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Not-So Simpler Times

There's a story I want to tell you, and it's quite a nice one. A man was sitting on the edge of the bed, observing his wife, looking at herself in the mirror. Since her birthday was not far off he asked what she’d like to have for her birthday.

“I’d like to be six again,” she replied, still looking in the mirror.

On the morning of her birthday, he arose early, made her a nice big bowl of Lucky Charms, and then took her to Six Flags theme park. What a day!

He put her on every ride in the park; the Death Slide, the Wall of Fear, the Screaming Monster Roller Coaster, everything there was. Five hours later they staggered out of the theme park. Her head was reeling and her stomach felt upside down. He then took her to a McDonald’s where he ordered her a Happy Meal with extra fries and a chocolate shake. Then it was off to a movie, popcorn, a soda pop, and her favorite candy, M&M’s. What a fabulous adventure! Ah, to be six again. Ah, to be a child again. It seems like a dream to experience childhood - trips to the playground, going to your first professional sports game with a hot dog and chocolate milk (or pop) in tow, doing sidewalk art with chalk, reading stories with pictures, watching animated films and cartoons, baking chocolate chip cookies with mom or grandma, snuggling with your parents on the couch, bedtime stories, going to the carnivals and theme parks, and naps. (You can't forget the naps. It's essential to childhood. If only they could make it mandatory for adults!) There seems to be nothing but joy, happiness, love, and fun when you're a kid. And a little bit of magic. And a whole LOT of mischief! The world of a child is at their command, especially when their imagination is running wild and free. Sometimes there are moments when parents wonder where they get the ideas and dreams and schemes from, but there are plenty of other moments where there's nothing but unforgettable memories to be had as a child. It's days where they can be doctors, athletes, wizards, witches, fairies, mermaids, princesses, princes, kings, queens, warriors, mythical creatures, chefs, explorers, anything their heart desires that brings them the most joy. And much of their imagination stems from the stories they've been told at bedtime, the animated films they see on the silver screen or on their TV sets, or even meeting a real life fairytale character. For the most part, being a kid is quite fun, and a very simple life at that. I'm sure parents would wish to have their offspring be kids forever so that they can feed their imaginations with the grandest of stories they've read when they were children, or even inspire them to go on their own make-believe adventures. But here's something I'd like to ask all of you: When did that bubble of innocence, joy, love, imagination, and carefree days of childhood burst for you? Was it when you turned a certain age? Was it when you experienced a major death in the family? Was it when you discovered your favorite character from fairytales and comic books aren't real? Was it seeing an upsetting news story? Was it being called a mean name at school? Or even being ostracized by your fellow classmates or teachers? Was it moving to a new city or town? Was it seeing a character you grew up with in a new and different way? Was it giving up your favorite toy or security blanket? In other words, when did your simple carefree days turn out to be not-so simple anymore?

Have you heard of the phrase "simpler times"? You may have heard this from your parents, grandparents, great grandparents, or even from millennials like us. In layman's terms, these were the days when things weren't so complicated by technology, overworking wasn't the norm, life moving too fast, appalling fashion choices, topics that were considered "inappropriate" for normal conversation, you get the idea. Still confused? I'll give you another example. You're watching your favorite movie, TV show, or even a game show reruns from the 20th century (1940s-1960s), and you're caught up in the allure of the fashions, mannerisms, respectability, humor, and so much more. You or someone you know would sigh and wonder, "I wish I could've lived in those simpler times when things were so much better than now." I often do that myself. I would often wonder why society doesn't dress in clothing from the 1940s-1960s, or even in clothing in general that's considered both fashionable and appropriate. (I'm not a fan of wearing sweatpants or pajamas out in public personally, but that's just me. If you're okay with doing that, by all means do so.) I sometimes wonder why the songs of today aren't like the songs from the 1940s-early 1960s - tender, romantic, not-so explicit about sex, and so much more. Now, do you see where I'm getting at? You may refer to that as "nostalgia." And I'm sure we've felt that whenever we were growing up, or even especially now. (If you're interested in a song that longs for the nostalgia of "simpler times," check out "Mayberry" by Rascal Flatts. It pretty much hits this on the nail.) But there's s a downside to being nostalgic for a time gone by, especially for the songs, fashions, movies, TV shows, automobiles, and more. There's still a whole lot of problems that went on during those times, many times not as evident as it is now. I would often tell my mom how much I long for the fashion, songs, and mannerisms of the "simpler times," but she would often dampen my mood by saying that things weren't as elegant or marvelous as I would see on film or classic TV show reruns. It took me a long time to understand what she meant by that. I asked her if she remembers the simpler times of being a kid when she grew up in the 1950s-early 1960s, and her response is something that I think we should all hear. My mom remembers when things moved at a slower pace - all stores (yes, ALL stores) were closed on Sundays for workers to spend time with their families, getting ice cream from the truck on a hot day was always pleasant, enjoying a Coca Cola on the sidewalk, long drives through the country on Sundays, family meals (and everyone was able to sit at the table and not miss it), you get the idea. But there was one thing about those simpler times that was hidden from plain sight. There was still racism going on. There was still sexism going on. There was still domestic violence going on. There was still homophobia going on. There was still prejudice against others who didn't fit the norm going on. There was still segregation going on. There was still all-white, all male business domination going on. There was still limited opportunities for women and the BIPOC going on. There was still stereotyping going on. There was still sexual assault going on. There was still mental health being ignored or neglected going on. There was still so many things going on in those simpler times. But the difference between then and now? More cameras and video recorders are around now to capture these stories than they were back then. So many bad things were going on during the old days, and yet it was covered up by classic TV shows and movies that wanted to keep a pristine, family-friendly, and normal appearance in our society. And even the evening news couldn't cover every single instance of these bad things, but it wasn't just because of the lack of cameras and available journalists and reporters. It was because of the idea of maintaining respectability and the order of things during those days. And that's what makes those "simpler times" so sad. But here's what is especially sad now. Some people want to go back to those times, and be completely oblivious to all of the pain, division, and problems that are going on around us now. Yeah, it definitely didn't make sense back then, so why should it make sense to go back to those days again? But let's not get into politics right now. The point is that there was so many bad things hidden from sight in those simpler times, and it was especially oblivious to children growing up during those days. Or maybe it wasn't. If there was one thing I could ask people who lived during the good old days, it would be this: What was the one moment or event that forced you to lose your childhood innocence and become aware of all of the bad things going on in the world? And as you became parents or asked your parents, how did you explain to your children what was going on and educate them on how to be good people? Hold on tight. This is going to be quite a ride. I want you to do something for me, and while I understand this may be hard for you, it's important. I want you to think back to a major news story you saw as a kid that changed your life as a kid and shattered your childhood forever. It may not even need to be a major news story. It could be an event, person, or just a moment in your own life that you've experienced something so shocking or bad that turned your world upside down. I get that it's hard, but just do this for a minute or two. If you need some help getting started, I'll give you my example. The biggest news story that changed my life and turned my childhood on its head was 11 September 2001. For most of my childhood, I was oblivious to what was going on around the world, let alone the major news stories. I didn't understand what was going on with Bill Clinton and the Monica Lewsinski scandal. I didn't know much about the election where Bill Clinton won. I didn't hear about what was happening in the Middle East. I didn't get to experience the gridlock or war between Democrats and Republicans. So, yeah. I was pretty much kept in the dark on issues like this. But all that changed on 11 September 2001. It was a scary day to have go to your school church when you're supposed to be enjoying your half-day off from school and be told that two planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City, as well as planes crashing in the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania. For me, that day forced me to look at how many problems and fears were going on around the world, and in many cases, when innocent people from the Middle Eastern countries were targeted for hate crimes or being mistreated altogether, it cracked open the innocence of my childhood. That day and the months afterward had my eyes opened in ways that was quite horrific and heartbreaking. But maybe it wasn't just one single event on the news that changed your childhood drastically. Maybe it was little moments growing up that slowly began to chip away at the innocence of your childhood. What was it for you? Was it your parents yelling at each other or sometimes mistreating you constantly? Was it a relative saying or doing something that made you uncomfortable? Was it a classmate in your class saying something mean and hurtful to you? Was it a death in the family? In this case, it would have to be all of the times my father and sister abused me. The times my father yelled at and spanked me for no reason, his distant attitude and lack of warmth, or even my sister pushing me away from her as if I were a disease slowly cracked open at the shell that was my childhood. And through it all, I had to smile to hide the pain that was swelling underneath. I even had to navigate through the "issues" that impacted my childhood, which in many cases were trips to the principal's office when I acted out. I did a whole blog on this in my "I'm A Survivor" series, and I encourage you to read it to get a better idea. It may not be as extreme as mine, or even if it is, you can't deny that there was one or several instances where your childhood innocence was starting to fall apart and you had to see the world in a new way. And one way that a child can see this world is one that's probably hard for parents to hear. That's fear. If there was an event or moment that occurred in their lives that was traumatic to them, kids could start to see the world as a scary place to be. But it doesn't have to be just a scary or bad place. And that's where parents can come in to help. Here's something that I need my readers, especially if they're parents, to understand. Childhood is precious, but it's also a unique time for each kid. It's never the same experience for every child, no matter how much we want it to be. So much has changed in the course of history in terms how childhood should be viewed, understood, and appreciated. Those simpler times that were treasured over 50-80 years ago changed, adapted, even matured with changes in technology, fashion, toys, entertainment, schooling, and so much more. Think about it. Each generation was treated to bedtime stories and reading opportunities with the wonder of books. I'm pretty sure we've all read Grimm's Fairy Tales over a million times, with images of Snow White, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, the 12 Dancing Princesses, Sleeping Beauty, and more swirling around our minds as we look at the pictures and read the words. From there, movie studios take the pictures and words from the book pages and transform it into works of art for audiences to see their favorite characters come to life. For much of the 20th century, the fairy tales on the silver screen and TV had a straightforward plot: a young maiden or princess is in peril, a strong, handsome prince or knight comes to the rescue, the villain is defeated, and everyone lives happily ever after. And that was the way it was. Until one day a young, curious child asked the questions "what if..." and "why?" and grew up to create new interpretations and versions of the fairy tales and classic novels that gave the female leads an opportunity to be strong and rescue themselves, the villains having an opportunity to have a happy ending because of their humble beginnings as (gasp) good people before they became bad, homosexual princes or princesses (oh, the horror!), fairy tale characters of different races and ethnicities, and the beloved heroes, heroines, and villains being seen as complex characters instead of two-dimensional figures we grew up with. And from there, the stories we thought we knew backwards and forwards were turned on its head and the next generation are exposed to new ideas and possibilities to carry with them into adulthood. And this is found in all sorts of things: books, film, and TV, you name it. Or what about this? White, middle-aged or even old men were seen in politics and in power throughout our US history, and that was the way it was. Until one day, a girl decided to do the impossible and run for governor, mayor, Congress, or even president. And that was followed by a black boy and a black girl, followed by an openly gay boy, followed by an Asian American boy or girl, followed by an immigrant child, you get the idea. And from there, inspired people of all races, genders, and sexualities to run for public and federal office. Do you see where I'm getting at? Unfortunately, all of the changes and transformations with each generation has also divided people thanks to one word: RESISTANCE. In the same way where the people wanted to have the fairy tales and stories they read as kids speak to the next generation in empowering ways, or even have more representation in politics, sports, the arts, medicine more, there are those who want to keep things the same as they were over 50 years ago. Especially when it comes to matters within their family circle or stories you see on the news. For instance, rather than sit down and talk about something inappropriate a relative said to a child, parents would just sweep it under the rug and ask their kids not to even mention it again. Or if there was a situation where an unarmed black man or woman was the victim of police brutality or mistreatment, instead of talking about how race is wrong, parents would just say that that's the way things are. "Black people are bad." Or even if your child was sent home from school after being mean to another student because of how they looked, what they said, or what they're beliefs are, rather than making it a teachable moment to appreciate diversity and uniqueness, parents may actually defend their child and insist that they are not bullies or bad people. When in reality, the parents taught their children that there are certain people in this world that are a lower class than you are, and aren't worthy of being treated kindly. See what I mean? (I'm not an expert on this by any means, nor do I pretend to be. These are just my observations and experiences with this week's blog, and the previous posts from before. You are welcome to disagree with me on anything I said, but I won't allow any hate or derogatory comments on any of my posts. If you do this and won't comply by my rules, I will remove your comment and block you.) Childhood is both wondrous and terrifying. As kids, we're learning, growing, and living in a world that is constantly changing each day. And that's been the same for every generation that came before us, and will continue for the next generation that comes after us. Being nostalgic for "simpler times" isn't a bad thing at all, when you think about it. Certain fashions, cars, technology, designs, and more can be quite appealing to us when we saw how elegant the past was in comparison to how much we've either slipped or matured throughout history. But it wasn't always perfect or ideal back in those days. In the case of my parents and their siblings growing up, there was still racism and a lack of diversity seen on the big screen, TV sets, politics, and more. In the case of many families, there were still secrets, problems, and issues that were occurring within the immediate family circle and being swept under the rug. In the case of society itself, there were still so many problems that were seen on the news, but often overlooked or avoided thanks to the need to maintain perfection and normalcy for families everywhere. As much as I would love to experience the good old days when things were not as complicated, I would be disappointed to find out that those times were just as difficult and stifling back then than they are now, even with all of the progress. I realize that many bad things happen on a regular basis and we shouldn't scare our kids into thinking the world is a bad place to be. Think of what that idea will do to their mental and emotional well-being. But even with all of those fears, parents shouldn't have to hide every single bad thing from their kids on a regular basis. That will lead to rebellion, ignorance, and more trouble than taking the time to talk to children about what's going on in the world in a way that is essential to their growth, but also hopeful, respectful, compassionate, and educational. Like it or not, kids are growing up so fast these days, and they may see, understand, and learn more than you realize. It's up to parents and parental figures to teach children the importance of learning, growing, and thriving in our world without any fear, anger, prejudice, or hatred in their minds and hearts. Even in the midst of so much happening in this past year, it's important to have those moments where you can sit down with your kids and explain to them what's going on, and while you shouldn't show them fear, you should show them that it will be okay and how the entire family can take all that's happened and turn it into something teachable that is essential for their growth. No matter how hard it is, taking the bad things with the good is an essential part of growing up, especially for a child. Having those hard conversations about the COVID-19 pandemic, George Floyd's murder and the Black Lives Matter movement, stop AAPI hate, anti-Semitism, the #metoo movement, mental health, body positivity, racism, sexism, homophobia, hatred, bullying, and much more can be a handful to kids. But it's just as valuable to have those talks with kids about these topics and more in the hopes that they will grow up to be good, kind, courageous, intelligent, optimistic, creative, innovative, and loving people. Remember, just as hate, fear, and anger can be taught through example, so can love, kindness, hope, and courage. Which qualities would you like to teach your children?

"If there was something from the 'simpler times' I would love to bring back to the 21st century, what would it be?" I get the feeling that I might be asked this question, and here's what I've thought of so far. Instead of a single "something," it would be several "somethings." Something like all businesses, and I do mean ALL, closed on Sundays so that workers can spend time with their families. Something like fashion from between the 1930s-late 1960s showing elegance, creativity, flair, respectability, cleanliness, and sophistication that can be both beautiful/handsome and affordable. Something like music from the 1920s-late 1960s being played on FM radio during those long drives and road trips. Something like drive-in burger joints and drive-in movies to hang out at during weeknights and the weekends. Something like many things being affordable to have without having to work three different jobs just to make ends meet, like a family meal, living in a house or an apartment, going to school, wearing fantastic clothes, or even having a car. And the one big thing that I would love to bring from those "simpler times" to the 21st century? The chance to actually slow down and enjoy each day we're given. This world has become too fast for my liking, and I would love for people to actually have a day, a week, a month, or even a year to take the time to slow down, relish in relationships, and take in the beauty of simple things like flowers, trees, parks, walks around the neighborhood, a quiet evening at home, looking up at the stars, and long drives. And WITHOUT technology, mind you! But more importantly, there are some things from those "simpler times" that were taught to us as kids that we carried into adulthood, and are hopefully sharing with our children. Something like kindness towards others. Something like laughter that isn't against another's misfortunes. Something like helping others with little things like holding the door open or big things like listening to others. Something like treating others as people and not freaks or weirdos. Something like hard work and determination paying off for EVERYBODY. Something like being gracious to others. Something like taking the time to hear, understand, and respect what other people say without having to prove to them they're wrong and you're right, or vice versa. Something like making memories through trips to new places, doing new things, and enjoying each other's company. All without buying the latest toys or gadgets. Something like honesty being the best policy, even if it does get us in trouble or at the wrong end of things. Something like persevering through the hard times. Something like gratitude for the little things, along with the big things. Something like everyone having a chance to succeed and not be denied this due to their race, gender, sexuality, or religion. Something like enjoying each day as a gift because we're not promised tomorrow. I hope all of you parents and parental figures out there are teaching these values and more to your children. It's sorely needed right now in these complex times. Oh, before I forget... Here's what happened at the end of the story from the top of this blog post: Finally she wobbled home with her husband and collapsed into bed exhausted. He leaned over his wife with a big smile and lovingly asked, “Well Dear, what was it like being six again?”

Her eyes slowly opened and her expression suddenly changed. “I meant my dress size, you idiot!” I knew you would like that story!

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