May 6, 2008

Where do the buffalo roam?

Oddly, I have not seen too many mommybloggers talk about the gal who let her 9 year old ride a NYC subway all by himself. When I first saw the news "break", I thought for sure, moms would have gotten all fired up over this. But, no. In reading articles about the story, I found that the gal, Lenore Skenazy, has a blog called Free RangeKids. Hip, hip hooray! Finally, finally, someone is speaking some common sense for a change, instead of spewing the usual media-induced paranoiac nonsense. The following paragraph is typical of Skenzay's mantra:
I’ve been doing a lot of radio interviews and I turn into a self-righteous bore when the host inevitably asks, “How could you let your son take the subway alone?”

I quote crime stats that show a child is 40 times more likely to die in a car accident than by being abducted. I appeal to common sense. I remind people that a couple of generations back, a 9-year-old probably would have had a part-time job. And then I ask the interviewer, “Didn’t you get to run around and do things by yourself when you were a kid?”

“Sure!” comes the answer, but “times have changed.” Once they get that out of the way, they go in for the kill: “How would you have felt if something DID happen to your son?”


So much for my years of media training.

What I really want to say is: “Terrible! Earth-shaken! I’d be cursing God — and especially the radio hosts who asked Him to zap my son just to teach me a lesson! But, Mr. Fulminator, sir, don’t you see there’s something sick about immediately and endlessly envisioning the very worst? Isn’t that the very definition of paranoia? And isn’t it wrong to teach kids that they are incapable of taking care of themselves, that they can’t trust their community, and that it is better for them to live a virtual life inside, where life is programmed, than a real life, outside, where they can glory in the wonders of the world? Are you ever going to let your kid GROW UP?”

That’s what I’d like to be able to get out, but it sounds a little hysterial and it’s not exactly pithy. So if you have any amazing zingers that really seem to open people’s eyes (or shut their mouths), we are all eager to hear them.

And even more eager to start using them.

Truly, this is one of my favorite new blogs. Like many folks my age ("forever young"....Ahem.), I grew up having the run of wherever I lived at the time. When I was 3, we lived in Kansas City and I was allowed free roam on our side of the street (i.e. no crossing the street). When I was 5, we lived in the country and our neighbors were literally, over a MILE away. It was a tad shorter to go through the pasture to their house. May I note that we live in Kansas which is rife with rattlesnakes and copperheads? Then, when I was 7ish, we moved into town (pop. 1,000) and I had the run of the complete town on my bike (sans helmet!) When my sister was 3, she was allowed complete freedom outside as long as she did not cross the street. I would happily cross the street as she sobbed at the corner begging me to come back. Ah, the memories! When I was 9, we moved back to the country. My playmates lived several miles from me via a shortcut - through the woods. I could go on about my freedoms as a kid, but you get the drift.

Arun is well over 2 now and is allowed out in our backyard by himself. The back of our house is full of windows, so we can see him quite easily. In general, he is not allowed out front by himself, but I do see him being allowed out there in the next year or so. When we are out and about at parks and the zoo, etc. I do let Arun to get far enough away from me that he is out of my arms' reach. This never fails to drive folks Crazy With Judgment. I resent this because realistically, some random stranger is not going to scoop my kid up right in front of me and run for the zoo exit. Hello!

Truthfully, I am far, far more afraid of some nosy stranger or neighbor calling DCFS on our "negligent" asses than I am of some random stranger plucking our kid off of our sidewalk. I would be lying if I did not admit that I am absolutely terrified of DCFS (sadly, LagLiv would probably agree my fears are not unfounded.) However, I want to raise my children to be cautious, but not to be afraid to explore their world.

In this vein, I am getting ready to read Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder and I suspect I will be touching on this topic again.


Anonymous said...

I too have been waiting for the masses to sit in judgement and am rather impressed that they haven't. That being said I do read the Mom2Mom board on the Star's website and several mothers were all up in arms about it there.

We allow the big girls some freedom as long as they are responsible. They play out front, ride their bikes around the block etc as long as they are together. At target, the grocery store etc they are allowed to go get items or shop for themselves as long as they are together. I want to them to have some independence because I think it will be useful in their future when I am not there to protect.

I am going to have to pick that book up, it looks interesting - is this the next installment of the cerebral book club (is that what you called it?)

LL said...

I nodded fervently along with your post and the excerpt from the subway mom's interview - all so true and so rational (crazy!). I hope to give Landon's the freedom I had growing up and I hope to resist the temptation to keep him in my sight and arm's reach at all times. It's easy to get swept up in what could happen, but it's important to focus on what is (and isn't) likely to happen. Which also applies to your DCFS fears- valid as they are, they are unlikely to come about.

Very good post!

caro said...

Great post, and I agree there is an overdose of paranoia. The DCFS thing rings true as well, and makes me sad. What if everyone who's watching so closely to make sure moms "do it right" were instead watching to minimize the (already very tiny) chance of disaster?

Also, I think that's *Last* Child in the Woods. Hmmm...Freudian slip? :)

lorib said...

I had very similar experiences to yours growing up, so I too have thought about this topic a lot. I was actually thankful for the subway story because it made me feel better about the freedom I do grant Duncan. We are lucky to have lots of neighbor kids for him to play with and he is good about keeping to his boundaries.

Kristen said...

I have been thinking a lot about this lately. Even though Caleb is only 10 months old I am looking ahead to the day when he is old enough to run around outside by himself. We live in the country for that exact reason. I want him to have the childhood I had and my husband wants him to have the childhood he wishes he'd had. Last Child in the Woods is on my reading list as soon as I find time to read!

Caleb is my first child so my question to you Cagey and all of you more experienced moms. How do you let go enough to let them run around without your constant supervision? I know what I did with the freedom I was given and that makes me even more hesitant to let go. I desperately want for him to be able to run around the pasture without me but I cannot imagine being able to let go. Does this get easier as they get older?

Unknown said...

Oh, Amen!

My kids are always outside in the yard by themselves (and have been since two). When I heard about the woman sending her kid on the subway, I honestly thought nothing of it. People allow their 9-year old children to babysit. Also, kids get terribly bullied on school buses -- how would the subway be worse than that?

Me said...

Interesting topic- I've been noodling on this lately. When I was a kid - 8, 9, 10 - we had a LOT of freedom. My brother and I would literally ride off on our horses with the "neighbor" kids(from 2 miles away) until sunset. Thinking about letting my own kids do that about gives me a heart attack.

However, I do feel the kids need freedom. My 4-year-old Little Man plays out back by himself, but I keep a pretty sharp eye on him because it's unfenced. I don't allow unsupervised front yard time - too much traffic. I expect more freedom will be easier when we move out to the boonies, though the thought of copperheads gives me the willies.

My best guess is that instinct will guide me as the kids age. I've already noticed a natural tendency to assign more responsibility and allow more autonomy as the Little Man gets older. That's going to have to be my guide - to me it's a line to walk between being stupid about what I permit and giving the kid room to breathe.

As far as the 9-year-old on the subway, I don't know of any 9-year-old I'd allow alone on the subway, bus, any other public transport. The kids I know aren't mature enough at that age to handle situations that might arise.

I'd let them fly, because I know the airline has supervision for them. But I don't think most kids ready at that age to be travelling alone with the general public without someone to watch out for them.

However, I think life is too subjective to rush to judgement on people. I've never actually ridden the subway myself in New York, and I don't know the nature of the kid in question, so it's not for me to say if her actions were right or wrong. I just know that my kid would need to display a lot of maturity at that age for me to do the same.

And, I guess the point of this comment is that I DO want to let my kids grow up, as Ms. Skenazy says. I just want to be smart about how I guide it.