I have no doubt that every child who went to elementary school during the 1970’s experienced the same trauma I did. Fortunately, I only experienced it once – or at least I only remember one incident. There may have been more, but none has stuck with me like the one that occurred that day in second grade.
I remember feeling completely lost and alone as I sat on the curb waiting for a mom who hadn’t arrived.
I don’t remember why I had stayed after school. I just remember that I did and was quite excited to do so. Back in those days, afterschool activities weren’t the norm for the under ten crowd. We had music lessons and 4-H and Scouts, but none of those activities were associated with school and there was no such thing as afterchool care.
Whatever the reason my friends and I had stayed late, it must have been a special occasion. I still remember chatting with my friends as we stood on the sidewalk by the playground fence waiting for our moms to pick us up. (In those days, the moms were always the ones who picked up the kids.)
As other moms began to drive up to the curb and my friends climbed into their cars (usually into the front seat, generally without seat belts and always with absolutely no concept of contraptions called car seats), our group got smaller and smaller and smaller.
Eventually, I was the only one still standing on the sidewalk until I tired of that and sat on the curb.
I know anyone born after 1980 is wondering where the adult supervision and teachers were. My answer is “I don’t know.”
Back in those days, vigilance didn’t exist like it does today, and teachers usually went home when the students did. There was a sense of trust in the parents and a sense of safety in daylight – especially in small towns. There was also a belief that situations usually worked themselves out.
Except when they didn’t.
As the sun started making its journey behind the Juniper-covered hills that surrounded the town in which I lived, I sat on the curb and waited. And waited. And waited.
Eventually, a teacher who had stayed late happened upon me as she walked to her car. She didn’t, however, see the same gravity in the situation that I did.
“What’s the matter?” she asked. “You look as though you lost your best friend.”
I remember contemplating her words. My good friends had all left me, but I didn’t think I’d actually lost them. But I didn’t share those thoughts. Instead, I told her I was waiting for my mom.
“Oh, I know your mom,” the teacher said. “I know she’ll be here soon.”
And she was right. My mom did arrive…eventually,
In those days before Google calendars and other electronic reminders, she had simply forgotten that she was supposed to pick me up at school. And, in those days before cell phones, answering machines and vigilant school personnel, I was powerless to remind her. Those things just happened to those of us who grew up in the 1970’s.
Mom may have told me why she didn’t worry when the bus arrived without me. Or she may have told me that she had a meeting and she thought she had babysitting duties covered. I don’t remember because her words never registered. I was too relieved and grateful that I wasn’t going to have to spend the night on the curb and wear the same clothes to school the next day.
I was reminded of this incident a few weeks ago as a read a post that has been recycled through social media a few times. It is a reminder of what would now be considered parenting fails but were acceptable when I was young. And my generation survived anyway.
We didn’t wear bike helmets (although I do remember the humiliation of swimming caps). We played outside with no supervision (unless you count our dogs which all ran free without any type of fence – even electric.) And we weren’t electronically connected to everyone we knew.
If we were out of our parents sight, they never knew where we were, if we were safe or when we would actually arrive home.
I can’t imagine being a parent during that time period, and I give my parents kudos for being so strong.
Apparently, I am much weaker.
Both of my children have cell phones with which they use to constantly communicate with me.
I know if their plans have changed and they are going home with a friend after school. And when they text me such information, I can immediately text the friend’s parents to confirm.
I know when the band bus is running late or early, so I can arrive at the school in a timely manner. I don’t have to sit in a parking lot for hours waiting for a bus to arrive and imagining all that could possibly have gone wrong.
And I know that the school has my cell phone number so I don’t have to be sitting at my office desk to get a notice that my child is sick or is in detention (yes I have experienced that parental fail.)
Those of us who had the true 1970’s childhood experience may laugh at how much we protect our children these days, but deep in our hearts, we are also extremely grateful. Changes in technology and society ensure that our children will never be sitting alone on a curb waiting for a ride home.
And if that isn’t progress, I don’t know what is.
Trina Bartlett lives with her husband, Giles Snyder, their teenage son and daughter, two cats and one enormous German Shepherd. When she’s not being a mom, volunteering or writing, Trina works full time as a director at a nonprofit, social service organization.