Extra Pulp: Retro Reflections

Laura Anders Lee reminisces about growing up while doing her best to let her boys “off the leash.”

David Vallejo

Last year, my two boys received The Goonies in their Easter basket. In the first two minutes of the movie, my husband and I realized that a PG rating in 1985 is much different than today. The Steven Spielberg classic about kids seeking adventure and treasure is riddled with cussing as well as a few drug and sex references. Corey Feldman’s character even mentions taking a photo of Chunk’s mom in the bathtub. Yikes. Thankfully most of the vulgar content went over our sons’ heads, but they’ve since repeated a few bad words and especially love the line “What the hell are ya doing at the bottom of a well?” They are 6 and 8. What was the Easter Bunny thinking?! I guess I was feeling nostalgic for my childhood, and a bit too eager to give my kids a taste of the ’80s.

I was born in January of 1980, which officially makes me the oldest millennial. Instead of “Fortnite,” my first video game played on a boxy Apple computer in green graphics. We watched Nickelodeon and MTV in real time and sang along to the commercials. My mother once recorded the 1982 version of Annie by setting up her camcorder on a table in front of the TV. Halfway through the movie, she forgot about the recording and swept the floor, completely blocking the scene.

In kindergarten, I walked six blocks to school with a group of kids—without our parents. The following year, my best friend and I were riding bikes to first grade by ourselves. We spent afternoons and weekends going back and forth to the other’s house, riding through alleyways and forging trails down the bluff near our house until the streetlights came on.

My friends and I made plans by actually talking on the telephone, and before call waiting we had to keep our conversations to a minimum so if my dad called he wouldn’t get the busy signal. In middle school, our parents dropped us off at the movie theater and the mall. We had a quarter in case we needed to use a pay phone, but we rarely changed plans. We said when and where we were going to be, and we were there.

I reflect often on my own childhood as I raise my sons. When we lived in Celebration, the boys and I often walked to Spring Park so they could play after school. Anders and William quickly got bored with the playground equipment and preferred playing in the woods. By woods, I mean a non-landscaped area between the playground’s padded Astroturf and the sidewalk around the park. But to them, they had discovered their own patch of wilderness. They swung on vines, played with sticks, climbed trees, and hid inside forts they constructed from palm fronds.

Back at the playground, two types of mothers became evident: those who allowed their children to play “in the woods” and those who forbade it. The latter were vocal with their concerns: You let them play in the woods? What if they get hurt? They’re going to poke their eye out with that stick! They could fall out of the tree and break their arm. You have to keep your eye on them at all times or someone might take them. There’s more bad out there. It’s just a different time today.

While I respect these moms, I could not disagree with them more. I think there were just as many dangers in the ’80s as today—just look at The Goonies. We are just more hyperaware today. Our 24-hour news cycle is terrifying. I’m not naive but I’d rather my boys play outside than spend hours of mind-numbing streaming on Netflix and YouTube without getting up once to change the channel. I’d rather they use their imaginations and taste a little freedom they can’t experience inside a cocoon. One of the reasons we moved to a community like Celebration is so Anders and William could enjoy a longer leash in a safe environment, one where they have green spaces for playing, sidewalks for riding bikes, and friendly neighbors for keeping a lookout.

Millennial mothers have been labeled helicopter moms for always hovering and lawnmower moms for clearing the path of any obstacles. While protecting our children is vitally important, perhaps we’ve gotten too extreme. There’s an important lesson to take from our ’80s mothers, who gave us room to breathe, to make mistakes and to become more capable and confident. When life presents challenges, I hope my sons won’t give up. I want them to keep their sense of adventure and their eye on the treasure. Goonies never say die!

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