Nothing like almost taking a child’s life to bring on a bout of nostalgia. I was driving home yesterday from the Pier 6 playground, where I was one of the few dads shameless
brave enough to take off my shirt and shoes and join JP in the “water lab.”
As I may have mentioned earlier, I live in a neighborhood more on the “gentrifying” end of the gentrification spectrum than the “gentrified” end. This means that at times it reminds me of the New York City in which I grew up (for reference, please see, “Bonfire of the Vanities” and “Taxi Driver”). As I was coming up a street of frame houses equally between renovated and crumbling specimens, I noticed that someone had opened a fire hydrant for the kids to play in. I slowed down in case there were children ahead that I couldn’t see. As I got closer, a young boy darted out in front of me chasing a rubber ball. I didn’t really come all that close to hitting him, but for a second I thought I might.
Going by, I could see that there were about four or five pre-teen boys playing in front of their house. I turned to my girlfriend and asked her if she had ever played in a hydrant (she’s from Chicago) and she said no.
“You know,” I said, “I think I grew up in the last NY generation where kids regularly did that kind of thing. I played in fire hydrants, swam in the fountain in Washington Square Park, played stickball.”
What I really meant, of course, was that my generation was one of the last in NYC that was allowed to play alone. One of the pivotal moments of my childhood was the abduction of Etan Patz, a boy who lived not far from where I grew up in Manhattan who disappeared one day on his way to school. I could be wrong about this, but it seems in my memory that the culture of parenting anxiety that we presently live in began with that event. It wasn’t long after Patz’s disappearance that missing children became a regular presence on milk cartons, and although we now live in a much safer society than 1980s America, we seem to spend a greater amount of time spinning out the consequences of what could happen to our children if they leave home unattended.
Either way, playing in a fire hydrant is a fine thing on a hot day. JP will have to experience it, even if that means I will have come with him to do it.