So, if you follow me on facebook, you’ll know that my husband and I recently binge-watched Stranger Things on Netflix, finishing it in two days. I know, it’s *only* eight episodes, but we’ve never finished any series within two days, so you know this one must’ve been really good. And, it, like, totally was.
In fact, so much about this show resonated with me, that I find myself reminiscing about being a middle schooler and “coming of age.” It’s certainly a unique time in a child’s life. I remember having so many ideas, and feeling very responsible and capable, but at the same time, very young and innocent.
Most of the time, I had a fair amount of freedom. I walked to and from school on my own (except for a period of a few weeks in seventh grade after I’d had a particularly disturbing dream about a werewolf and I wouldn’t walk on my own, but that’s another story). I had the run of the neighborhood, along with all my neighborhood friends, and most of my neighbors didn’t have fences, so we just played out back in someone’s yard until one of our parent’s shouted our names to come in for dinner.
I rode my bike all over the place – All. Over. The. Place. The road we lived on was 50 mph, and hilly. I knew better than to ride on that road, so I just didn’t do it, and I knew the ways to get to where I wanted to go without doing it. I don’t remember my mom drilling it in to me that I must avoid that road. Maybe she did, but I don’t remember feeling like she forced the idea into my brain. I just knew it wasn’t a good idea, so I didn’t do it. I rode everywhere else, though; no helmet, no extra reflectors, and usually with far too many bags dangling from my handlebars. I was fine, except that one time when I flipped over the front tire on my ten-speed and got all scraped up because I’d been carrying too many bags and one got caught between the wheel and the frame of the bike…
I made it, though. I lived. I got back on my bike and carried on.
Middle school was also a time when we started to become more aware of the world around us. I remember being frightened by frequent stories of attempted kidnappings. Remember the creepy van with the diamond-shaped windows in the back that was out prowling for kids on bikes? Even if you didn’t grow up anywhere near me, I imagine that you probably heard a similar story. Kidnappings, along with threats of World War III, were a major source of concern for parents and kids in the 80s. I have a vague recollection of a run-in with one such van while out with a friend and riding back from her house to my house. Thankfully, nothing happened and we both made it home safely. Maybe it wasn’t that van, or maybe we just got lucky. Or, maybe we did the right thing by sticking together and then telling an adult what we’d just experienced.
I hope that in a few years, my eldest will get to experience a similar sense of freedom (and a few years after that, I have the same hope for my youngest). Sure, things are different nowadays, but even with video games and youtube, and social media in general, I still think kids today are fundamentally similar to how we were when we were middle schoolers. They’re looking for ways to express themselves and to stretch their boundaries, just like we were. Maybe we should encourage more bike riding around the neighborhood. I know not everywhere is set up ideally for that, and as parents we worry – partly because we remember being middle schoolers and we know what we got up to back then (except for me, Mom. I was good, I swear!) – but there will always be things to worry about. Don’t get me wrong: obviously, we must do what we think is right to care for our children, and I’m not advocating otherwise. I just remember how I felt on my bike back then. It was a good feeling. A grown-up, or at least a growing-up, feeling. A feeling that has provided me with memories that I treasure today.
Being a middle schooler isn’t easy. It isn’t now, and it wasn’t then. I’m glad I grew up in a time where I could just hop on my bike and escape for a little while. Bike riding provided an oppportunity for me to be alone and get lost in thought, if that’s what I wanted to do. Or, I could meet up with my best friends and explore some cool area that we’d never explored before, or go to our favorite hangout together. Whatever we did on our bikes, it was our choice. And, that’s why it was, like, totally awesome.