Things Were Different Then

“She’s four going on forty.” I heard this phrase many times growing up, well beyond the age of four. My three older sisters and my mother, believed me to be confident, a bit bossy, and capable, so much so that my mother once left a four-year old me, alone with a two-year old for 20 minutes while she brought my father to work one day. This was 1976 and although my mother “minded” a few children in our home, she did not work outside of the house at that time. We had one car, as many families did, and she probably needed it for an appointment of some sort that day. Car seats were not a requirement and my mother describes us as “rolling around in the backseat” on the few occasions that we, as toddlers went on outings. For these reasons, my mom had no qualms about turning the household reins over to me. I actually remember the thrill of feeling that my bossiness (read: leadership skills), would finally be an asset rather than something to be laughed at by my older siblings. All was well, and my mother returned before any catastrophe occurred. Years later, my mother, when questioned by an incredulous adult-me, as I recounted the events for my husband, swatted away my disbelief,  “Ohh, I knew you would be fine. You were always very capable, besides, things were different then.”

Today, feeling a wave of nostalgia, perhaps because my sister is visiting from New Jersey, I asked her if she minded that I intended to use this information in my blog and would  she be concerned that she would be cast as unfit mother. “No, what will they do to me? They can’t take my children away now!”  My sister and I laughed, but she continued. “What?!?” She repeated what she said, years earlier, “things were different then.” This prompted a lively discussion regarding the rather questionable mothering practices of  the 1960’s and 70’s. Specifically, the medicating of children, with, what are now considered narcotics. Apparently, my oldest sister, had Paregoric applied to her swollen baby gums, a common practice in 1962. A quick google search reveals that Paregoric was actually tincture of opium, available over the counter until 1970, which allowed for multitudes of hapless, helpless babies to kick-start their lives with an occasional morphine ingestion, as advised by at least one family doctor, namely ours.  “Well,” My mother sniffed, perhaps miffed by our laughter and cries of injustice, or maybe to justify the fact that she gave us morphine, “my friend [name withheld, lol!] often gave her children Cheracol, to put them to sleep.” Perplexed by the sound of this old medication, which sounded like a toss-up  between a bubblegum flavor or a cherry flavored daily vitamin for seniors, my sister quickly googled it to find, far from a proper sleep aide for children, Cheracol contained codeine and surprisingly, was also available without a prescription in the 1960’s. My sister and I, apparently looking shocked, couldn’t help but laugh when my mother justified it with a shrug and a shamefully plausible explanation, if you are a parent that is. “What? She had five children, all very close in age, what else could she do?”  It is interesting to note, that none of the five “children”, now in their 50’s, are known drug addicts.

It also is interesting to remember, that along with my pre-school drug use, I also careened down hills and over self-made bike jumps, with no helmet. I spent hours outside, without adult supervision, tramping through the woods, crossing streams, and swimming alone, or with other young children. I could have fallen in an abandoned well (I very nearly did, a few times), gotten lost or drowned.  Thirsty? We drank from the hose, not a plastic bottle of spring water. In addition to that, my mother, claims she brought me home from the hospital in a card board box, provided by the hospital, although this seems a bit far-fetched, even for 1972. Not only that, but many times in my childhood, I had Mercurochrome applied to open wounds. For those who did not have the pleasure, Mercurochrome was a topical tincture, which had a very distinctive smell and unfortunately contained  mercury, a substance now handled by someone wearing a hazmat suit. Actually, mercury was always a good time according to my brother-in-law, who upon overhearing our conversation, recounted this now horrifying piece of information, “I remember coming home from the dentist with a ball of mercury in a paper cup, they gave it to you after you had a cavity filled. It was fun!” Now they just hand you a toothbrush. I too, remember having a good time with a ball of mercury, after dropping our glass thermometer on the floor. Come to think of it, that wasn’t the only dangerous thing about our old thermometers, maybe the worst thing was that it was an acceptable practice to insert a piece of glass, containing a hazardous chemical into a squirming, feverish, baby’s bottom. How in the world did we ever survive?

More frightening childhood memories surface: cruising around North Pond in a tiny motor boat with no life jackets, just those square, floating seats, my best friend at the helm, navigating around boulders as we approached an island in the pond, and I sat at the bow, calling out vague instructions as to how to miss these potential life changers. “There’s a big one! it’s on your left, like a foot away, no, actually it’s a few inches, watch out!” Island life, had its own dangers; campfires with no adult present, along with old-fashioned sparklers that burned your hand, or your foot if you dropped it, to spell out SOS, seeing as how we were “stranded on a deserted island.” Home the next day, for a quick tuna fish sandwich while watching the “Days of our lives”, we were back in the boat for the day. We were 11. Really, this was child’s play compared to my husband at 11, who, along with a pack of  ruffians, wandered the streets of Lewiston, seeking fights, cigarettes and alcohol. My husband, after I read this statement to assure accuracy, exclaimed “Hey! We were 12!”  Excuse me, I stand corrected.

Today’s moms, for the most part, are a little more concerned than the moms of my youth. My friend Dana, whom I lovingly refer to as “helicopter mom”, due to excessive worry and hovering over her children, has even extended her rotors to cover me, possibly because one of her two children is in college and now has the distance to shuck off words of wisdom like a coat, if he chooses. She routinely reminds me to renew my epi-pen prescription, sends me links to help me organize so I won’t miss important work obligations, and just the other day,  she shared a public service announcement with me, via Facebook regarding the dangers of looking directly at the sun during the recent solar eclipse without proper eye protection. I love this about her, and I am honored that she has taken me under her wing. However, it could not be more different from the laissez-faire mothers of my youth. Yet, here I am, typing away. I survived infant narcotic use, a cardboard car seat, potential drownings, burns, and deadly bacteria from drinking from the hose, blows to a helmet-less head, and bare hands handling of hazardous substances. I’m not saying that any of these things were a good thing,  just that my mother is right, “things were different then.”