when Latino population of California was 19% to the 1986 Amnesty bill when it was about 32% to now at 52%. I wish I could say “diversity” has improved our state but that would be a lie. California is 1/12th the population of the country and yet pays one third of the welfare. Our infrastructure is crumbling, our schools failing and we’re bankrupt.
And with the growth of illegal immigration has come the dominance of the Left. Most major cities are run by Liberals and have been for decades. They have pass laws that limit our free choices, that enslave the poor in a welfare state and that installed government employee unions that fund and support them. In the name of protecting us, they pass laws and regulations. Our children are being told what to eat, where and how to play and with what toys and games they can play. Most schools are teaching them what to think, not how to think.
I miss seeing neighborhoods with children and dogs running free, building forts and exploring this world.