This winter's been a dud from a snowfall standpoint. We're in the middle of a "storm" right now that's dropping a couple of inches of the white stuff on us, but we'll still be under 5 inches for the entire winter so far. Which is fine, but the girls are excited and are out playing in the backyard. They're old enough now (7 and 9) to play outside around our house unsupervised, although I'm constantly checking in on them and I told them not to go down the street. A year or two ago, I'd have been outside keeping a closer eye on them.
Of course, when I think back to myself at the same age, I was playing unsupervised nearly all the time. Like many of my friends, I was a latchkey kid. Both my parents worked, so after I walked home from school (which was probably a good mile, backwards in the snow), I used my own key to go into the house, fix myself something to eat and watch "Happy Days" reruns. Or I got together with my buddies to play street hockey or baseball or soccer. There were no cell phones in the mid- to late-'70s, so I didn't have to check in with anybody. I did have to be home by 6 for dinner, though.
The summer was particularly great because I was able to goof off all damn day. A few summers, I went to day camp, where we'd take a bus to a campground area and do camp-like activities all day before going home every night. Those were run by the town and last about six weeks. But during those times I wasn't in camp, I could get on my bike with my friends and ride all over town, usually to a park where we'd hang out and look at all the graffiti carved into the forts by teenagers. We didn't know what most of it meant, but we laughed anyway.
Halloween was another fun time because I would traverse the whole town with my friends and score tons of candy. Mom stayed home to give out candy, so I was on my own. We never had any problems, except one time when some teenagers stole the bags of chips we'd gotten. It was a minor loss.
It really was a different time. Pickering (the town in Ontario where I lived from age 7 to 14) had a small town feel to it back then, when the population was around 35,000; it since has grown to 100,000 as people have moved out of Toronto to the 'burbs. The only time I was ever scared was when we were sitting on the porch with my dog and she barked at some drunk staggering by; said drunk then sauntered up to us and told her to shut up before going on his way. The dog pissed all over our front steps and I was kinda freaked out.
I read the newspapers pretty closely even as a child and was well aware of freaky shit like the Son of Sam, but it never seemed to touch my world until one time in 1980 when I was visiting one of my best friends, Charlie, who was preparing to move out west to Calgary. He was staying in Cabbagetown, a rough area of Toronto, and I stayed over for a night or two. We were out goofing around in a playground at night and saw some folks come through looking for a little 6-year-old girl named Lizzie who had disappeared earlier that day. She had last been seen in that park, walking hand in hand with a man. We hadn't seen her and I didn't think anything more of it until I got home the next day and heard on the news that she had been found murdered. Pretty shocking stuff. Nearly 32 years later, the case is still unsolved. That was the first time I really thought about the dangers of the big city. Not that those kinds of thing can't or don't happen in the 'burbs, but it really hit home after that weekend in the city.
Now I can't imagine letting my girls go to the park or walk to a friend's house that's farther away than down our street. Call me paranoid, but it's a different world. I'd rather be a little overprotective if that's what it takes to keep my kids safe. Long gone are the days of unsupervised 7-year-olds.