Rewatching Harriet the Spy tonight (yes, this is what I turned down an offer to go out in Santa Monica for, shut up) made me once again jealous of little kids in movies. And when I say “movies” I’m of course referring to the ones made in the 1990s with snappy dialogue and sexual innuendos between the parents that you would not understand until rewatching it a good decade later. (Literally all kids movies have this rolling in them in spades. George of the Jungle made a reference to Brendan Fraser being “the king of the jungle” whilst nekkid that 5th grade Heather did not get or really even catch while watching tbh BUT OH LAWD 7TH GRADE HEATHER DID.)
There were a lot of things that kids in the movies during the ’90s got to do that I most certainly did not. Granted, I didn’t have a conventional child of the ’90s lifestyle. My favorite place to go was the bookstore and the library and I was always reading. I started working when I was 11, right around the same time that my mother got pregnant and had my two youngest brothers whom I immediately got pined with baby duty assistance. Diaper changing, bottle feeding, stroller pushing, dressing, car seat strapping - you name it, I helped do it. And I wasn’t fond of this either. You try being on the cusp of puberty while working hard to maintain your GPA at school, juggle a job, and be a junior parent at the same time. Grows you up a little too quickly. The little things took my mind off of the fact that my two brothers crying in the middle of the night left me exhausted the next morning in school. Little things like my first pair of platform Sketchers heels, my two perpetually dead Giga Pets, the Timon & Pumbaa Lion King typing game I learned how to type on a computer keyboard with, Oregon Trail, afternoons when my teacher would be so tired from her second job that she’d put on the soundtrack to Mulan and let us write/color/read/have quiet hour, and of course, ’90s movies with cool kid and/or puppy protagonists.
Here are some things kids in ’90s movies got to do that I did not, speaking from both a personal standpoint as well as an occasional geographic one.
1) Wander The Neighborhood
Kids in ’90s movies (especially in Harriet the Spy) are constantly going everywhere and then some in and out of their neck of the woods. Um. I sure as shit could not have done that in my neighborhood growing up. It’s not like we lived in a really unsafe area or anything. You just couldn’t walk anywhere after dark alone. It’s Saint Louis. It’s been nationally ranked as one of the most dangerous cities in the country. I grew up watching America’s Most Wanted and Unsolved Mysteries and was constantly terrified that one of my brothers would be snatched by a stranger. All you had to say to ANY of my brothers was “hey kid, I got some Pokemon cards in this car” and fuck it, it would be all over. I walked my brothers home from school everyday and had us take various routes so we didn’t look like we took the same street and were therefore “predictable” to get shoved into the back of a large white van. I was also adamant that we walked quickly and with a purpose, heads held high. Being a big sister made me insanely protective of my brothers, a trait I have yet to feel slip away from me, but rather only felt grow stronger the older we all got.
Also there was a convicted sex offender who lived about four blocks from our house. Definitely not something ever addressed in ’90s kid films.
2) Sassy Mouths
’90s kids had sweet comebacks, for both their classmates and parents. Some were just well-tuned phrases that referred to peers as “dog breath” or other assorted PG potty humor. Every now and then you’d watch a movie where the little boy/girl (typically a child of divorce or with one dead parent in the mix or feeling some step-sibling or maternal sibling favoritism) would shout at their parent that “you don’t love me, not like you do them!” or “I hate you!” or “this is all your fault” or, in rare circumstances, some swearing of the female dog or h-e-double toothpicks variety.
Parents in the movies would then let the kid storm off to their room and get this sheepish look on their faces like they were internally wondering if they were too harsh or really just being selfish. (Exhibit A: when the oldest son in Homeward Bound bitches at his stepfather for being the reason why their animals ran away.) In my family, this shit never went down. My parents got the last word in and it was the most final. Sometimes, it would be of the reverse psychology form (“yeah actually we do like your brothers more than you”) OR a snappy comeback would be in order a la the film Stepmom when Jena Malone shouts at Julia Roberts “You’re not my real mother!” and Julia replies, “Thank god for that!” minus the instant apology after.
We were and still are a loving family, I promise. But we were all realists. Just as we were taught Santa did not exist and you had to work hard and not give up or expect someone else to hand you your dreams on a silver platter, bullshit and smart mouths didn’t fly with my parents. They still don’t either.
3) Flying/Booking Air Travel Alone
I started heavily traveling and booking air travel alone in college. College. Not 3rd grade, cross country. Honestly I don’t know how ’90s movie kids did it. Whose credit card did you have to swipe to make the purchase? How did you make it out from the terminal to the hotel or wherever the fuck it was that you were headed? And what about the art of slipping out of the house with only a backpack as your carry-on? Even back in the ’90s I would have suffered great difficulty trying to figure out how to condense my closet into my tiny school backpack (which only grew tinier as was the trend from the movie Clueless.)
What really screwed with me was Home Alone 2. Mac Culkin winds up in New York and still can’t figure out where the fuck he is from the very obvious NYC skyline outside of the airport - clearly somebody was daydreaming during geography/social studies/basic life. He has his dad’s bag with him with pop’s credit card and a ridiculous stockpile of cash. All dis money and an era without apps or Orbitz to help find the most affordable place to crash overnight means going straight to The Plaza Hotel.
Let me hypothetically book a room on the Plaza’s site from Dec. 20th to Dec. 26th. Enough time to fly to NY, stay and sightsee for Christmas, and check out the next day to head home. Granted, I’m doing this in 2012, not 1992, but let’s see how much it would be to be Kevin McAllister for under a week.
The grand total comes to $6506.34.
And that’s in a suite on a sale relative to Fairmont.
If I pulled that stunt as a child, I might as well join the homeless woman Kevin meets and set up camp with her. Going home would not be an option. My dad would probably wind up in the hospital from bursting several blood vessels too.
4) Get Boyfriends/Love Interests Faster Than Me
For the duration of my teen years circa 14-18, I prayed for a boyfriend. For a cute guy to be into me. For some of the shit to go down between me and a member of the opposite sex that some of girlfriends who had already “been there, done that” would whisper to me about. (We went to Catholic school, hence the whispering.)
I was tremendously confident about this the first year of nonstop prayer and birthday cake wishing. (“Hey! Heather here, just praying for a nice guy to notice and like me! Thanks in advance!”) Nothing happened. I didn’t give up. Instead I got to a damn-near resume point during prayer where I rattled off all of my accomplishments (“I write for the school newspaper, I have two jobs, I’m head of the costume department in the drama club, I’m prompt and organized and driven…”) Still nothing. Then I just questioned everything and got angry. (“Do you not understand I am literally the last girl in my grade who has not had a proper boyfriend yet?” Do you really want me to be just like how my mother said I would grow up to be like Paris Gellar in Gilmore Girls?”) And finally I gave up. (“Hey, I was gonna pray for a bf but clearly ain’t nobody got time to help me out up there in that department so I’m just gonna pray for college acceptance to my dream school instead.”)
As much as I’m not fond of making this next statement, it was for the best that I didn’t have a steady boyfriend in middle or high school. Seriously. And the reason I say this is because those were the years in my life where I was my world - and it needed to be and stay that way. I worked constantly and did tons of extracurricular activities and was fixated on myself and getting me where I needed to be. Boys would have distracted me and as I was still quite young and selfish and on the pursuit to my own happiness, I wouldn’t have made for an ideal girlfriend either.
But still. Enjoying the company of the cute guy who played Casper would have been nice.
I liked you both as the ghost and in human form, bb.
From the files of my most unfulfilled ’90s wishes,