Free Range Kids

Remember when you were a kid how liberating it felt to go out on your own?  Just you and your friends, or maybe you alone on a bike ride……leaving parents and home behind, feeling independent, grown-up, and even a little daring?  I can vividly remember that feeling, but I often wonder if my own kids will. 

The parental life vests that most of us have our kids wearing leave little room for adventure or daring.  OK, maybe the adventure that mom entered into her Blackberry as “Gymnastics 3 – 4:30” or the daring “Orthodontist 4:45”!  Remember your tutoring appointment, put on your sunscreen, charge up your cell phone, ballet starts tomorrow, soccer tryouts today, can’t you just TRY out for the school play?

I remember when I was in junior high, I was excused to WALK all the way to the orthodontist’s office and back to school.  This was probably 3 miles roundtrip!  How many things could have happened to me on the way there?  Kidnapping, sunburn, getting lost, tired feet, frizzy hair, lost retainer….the list goes on.  It would never occur to most moms I know now to let their kids go on their own to the orthodontist.  We fill the lobby, the “Ortho-Moms”, waiting patiently to hear if Billy is brushing properly and how often he needs to floss.  I was expected to either tell my mom these things, or (gasp!) simply do them myself!

When we played outside, we knew where we could go, whose house we could hang out at, and to be home by dark (or by dinner).  My younger brother would loudly shout, “Both courts and our street, bye!!” as he shot out the door, which meant that he was in the immediate neighborhood if my mom needed to yell for him.  I remember many times riding my bike home from a friend’s house during that time right after sunset, when it suddenly seems much darker than you thought it was.  I always made it home, always lived to see another adventure, and learned to take care of myself.  I even remember a friend who had a bicycle newspaper route in the very early morning hours, and I would sometimes join her.  I never had the impression that this worried my parents at all!  I would have a hard time finding someone today who would let their junior high kid do that.

I am trying to let my daughter go out and about a bit more these days, test her independence and just be a kid.  I still catch myself asking her to take a water bottle (what if she gets dehydrated?), watch for cars, and be careful – which is a blanket statement I think should cover all that I didn’t say.  She has no cell phone (gasp!), so once she’s gone it’s up to her to get home on time, make good judgments, figure things out….without a call home. 

Now I just have to find some time when I can be a Free Range Mommy….