Yeah, yeah, I am old enough to be from the generation of Free Play. When I think back to my childhood, I have vivid memories of hours and hours spent exploring the woods that abutted our suburban house. It was a large tract of land clearly slated for future development, but which languished in my time in wild, thorny, and verdant splendour. Hard dirt paths carved through the woods, ample clue that they were popular with more than just this curious 9-year-old child. But I don’t remember ever seeing anyone. I could take an entire artillery of flotsam with me—Barbie dolls, sand pails, plastic animals—and create new and amazing worlds in those woods. I could invent stories rife with travesty and betrayal and magic and deep abiding love. I could lie amid thigh-high grasses and just inhale the dry, hot, wildflower fragrance. I never worried about “strangers”; I cherished the bright rays of the sun; I didn’t imagine the possibility of fierce animals or broken bones or helplessness. I know I must have played in these woods with my friends, but strangely, that’s not what I remember. The memories that linger of this carefree time are the ones of me alone, responsible to no one, utterly unrestrained.
And then times changed and I grew up and so did the world and our fears and our woes. And I had my own children and had to make a choice (or choiceS: choice after choice after choice) on how we would raise them. Sadly, I couldn’t risk allowing them to utter abandon. On the one hand, I don’t agree with the mother in the article who laments, “The world is a different place!” It is in many ways, but not, I don’t think, in the pure mathematical logic of more psychopaths—because that’s who we fear when we fear the “stranger”. I imagine that the odds are about the same (with the exception, maybe, of a slightly higher population affecting the pure amount of them). On the other hand, I completely relate to the father who says something like, “But I can’t risk my child being the one child.” So I never walked the street without holding a hand and I never let them out of my sight (and so never lost them). That said, I was always aware of a kind of childhood injustice when it came to their freedom—the freedom necessary, in my opinion, to develop their imaginations and curiosity and problem-solving skills.
I asked the girls about how it was to grow up the way they did … and their answers surprised me. They have their own sweet memories of childhood abandon. For them, it was sweet summer days spent in the backyard creating worlds in their sandbox or in our garden. It was cold winter hours in the “mess” of a basement where we allowed their toys to have their own sort of wild free reign. They say they have no dearth of experience when it comes to freedom and independence. Even if I only remember hovering at the kitchen window making sure they were safe outside or tracking their basement safety from upstairs. Maybe a kid’s always gonna do what a kid’s gotta do!
What is your experience of childhood play—is it carefree abandon or cloistered restriction?
Deb: Mine was a combination of both, I would say. My parents certainly wanted to know where I was, but we were allowed to run free in the fields, and up at the cottage we spent endless hours by the creek, in the forest, and in the farmer’s field. We had a huge tree on the other side of the creek that we would climb every day as part of our ongoing game of Robin Hood. We would sneak into the abandoned (haunted, to our young imaginations) cottage that we were told not to enter but did anyway. Walks to “Big Rock” for the big climb and picking wild raspberries were all part of the daily fun. Our parents were secure in the knowledge that we would come home for meals, which we always did.
I will have to ask the boy if he had any such adventures that I did not know about. Sadly I was not as cool a parent when I became a Mom. I was, I am ashamed to admit, too worried about his safety to let go too too much. But I think the boy would tell tales of tobogganing on the big hill, building snow forts, and climbing the next-door neighbour’s tree. The toughest and best thing I ever did was letting go enough for him to have camp experiences. After one session, I settled into letting go and trusting that he was going to be okay. Also, having a pool has adventure built in and I think he remembers it that way. I hope the fact that I walked him to school till he was shaving does not colour his memories of childhood abandon! :-)
|Phil sent me this and I had to include it. Credits, anyone???|