As the grainy footage of a 1950s neighborhood Christmas party unspools, the camera pans across guests squinting toward the harsh light. Each waves in turn, the men in suits and women in holiday dresses.
The camera pauses at a tree shimmering with tinsel. Standing next to it is a woman holding a half-glass of wine in one hand and lit cigarette in the other. And she is extremely pregnant.
That image encapsulates not just my impending childhood fate, but that of most Baby Boomers. We were brought into a world where it was OK if pregnant women smoke and drank, where fathers let their young kids finish their beers, where the only children to wear helmets were those in the safety filmstrips shown at school.
Yet we survived, as we did when it seemed toys were designed to injure us.
Here are the 5 most dangerous situations Baby Boomers faced, and lived to tell the tale
1. Using the car as an amusement device.
If my brother and I weren’t leaning over the front seat trying to change the radio to a station that didn’t play dad music, we were tussling in the back of the Pinto station wagon. Every now and then Dad would accelerate through turns or brake unexpectedly, keeping us on our toes, if off our feet. Seat belts were employed only as punishment.
2. Living an unaccompanied-minor life.
My friends and I were parent-free when we walked to school, played outside or went to the movies. Long before “stranger danger” was both a slogan and safety program, we even went trick-or-treating without being shadowed by a responsible adult. Our daredevilry led us to bite into popcorn balls and home-baked cookies without having them X-rayed.
3. Slathering on the coconut oil.
Why on Earth would you apply something that screened the sun? Tans were status symbols, and bronze the color of summer. Our skin glistened with oils meant to intensify ultraviolet rays. There were even UV lamps to extend skin-cancer risk far after the sun had set. Not that we had any idea how much damage we were inflicting. Our dermatologists sure do now.
4. Seeking out mumps, measles and chicken pox.
With vaccines still years away, we suffered the itching, swelling and fevers with excessive whining, buying no sympathy from Mom. “It’s something we all go through,” was as tender as she got. At least each case got us out of school for a few days – after we’d been contagious for a while.
5. Breathing in clouds of second-hand smoke.
My parents smoked as if it were their job. Ash trays were scattered around the house then like my reading glasses are now. They smoked while reading, watching TV and driving. One the rare occasion there was a choice, they asked for the smoking section. I have no idea how many packs of Kool and Salem I inhaled, but no doubt I am financially in arrears to Big Tobacco.
I’m grateful society is more knowledgeable of life’s inherent dangers, and thus more protective. I’ve never smoked. My son was in a car seat from the day of his birth until he was of a height and weight to safely leave it behind. He was accompanied by an adult to and from school, and on trick-or-treat runs (throwing out the rare home-baked treats from strangers).
And while I appreciate how far we’ve come, I regret where we are when I see headlines like “Florida school lets parents buy bulletproof panels for students to put in backpacks.”
Getting the mumps doesn’t seem so bad.