By Jessica T
Our free range kid experimentUploaded: Mar 16, 2014
I wrote in a previous post about a speaking series that my husband and I have been attending at the local middle school. Recently, we had a chance to see "America's worst mom" speak. (Not my moniker for her!) She challenged the parents in the audience to ask our kids what they felt ready for doing independently and then (gasp!) let them do it. She famously left her nine year old son in the handbag department of Bloomingdales and let him find his way home on the New York City subway.
We spent a recent weekend away at one of our favorite spots on the coast where we go "glamping" annually. Costanoa is a campground with a lodge, restaurant, and spa where you can rough it (or not), depending on what you are up for. And it fits the description given by Dr. Leonard Sax (another middle school speaker) of the perfect family vacation, i.e., no cellphone coverage. Upon arriving, my daughter asked if she could go to the camp store alone. "I'll come with you," I said.
"No!" my husband said. "Let her go - remember 'free range kids?'" ("Free range kids" is Lenore Skenazy's term for the hostages we've turned them into, in the name of safety.)
"I'll meet you there," I said. (Baby steps!) I finished nursing a baby, made a trip to the bathroom, and put on chapstick before ambling over to the camp store. I found my daughter clutching the marshmallows she'd bought for a campfire treat later. She beamed at me.
"Guess who I saw?"
"Who?" I replied. (A thirty-four year old drifter with a van down by the river? No!) She had seen another family from Menlo Park that we knew casually. "They asked me when we are going to dinner!" (We had also let my daughter swing by the restaurant to make our dinner reservations.)
Several hours later we found ourselves seated a table away from the other family. "Should we have invited them to eat with us?" I asked my husband. We made excuses - there were too many in our party, what with the adults, kids, and babies.
My husband asked me, "What is it about the awkward coldness among suburban families?" Indeed, Dr. Sax had spoken about how we as parents have removed our kids from potentially uncomfortable social situations, making them more isolated and less resilient.
My daughter invited the family to meet us by the campfire for s'mores later. In the morning, we chatted with them after our breakfast while the kids played at the playground. I loved watching my tween play so unselfconsciously - a fleeting moment before the teenage years set in that I hope is etched in my memory.
We ended up hiking down to the beach and spending the better part of the day together. Leave it to our free range kids to help the adults forge a closer friendship!