By Rachel Ballin
On Friday night, after working and playing outside together till almost dark, we shared dinner late around our table. We decided after baths and jammies, we would let the kids stay up late and have family movie night. Its summer right? Why not. Liam picked “The Sandlot”. Bill had just gotten it for him a few days before and he was in love with it! Even though I had already seen it at least four times in the past 72 hours, I agreed. As we shared popcorn and laugh at these crazy kids on the screen, it made me reflect on the childhood my husband and I shared together years ago. When times were simpler and the world was overall a better place to be a kid in.
Many of you do not know this, but my husband and I actually grew up down the street from each other. In Norwich, off the end of Silver Street on Waite Street was our stomping ground. Like the kids in the movie, “The Sandlot”, we played from sun up to sun down every day with a group of neighborhood friends, all summer long. You left your house in the morning not knowing what the day might bring, but you were outside playing, having fun, making memories and loving it! We played baseball, basketball, rode our bikes up and down the street without fear. Bill was lucky on super-hot days, he had a pool at his house. Sure, I was sometimes the odd man out, because I was the only girl, but it didn't matter. We picked on each other and feelings got hurt, but we didn't call each other bullies. We made mistakes, scrapped our knees, but picked ourselves right back up again. Our parents never worried where we were during the day, because we knew when the street lights came on and the sun went down we better have our little butts’ home. We had elderly neighbors, whose snow we shoveled and grass we mowed without being asked to or expecting anything in return. It was simply the right thing to do, so we did it. It was a simpler time, when only adults had cell phones and used email for work. A kid’s biggest worry was how far your bike could take you and if you had money for ice cream on the chance the truck drove by.
It makes me sad to think my kids will not experience these joys or the same level of freedom and independence from their parents. I know we weren't the only kids that experienced summer in this way. A few blocks over on Gold Street or across town on Jones Ave, our other friends from school had similar neighborhood groups of friends to experience summer vacation with. When Liam was little and we lived in town just a few years ago, I couldn't even tell you who are neighbors were, besides one woman, who lived next door. What a difference. When I was growing up, I knew the whole block and they knew me. Sure I couldn’t get away with anything or get into trouble without my Mom knowing about it. But there was a sense of community and feeling of security that came from that too.
It's sad to think this next tech savvy generation will miss out on all I experienced growing up. With iPhones and iPads and interaction over the internet only growing. The small town summer memories of pick-up games of baseball and ditch after dark have lost their appeal and luster. They don't seem as exciting as they once were. Now they're just nostalgic. Don’t get me wrong, I'm not against technology or advancement in anyway, I just wish in one way or another my children could experience some of that small town, neighborhood, community feeling that existed every day, in this town, when I was growing up.
How do we get back to that from where we are now? I don't know. I've talked about random acts of kindness and starting small conversations with strangers. I am a firm believer in these practices still. I know, as a community, we can make a difference, one family at a time. If we all tried to work together a little bit more, to look out for one another, instead of looking the other way. Maybe our kids could get a glimmer of the old ways and form an appreciation for them, for our past as a community. Maybe then the flourishing community and small town appeal that was once here can be reborn through our children, even if only in little ways. It would still be worth it in the end.
If you’d like to hear more from me during the week, or have a small town story of your own to share please find me on Facebook at ‘Baby Talk – with Rachel’. Once there you can find great ideas and information to share with your family and friends. Plus read more from me and about my family’s ongoing and upcoming projects! Hope to hear from you soon.