I was raised on two acres of brambly, snake-infest, uneven ground in a small town where I had free rein to bike to the river, or the general store and hang out with people who would undoubtedly be suspected of pedophilia by todays standards. I fell down and skinned my knees. I ate wild berries without considering whether they were poisonous. I poked dead animals with a stick and once brought home a sun-bleached cat skull, which my parents let me keep. Never once did I feel like I was growing up in a prison.
I love reading posts on this topic. They always get me thinking about my childhood and how Rockwellian it was. I grew up in a small town, about 12,000, and I had the run of most of it. The downtown was about 2 miles from my house and by the time I hit 10 I was able to ride my bike down there.
From 10-13 I hung out at a pawn shop on Saturdays: talking baseball cards, trading comics, and just spending all my paper route money on cards and comics. The two guys that sold cards and comics in the shop (I forget the first one’s name, but the other one we called “Fish”) would probably be considered “suspicious” by today’s over-parenting and over-protective standards. It’s not that they were pedophiles, it’s that it seems that any grown man, who isn’t attractive and dressed like he has a high paying job, interacting with kids is under suspecion.
I left the house, during the summers, early in the morning, would show up again around noon to eat and then be gone until 6 for dinner. I always had kids my age around and they all had the same relative freedoms that I did. Also, my friends all had siblings younger than them so there was always a group of 3-4 year-younger kids hanging around us.
The creek was my world. There were trails, HUGE jumps, dangerous turns, great rope swings that swung out OVER the creek (there were also urban legends about a man with a bat would lived in the woods and satan worshipers). If you swang hard enough could almost reach the other side. We built rock bridges so we could get to the other side. We fished with worms we dug out of the surrounding banks (we caught perch, sunfish and the occasional catfish. Sometimes you didn’t even have to bait the hook, just through the line in and you’d get a bite). We caught crawdads (crawfish) with our bare hands (they were usually about an inch to 2 inches long) and threw them into a bucket. We killed the occasional snake and tried to remember what poison ivy/sumac/oak looked like. We would start off behind my grandma’s house and follow the creek about 1 mile down, hang out under the bridge (we’d always find a Playboy, see porn in the woods) and then go back.
When I was 11 the town rebuilt two bridges in my neighborhood. Just exploring the construction zones after the workers had left was one of the great experiences of childhood. We would gather up all the rejected nails and use them to build our tree house (which had carpet). We would see what it takes to build a bridge and we were just in heaven with the heavy machinery and tools.
We even had a ski-rope swing in my friend’s backyard. The rope was thrown up around a tall branch (about 20 feet up) we attached a water ski handle and tied a loop about 3 feet down from the handle to put your foot in. We would climb on top of one of the clothesline poles, get your one foot read to hit the loop and then jump off. If you got a good hold and your foot was snug, you would sail out over the fence and then right back.
Just writing this post makes me long for when I was 8-12. When being cool wasn’t on your mind. When it didn’t matter what type of clothes you had. What mattered was how good you were on a bike, if you could jump the highest, if you could hold the longest wheelie, if you were the bravest, if you knew the most cuss words.
I know my child while not have the same experiences (for one, we don’t live in Coffeyville). But I hope to not be over-protective. I hope to allow them to roam. I hope that other parents my age, or the parents I will be around when we have children, will allow their kids to explore with mine.
Discovering your environment is a learning tool that can’t be reproduced online, in video, or through your parents. Children must be allowed to get out and explore. Get scrapes, get hurt, make mistakes, think independently.