We were riding our bikes as quickly as our legs could pedal, flying down the road to our “secret place”. Screeching to a halt and jumping off our bikes before they were fully stopped, we ran to our “playground”, calling out for the best hiding spots.
“This one’s mine!” I yelled to my brother.
“No fair, you had that one yesterday!” he cried back.
“Wait for me!” cried Brick who, as the youngest of us, was always a few steps behind and always wanting to be right there with us.
I crawled into my hiding space, a triangular opening in a pile of concrete slabs, covered partially by fallen tree branches and, most likely given the rash that popped up a few days later, poison ivy. This was the coveted spot, and I’d reclaimed it.
Our “secret place”, as we called it, was a pile of concrete slabs that were haphazardly stacked on the edge of the water down by the marina. We spent hours there, by ourselves, making forts in the open spaces created by the construction pile. There were various metal poles sticking out from the slabs, rusty and sharp. Those were our ladders and “guard rails” while navigating our prized pile of rubble.
There were no adults sitting on benches, intermittently looking up from phones to tell us to be careful. There were no adults, period. Well, there were adults back at our beach house. These were the adults that shooed us out of the house, telling us to, “go play outside!” after the millionth “I’m bored!” escaped from our mouths.
They didn’t ask where we were going, what the phone number was or when we would be back.
This, my friends, is what play looked like when I was growing up. It was with siblings and friends, away from the watchful eye of parents. Armed with the guidance and lessons from our parents, “don’t get in trouble”, we were set free in the neighborhood. Boundaries and parameters were set.
We breached them daily.
Rules were created. Then immediately broken.
We had our rules: the rules of kids.There was bonding in our freedom. Our “North Shores Gang”, as we liked to call ourselves and which, I am sure, everyone else was completely unaware and unimpressed by. We thought we ruled the neighborhood.
Our summers were sun and sand filled days on the beach, playing down by the water, our parents sitting in a circle of beach chairs, relegating their supervision onto the lifeguards.
We were given a few dollar and sent on our way, 2 beaches down, to the ice cream shack. Sometimes we stayed on the beach, sometimes we took the “short cut” through the parking lot. Sometimes, if we were feeling really rebellious and dangerous, we’d go explore in the “forest”, a grove deep down in a sand dune where kids would go to drink and smoke (I realized this much later). One day, on our “short cut”, we came across a group of kids in the forest and they chased us out. Some might be thinking, “how dangerous!”, “where were the parents?”
Our parents were letting us be kids. They were letting us explore and experience without constant monitoring. No one ever got (seriously) hurt. The cops weren’t (regularly) called. There were incidents. There were lessons learned.
Now, parents are getting the cops called on them for letting their kids walk alone to a familiar park. The media exploits and sensationalizes every child abduction to make it seem they occur on every street corner. But the truth is kids are in no more real danger today than they were when I was growing up.
Things are actually probably safer, what with parents having more information about the safety of helmets (I never owned one) and correct use of car seats and more frequent use of seatbelts.
Yesterday we let Sweets ride her scooter (with her helmet, of course) around the cult de sac. By herself. No adult with her.
And as soon as she is old enough, we will let her walk to school, which is all of a quarter mile- if that- away.
As she gets older we will add on freedoms as we, as her parents, see fit. I am sure the boundaries and parameters we set will be tested and broken. I would like to be the one that determines punishment for my child for breaking my rules. I don’t need others to tell me how to parent my child and keep them safe. Giving them freedom isn’t putting them in imminent danger if you also teach them how to be safe.
I get that as an adult and you see kids out alone perhaps you get all, “oh my gosh, we should do something!” But unless they are engaged in an unsafe activity, not dressed appropriate for the weather or otherwise look distressed, perhaps >gasp!< do nothing. Maybe a “hey, you kids good?” shout out. Maybe, if you know them, a call to the parents to say, “hey, saw the kids all the way over here today”. But to call the cops? Please. Helicopter your own kids if you must, but don’t helicopter mine.
Have a great crazy day!