By today’s standards, my parents could be in prison.

10 Apr

I am a child of the seventies, and by today’s standards, my parents would probably be deemed unfit to care for children. They may have even committed some felonies along the way.

Back then seat belts were for airplanes, and car seats and seat boosters were unheard of. At least not in my family. Babies and infants traveling in a car would be held by their mothers while toddlers and children just sat down without the need for any special contraptions to keep them restrained in a vehicle. The only thing parents were eager to secure was the right to drive without being annoyed by nagging, fighting, and hyperactive children. We were expected to shut up, but even that was a lost battle.

We were living in Eastern Europe when I was about six. At the time we road-tripped a lot to discover what lay behind the iron curtain. I have vivid memories of lying on my mother’s lap eating sandwhices in the passenger seat of our rodent-colored Soviet-produced Lada crossing the border between what was then Yugoslavia and what is still Bulgaria. And I could be wrong, but I also have less certain memories of either my brother or I sitting on my father’s lap simulating driving along with him. Imagine that happening today.

It’s not that my parents were entirely ignorant of road safety. But it just wasn’t that big of a deal. The extent of their road safety disciplining was a fake cautionary tale that even back then my brother and I sensed was bullshit. Somewhere in the Bulgarian capital Sofia, a full-sized passenger airplane was perched on a hill right before a major tunnel. We never found out what the airplane was doing there, and since none of us spoke Bulgarian we couldn’t ask the locals. We could only guess if it had crash landed, or was simply on show to demonstrate the aeronautical might of the communist empire. It was just there. Haunting and inexplicable. My parents must have been sick of hearing our incessant questions about the lone-plane on the hill that they finally had an explanation, which went something like this: A small boy had asked to see the cockpit mid-air and the crew allowed him in. But he was speaking too much and distracted the captain who lost control of the plane and crashed. And the moral of the story? “Don’t talk to dad while he is driving because he too could get distracted and crash the car just like that airplane. And kill us all.”

But it wasn’t just in the car my mom and dad would fail as parents by today’s standards. We ate raw eggs. All the time. I once swallowed detergent because the kitchen cupboard was not child proofed. The only sun cream we knew was ice cream you ate at the beach. When we finally got a VCR in the 80s, we were allowed to watch gory horror movies. While most kids our age would be watching cute Disney classics or the Sound of Music, my brother and I feasted on Friday the 13th, The Omen, The Exorcist, Halloween, Terror Train, and My Bloody Valentine. My parents were great fans of the genre and I suppose they wanted to share that love with us. Did these films, terrify us? Hell, yeah. When we scurried to our parents’ bed at night, they wouldn’t turn us away. But they would also take the time to explain to us these were just films produced by people to entertain us. People who ate, breathed, peed, and pooed just like the rest of us.

My mother was never much of smoker, but I am pretty sure she may have had more than a few cigarettes when she was pregnant with both of us. It was cool back then to do that. Take a few drags from your husband as you sat on his lap. And don’t get me started on second-hand smoke. Even though she claims she breast-fed us now that it’s shunned up not to, there are huge holes in her stories to suggest she may have started off with every intention to do so, but in the end was seduced by the convenience of the more fashionable milk formula.

I was probably five when I had my first sip of beer with my dad. Six when I first had wine. And probably about ten when I tasted single malt whiskey.

The only reason we didn’t gorge on chocolates and candy was because for most of my childhood we lived in Africa and Eastern Europe where they were hard to come by. But when we did go on holiday to more confectionery-evolved countries, we stocked up on Mars, Snickers, and Twix bars, Quality Street tin boxes, After Eight, and of course, Toblerone. And when we had them the only reason we didn’t eat them every day was because they had to be rationed.

We could talk to strangers at the playground without the fear they were potential sex offenders. And on the subject of parks and playgrounds, on more than one occasion my parents would leave us in the midst of Hyde Park in London with the older son of a family friend while they went off to see a matinée musical or for some other diversion. The son of our friends was barely fifteen then. But I guess he was mature enough for my parents to entrust him with our care. And we had a blast. We gorged on chocolates and candy.

Am I writing this to lament the overly sanitized and protected state of childhood today? Not in the least bit. As a parent myself, I take the safety and security of my own children seriously and feel privileged that science and technology have advanced to improve the quality of their lives. But I think some parents these days are a little hard on themselves. If you ever lapse or relax the rules a little, always remember that when you were growing up many of these rules didn’t exist. But you made it through life just fine. We are like that as humans. Resilient.




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