“When I was your age….”
My children roll their eyes impatiently when I start a sentence this way. I can’t blame them. Usually this beginning is followed by sentiments such as “that sort of disrespectful behavior wouldn’t have been tolerated” or “I always tried my best to get good grades.”
I believe my children picture me trudging several miles to school, dressed in a gingham dress and pinafore, swinging my metal lunch pail and holding fast to my slate and chalk. Am I really old enough that my childhood was used as the model for the opening scenes of “Little House on the Prairie?” Since I wasn’t born until 1962, I don’t think so. And contrary to popular belief, I didn’t have a pet brontosaurus living in a Snoopy-style dinosaur house in my backyard, either.
Children have a unique perspective of time. They live so completely in the present that they have difficulty understanding the concepts of “past” and “future.” Looking back, I can see that I was no different. I was sure that my mom and dad could give me a first-person account of the American Revolution. I mean, for heaven’s sake, they didn’t even have television back then! How did I see the future and the rapidly approaching new millennium? Well, that was so far away that there was no way I was going to be alive to see that! Of course I was wrong; even at the advanced age of 38, I managed to attend the millennium party without benefit of a walker and a set of Depends undergarments.
How do I see the future now? I look forward to hearing my grandchildren say to their father, “What was it like to be born in the last millennium? Were things very different than they are now? Did you have cars, computers and television?” He’ll tell them, as I tell him now, that life was not so different. “When I was your age…I rode my bike with my friends. When I was your age…I had a pet goldfish. When I was your age…my favorite food was chocolate.” He’ll also tell his children those other things that he so hates to hear, because for some reason, as adults, we feel we must: “When I was your age…I made my bed every morning” and “When I was your age…I had to work at McDonald’s to earn the money to buy my first car.”
And when my grandchildren ask me what it was like to grow up so long ago? I may be tempted to turn on the television, point to Melissa Gilbert in the opening scenes of “Little House on the Prairie” and say, “That was me.”