When I was growing up, our house was across the street from several hundred acres owned by the state wildlife department. They grew hay on one portion and pastured horses on another part, but most of the acreage was allowed to grow up free and became the home of deer, raccoons, porcupines, rabbits and skunks. My childhood friend was lucky enough to actually live on the farm and since her dad was a state wildlife specialist, they occasionally nursed orphaned fawns.
An irrigation canal ran through the property before coming through our land. Tall cottonwood trees and willows grew along the banks of the canal.
I can still remember the first time my father took us across the street to play. I was equally amazed that this magical world was just across the street and annoyed that my father had kept the secret from us for so long. Other children, now grown (perhaps my aunts), had built and then abandoned look-outs in the tall trees and huts in the willows. In one tall cottonwood, someone had tied a thick rope. At the other end of the rope was a knot with a smooth piece of wood to sit on. We dubbed it the "Tarzan Swing".
Once we had weeded the garden, finished our chores and practiced the piano, my brothers, sisters and I spent our summer days playing and exploring what we called the "game farm". While we were an accident prone bunch and had plenty of trips to the emergency room for tetanus shots, stitches and the occasional broken arm, we were relatively safe.
Other days we rode our bikes along the trails we had created through sage brush. We pretended we were cops. My brother was Hunter. I was McCall. Or we floated on inner tubes down the lazy canal behind our farm. We caught frogs in the pond. Climbed the trees in our yard.
A large cow bell hung near the back door of our house and when my mother wanted us to come home, she would ring the bell. When we heard the bell we knew we had better hurry home. It was an idyllic and lovely childhood.
My own children, however, are growing up in a completely different world. We live on the edge of a tight suburban neighborhood in the middle of nowhere (an oxymoron perhaps, but it's a strange place). There are hundreds of children living in my neighborhood. Many of them ride their bikes, scooters, and tricycles all over the roads. I drive so slowly down my street because I never know when a child is going to dart in front of me. Or even just sit in the middle of the road on a big wheel staring me down. That kid seriously has no fear.
I tend to be one of those annoying semi-paranoid, over-protecting, can't-let-them-out-of-sight parents. There are so many things to worry about these days. And in case I were to forget, my mother-in-law will remind me. She never fails to call with a warning after she hears about a kid getting run over by a car backing out of a drive-way or another abducted on the way to school.
We have a fully fenced yard and I prefer my children play in the backyard instead of in the street. I like to know where they are. All the time.
It says a lot that the guy who has lived next door for over four years was shocked to find out that we had a little daughter when he sawthree-year-old Lilly playing out in the front yard. I laughed and joked that it was just the first time we had ever let her out of the house and that we had another little one--Molly--that I still hadn't let out of the house.
Neal and Amberly and even Thomas are getting older now and they long for more freedom. As much as I hate to let them grow up, I've been trying to allow them more opportunities for "freedom". They're allowed to ride their bikes in our neighborhood or shoot baskets at the park. Amberly walks to and from school. They ride their bikes to piano lessons. I still like to know where they are going. I still like them to stay together.
A few weeks ago, Amberly went by herself to my friend's house to get her hair cut. She told MaryAnne how she wanted her hair and gave her the check. She was so proud of herself. And I realize that they need these opportunities to be allowed to grow up.
I want to give them more freedom. I want them to be able to run and play. But I want them to be safe. I need to be OK with letting them out of my sight. I'm working on it.