"Things won are done,
Joy's Soul lies in the Doing."
- William Shakespeare

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Kids Will Be Kids

Just in time for the lazy days of summer, I've recently finished reading a marvelous, funny, and eye-opening book, Free Range Kids, by Lenore Skenazy.  The subtitle is particularly telling for our times:  "Giving our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry."  Skenazy is an accomplished writer; witty, gently scathing, and above all, realistic.  By laying out actual, factual statistics, she dispels many of the fear-mongering myths parents are constantly bombarded with, by a shock-value media.  Kidnapping, broken bones, lawsuits, this clever lady takes them all on.  And I love what she's got to say.

Being a parent, and particularly a mother, seems to mean that the job comes with a fair (or unfair, perhaps) load of guilt.  Are we providing a safe enough environment?  Opportunities to grow?  Playdates aplenty? Travel... education...saving for college...oh my God...how much therapy is this kid going to need, and will it all be my fault?! 

Alright, a little overly dramatic there.  But the point is, we are given so much freaking information on how to parent these days, that we seem to have lost all common sense.  It's too easy to over-analyze every minute detail, to death, purely out of love and concern for our kids.  Because that's what the media is slamming over our poor, worrying heads every five minutes. 

Remember, way back when we were kids, how summer went down?

"Mom!  I'm going out to play!"

"Alright, see you for dinner.  Have fun.  Don't eat gum off the road."

Boom, that's it.  Get outside, use your imagination, and for the love of all that is holy, do not eat chewed gum off the road.  (I have a cousin who regularly did that.  That is awesome.  Utterly foul, but awesome.)

I think the conversation now may go something like this:

"Can I go out and play?"

"Outside?  Are you kidding?  I've got (laundry, work, dinner, etc) to do inside, and I can't be out watching your every move right now, making sure nobody abducts you.  Or that the neighbor kid falls on our property, and his parents sue us.  Tell you what, tomorrow we'll go to that nice, safe park, where everything is padded like a lunatic cell, you can play for a whole hour, while I google any hidden dangers from my Iphone.  Oh my God!  I just heard gum off the road can KILL you!  We're not going anywhere!"

Alright, alright.  I do have a flair for drama, it's true.  But seriously, the above imagined conversation is not that far off from the reality of what parents are worrying about these days.  One of the big ones, for me, that Skenazy tore to shreds, was the child abduction fear.  Statistically, 1 in 150 million children are abducted and killed by strangers, that's a 0.00007 percent chance that your child would be the one.  And yes, that would be absolutely soul destroying to be that one.  But here's how she put it into perspective.  If you were trying to get your child kidnapped and killed by a stranger (weird, but see it through, purely for the perspective, not because it's been a bad day with Junior), how long would you need to keep him outside, unsupervised, for this to statistically happen?  Seven hundred fifty thousand years.  Wow.

Remember climbing trees?  Falling down and breaking something?  Didn't at least one child from every family have a broken bone at some point, back in the day?  And nobody sued.  It was unfortunate, sure.  Painful, absolutely.  But one of those learning curves that hey, kids learn from.  And most likely, not only did they climb that tree with a little more finesse next time...they also were a little stronger from the life lesson.

I was somewhat disgusted to discover this past year, my kids' school  policy on wet recess.  Not pouring down, better stay inside, rainy day recess, mind you.  Nope, it's been raining and the field and playground equipment are wet.  What happens then?  No playing in said field, or on said playground equipment.  (Which you can bet is already pretty damn equipped with the latest child safety measures.)  Running on those foamy mats under the playground equipment, wet or dry days...is not allowed.  Why?  Liability issues.  Fear of lawsuits makes it so the playground lady is now forced to be a cop, lining exuberant kids up against the bloody wall, in time out.  For running.  At recess.  (This is not her fault, nor the school's by the way.  Litigious society ought to shoulder the blame here.  Which means all of us.)

Rough housing used to be a normal, even healthy occurrence.  Irritating as hell, obviously.  Especially in close quarters.  But, surely, if everyone's laughing, and having a good time, this is okay.

Remember building forts?  Living outside all day, all summer, past when either the streetlights came on, or you were catching fireflies and playing flashlight tag?  Riding bikes to the store to buy penny candy?  Waxing nostalgic here, I know.  But what I'm saying is this:  Our job as parents is yes, to keep our kids safe.  But, it is also to maintain perspective as to what's important and what safe really means.  And at some point, these kids are going to venture out into the world, and either be a complete, sheltered wreck, because they've never dealt with anything remotely shocking.  Or they're going to have picked up a few lessons from climbing trees and exploring nature, and be just fine.

I still worry, and frankly, I think that's not a bad thing.  These are precious people we've made, and for whom we bear some serious responsibility.  But perhaps, letting go, in the face of fear...fear of being hurt, of being judged, of screwing up...letting go of our kids a little bit at a time, and trusting that they can work it out, and that we possess some decent intuition as their parents...perhaps that's what we're meant to be doing here.

And the day came
when the risk to remain tight in a bud
became more painful
than the risk it took to blossom.
~ Anais Nin ~

Whatever course you decide upon,
there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong.
There are always difficulties arising
which tempt you to believe that your critics are right.
To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson ~

Life shrinks or expands
in proportion to one's courage.

~ Anais Nin ~

and the net will appear.

  ~ John Burroughs ~

Kids will be kids...if we let them.


  1. This post is brilliant. I love your recipes, but this, this one right here, is worth re-reading 100 times. I can't wait to get my copy of "Free Range Kids"(Hooray Library!!), and am also pretty stoked to know it is safe to let Hannah wander outside in the street. Alone. At midnight. (That was the point, right?) :)

  2. Haha! You may want to watch out for those bears though, they get hungry around midnight, I hear!