Thursday, May 10, 2012

Free Range

I grew up almost neglected when it came to supervised play. I was essentially an only child (my brother is 12 years old than me). My mom raised me alone, ran her own business and is somewhat OCD about housework. If I wanted to play outside, I would just go outside. We happened to live across the street from the town park - so I was often running across the street to play there. When I was old enough to swim (I'm guessing 8?) my mom would even let me go to the town pool by myself. I would spend the entire morning at the pool, come home for lunch, and then run back until dinner time.

I was on the town swim team, and the YMCA was about 3 miles from our house. I know for sure that by the age of 10, I was riding my bike alone to town for swim practice. And definitely was riding my bike to school in 5th grade (you are 9 in 5th grade, right?). I know that I walked a few houses away to wait for the school bus once I hit 1st grade, and my mom definitely didn't stand outside and wait for the bus with me.

If I remember right, this wasn't FORCED on me. I wanted to. I wanted the independence of riding to town. I wanted to go and explore the park alone. I don't know if it made my mom cringe to watch her daughter ride away (I always had a helmet, she insisted on that) but she let me. And when we were at the cabin? My fondest memories are of going to the local pond (through the woods! It was LAME to get there via the roads or trails) and capture frogs or spend hours redirecting the streams.

I know that is how I want my kids to be. Confidant enough to ride their bikes to a friends house. Know the area well enough to play in the woods for the whole day. When I found the Free-range parenting blog, I was like AMEN, sister. And as my kids get older, I see the challenges that face us now. Every single mom is waiting with the kids for the bus (we have two stops on my street, about 5 kids per stop, and there are at least 3 parents at each stop too). I'm not sure, but I'm pretty sure the bus isn't allowed to drop you off if there isn't an adult waiting for you. We live about 3 miles from the local school, and I don't think the thought of riding their bikes to school has every entered our neighbor's minds.

We have a pretty good posse of kids Cam and Maggie's age on the street, and as parents we all are like-minded. I really hope that in a few years Cam pops off the bus and yells that he is riding over to his pal's house to play and like I used to, but who knows. So many kids are playing multiple sports that every day after school they are in some organized activity or another - or the kids are inside playing video games or watching TV and homework. I really hope that my kids at least get a taste of the independence that I had growing up.

For us, there is also the side note of knowing that your child can die. That nagging fear in the back of your mind that if I don't watch them every second I may lose them. My therapist said that all parents have that fear, but as the percentages are just so low, most deal with it by not thinking about it. Because seriously, we would be paralyzed by fear otherwise, right? So sometimes, when Maggie is careening down our driveway on her scooter, it takes everything I have not to scoop her up and hold her and say BE CAREFUL! But I cheer her on and say go Maggie go! And pray that all is well.


Heather said...

I LOVE Free Range Kids. I had a similar childhood as you. I walked to school alone in first grade. I was on my bike cruising the neighborhood all summer, and probably biked the mile to the nearest gas station on my own when I was 7 or 8.

There are kids (not many) that walk and bike to my daughter's school and I wish it was an option for us. She would love it! But I've also heard parents say that they don't think their 12 year old is ready to stay home alone. Twelve! I was babysitting until 1am at that age!

We have a wetland behind our house which freezes in the winter. This year we let the 7.5 year old explore the area on her own. She is a kid who thrives on alone time, and she loved just stomping through the snow, listening to her steps and the silence. Sometimes she would take our lab with her. A kid and her dog exploring nature. Is there anything better?

Zephra said...

I too had a childhood like yours both in the city (Chicago until I was 12) and then the country (Mississippi). However, something happened to me when I was 8 and I never told anyone. My Mom sent me to the grocery store that was only a 1/2 block away but across a busy street. I was approached by a man and he tried to grab me. I ducked under his arm and managed to get away.

I never told anyone because I didn't exactly have the best home life but that is another post. Anyway, that is always in the back of my head. I could have been killed that day. I am very careful about letting my kids out alone. The chances of something happening to them are really low but what if? Besides, the kids love that I walk with them to the bus stop. It is our talking time. So it works for us. Plus my littlest one...he is a danger magnet.

Now do I think you are crazy for being a free range parent? Nope. I could name a ton of stories about kids getting hit by cars riding bikes to school or getting kidnapped walking alone but I could name even more of kids who walk every day and make it home safe. From what I read in your blog, you are an amazing Mom and your kids are going to have amazing childhoods.