I had to pay court costs for a traffic ticket I won earlier in the week and took my nine-year-old granddaughter to the courthouse with me. When we entered the building, there was a metal detector and before I could stop her, my granddaughter went through with her glasses on. As the alarm went off she started to throw up her hands, but the very kind court officer assured her she was alright as I hurried through the detector and put my arm around her. I told her that her glasses had set off the alarm and we went to the clerk’s office to make the payment. My granddaughter was quiet while I was talking with the clerk, but when we came out of the office she asked, “Am I correct in guessing that was a metal detector we went through when we came in the building?”
I was a little shocked that she didn’t know; she’d traveled by plane before and I asked hadn’t she gone through one then. She said she had but it was before she had her glasses and she’d never heard one go off. She asked me why they had a metal detector in the court house. I had to think about this one. How did I explain the need for metal detectors without completely robbing her of her innocence? Stalling while I considered this, I explained what the metal detector and x-ray did.
When we got back to the lobby I excused myself and asked the man at the x-ray machine if my granddaughter could see the screen. He and the lady working there with him were very nice and let my granddaughter put her little stuffed pig through the x-ray machine, then pulled the screen up so she got to see a clear picture of her pig’s stuffing. The man told my daughter he had to make sure her pig’s belly was full.
When we got outside, my granddaughter told me the alarm had scared her and she had thrown her arms up because she was going to yell, “I’m not a criminal!!”
We laughed, but this made me kind of sad. Thinking back to the time when my then four-year -old grandson stopped (along with everyone else in the supermarket parking lot), when a plane flew overhead for the first time after 9/11 and asked me if it was one of ours. I explained to my granddaughter how different things were now than when I was growing up.
I told her how we played outside all day long and our parents only had to listen out for us (I still go with my granddaughter when she goes out to play, even when there are other kids outside, because I know there are registered child molesters in my area. I caution her to stay where I can see her and not to accept gifts from strangers if she does wander away from me, (and remember how when I was young little old ladies always had a piece of candy in their pocket books for a little child).
I told her how neighborhoods were close knit when I was growing up, how everybody knew and looked out for everybody, and helped each other out. I told her about a neighbor whose husband had left and how all the mothers in the neighborhood took turns watching her kids without charging her when she had to go to work.
I didn’t want to tell her the true horrors of today. I said things cost more today than they did when I was little and moms work instead of staying home and parents don’t have time to get to know their neighbors anymore. And that because we didn’t know people, we were suspicious of them and did the things we did to keep our children safe.
Remembering our conversation tonight, I think about my neighbors, one of whom has been inhospitable to me since before I even moved next door to him in the house I have lived with for the past twenty odd years. I think about the time the neighborhood association planted trees and shrubs in our common area to prevent children from playing there, think about how I miss the sound of children playing together on the sidewalk and the concern I feel when I do hear loud voices outside. I think about all the tot lots that I took my children to play in when they were little and how they have all disappeared one by one. I think about the time when I could walk home from work late at night and not worry about anyone accosting me.
Our children are now taught socialization at school rather than at home and I wonder what price do they pay?