Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Free Range Mom

I first heard this term on a t-shirt that read "Feral Free-Range Child."  My kids are all too big and it's a bit snarky even for me, but I love the term Free Range.  It's a breath of fresh air in the crazy, over-scheduled, over-hyped, over-parented culture we are raising kids in today.  

Most days, my kids walk to school and home on their own.  Our school is very close and they cross one neighborhood street. They also ride their bikes to piano lessons, which is about a mile away, get to soccer practice on their own, and have several friends nearby whose houses they can walk to.  I would not trade the sense of responsibility and self-confidence they get from this independence for the comfort of getting them to these activities myself.

The saddest part about the thrust toward helicopter parenting is that it actually makes childhood less safe.  There is power in numbers.  Kids together are far less likely to be targets than kids on their own.  The more kids walking and riding their bikes, the safer they are.  Also, freedom helps kids develop self reliance, something lacking in today's generation.  Why do you think there are so many kids moving back in with mom and dad after college?  They've never been required to figure out life on their own.  

Public behavior can be a problem in free range kids and I'm sure we've all seen how this can be true.  Fifty years ago kids were given a tight leash at home and a loose one in public.  This translated to better behavior in public.  Now it's just the opposite.  Kids have fewer requirements at home and less freedom in public.  You've seen kids hit their parents, swear at babysitters, ignore people in charge, and destroy other people's property.  

You are more likely to get killed in a car accident driving to school than your child is to get abducted by a stranger.  But that correlation never makes it into the news.  You are more likely to win the lottery, get struck by lightning and get kicked to death by a donkey.  Our assessment of risk and danger is totally messed up.  

Most rules and regulations put in place today are designed to protect the enforcer from liability. They have little, if anything, to do with safety. Just look at the way our boring playgrounds are designed.  By the time kids are five there is nothing left to do on them.   

We need a grass roots movement to take back our neighborhoods, build community with our neighbors, and send our kids back outside.  So... anyone who wants a coffee and some pastries, come over to my house with your kids and we will sit on the front lawn and practice letting them run around the neighborhood.  

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Why Can't You Just Say Ouch?

“Oh Sh*t,” I swore as the jam jar slipped out of my hand, bounced off my barefoot, and exploded on the tiled kitchen floor. “Everybody out of the kitchen!” I yelled, continuing to mutter like a sailor.

“I’ll get your shoes, Mommy,” Liam, shod in orange crocs, slid off a stool toward my bedroom. I tip-toed around the shattered glass and strawberry ooze to the sink, and got a towel.

Liam handed me my flip flops, and raised his blond eyebrows to me quizzically. “Mommy, why can’t you just say ouch?” He sighed. “When you get hurt, you say bad words.”

My jaw dropped. He was right. I cleaned up my language when my kids were babies and toddlers, but now that they’ve moved into elementary school, I shoot my mouth off whenever it lets me blow off steam. I’m not an R rated movie babbling profanity, but I’ve got no problem letting a few choice four letter words out when it makes a point… even if it’s an irrelevant or self-indulgent point.

Liam continued, “Even when I get hurt you say bad words and I’m the once who’s hurt. AND, if I say bad words, I get in trouble. What is that about?”

“You know what it’s about?” my husband said later when I was telling him about the jam and the swear words. “You hate being inconvenienced. Anything that even remotely changes the way you want things to be makes you mad, and you let everyone know it.”

I hate conviction. It’s humbling and painful, and it makes me feel helpless and pathetic. If flies in the face of everything I’d like to believe about myself. Tracy was right about the root of my reaction. I swear because I don’t want a broken toe, I don’t want to listen to a whiny child, and I really don’t want another trip to the ER. I lack compassion and sympathy. And truthfully, I don’t mind swearing sometimes. It feels sophisticated and powerful, succinct and honest. But, there is no place for it in my vocabulary with my kids. I can hardly require them to control their tongues when I couldn’t be bothered to reign in mine. And the last message I want to send to them is that their injuries are an inconvenience.

So, as Liam requested, I am going to try to “just say ouch.” Otherwise I promised him that he could wash my mouth out with soap.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

She Sang Every Sunday

I didn’t know her very well, but I saw her sing every Sunday. She had dark brown hair, a nice smile, and she sang with conviction. Even when she was so pregnant she could barely inhale, she showed up and puffed and sang. Two weeks later she was back, singing, of course, with Baby Zoe nestled in a pouch around her shoulders. Zoe became a common appendage on stage with the band. The music calmed her down. It was familiar. She’d heard it before.

But this morning there was an empty microphone on stage and an announcement in church. “What was it?” Michelle asked on her way into the kitchen. “Something happened.”

“Suzanne died of a heart attack last night. No one knows why.”

Zoe’s mom went to bed and didn’t wake up. Thirtysomething is too young to die of a heart attack. It’s too young to lose your wife. Three months is too young to lose your mother.

Our church is one year old next week. We have had several weddings, multiple new babies, and now, our first funeral. It is the life of the church. We have learned to celebrate in community and we must learn to grieve together. So the women start to cook and the men organize the right technical equipment for the funeral. The pastors visit and comfort, the moms cry and hold Zoe, and the dads wrap arms around Paul’s shoulders. The children draw cards with pictures of heaven, babies, butterflies, and treble clefs. We bumble awkwardly, eyes red, prolonged hugs, hushed voices, shocked, deflated.

The band sings because they have to. They must sing until their fingers ache and their heads throb and their throats are hoarse. Suzanne’s songs. Zoe’s songs. Paul’s songs. God’s songs.

O Lord My God, when the storm is loud, and the night is dark, and the soul is sad, and the heart oppressed; then, as a weary traveler, may I look to you; and beholding the light of your love, may it bear me on until I learn to sing your song in the night.
-- George Dawson, Little Book of Prayers