Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Apron Strings Wound Tight

When I was 3 years old I went across the street, knocked on my little friends door and went into her house to play. I looked both ways on our quiet Newfoundland street where everyone knew their neighbours and I was aware of my mother watching me out the window. Nevertheless I was three years old. When I was five years old I walked down our street to meet my friends at the playground in Ontario where we would play unsupervised until our stomach's called us home or a Mother came to round us up. When I was eight I rode my bike around the neighbourhood and met up with other children to explore the ponds and trails. We would scale trees, climb through creeks finding tadpoles and build forts with scrap wood. I stepped on nails multiple times only to limp home to get a band aid and reassurance that my tetanus shot was up to date (from the nail the month before...). We used our allowance to buy gum at the corner store and saved up for a visit to the local chip wagon. If you were polite they would give you your fry box half full so you could put ketchup halfway on the fries before they filled it to the top.

I always walked to school, alone most of the way, until I reached a friends house. There were swarms of other children walking around me though and I certainly never felt scared or alone.

We scraped our knees, banged heads, teased, got teased, fell off our bikes, played in the rain, got yelled at by other adults when we asked for it, made lots of memories and learned a lot.

20 years ago I didn't feel like the world was a scary place. Now I do.

In my safe, family oriented neighbourhood full of thirty something families and hordes of children everywhere you look times have changed. Parents walk their children to school, even though it is within site from the end of our street. Children play in their driveways while parents set up camp chairs at the end to watch them drive up the road. I know parents who don't allow their children to play inside other children's houses and the two large ponds behind our home and the woods full of adventure beyond that remain virtually untouched aside from the teenagers who managed to sneak out on a Friday night as evidenced by the beer bottles they leave behind. The playgrounds are still, thankfully bustling with children but not far from arms length stand their doting parents ready to break up a disagreement and police the swings. Many Parents find it safer to allow their children to simply alternate their play from computer screen to television to game console and back again. Thus eliminating any risk of injury or negative childhood experience at all. Tetanus shot is not in their vocabulary.

I had a great childhood. I had lots of freedom and I had street smarts. I learned many valuable lessons, including Independence. I did not have particularly negligent parents, just the opposite in fact, of all the kids in the neighbourhood I had the most restrictions but it didn't impede too much on our adventures. I wish Ben could have the sort of childhood memories I reminisce about. I don't want him to look back on his early years and remember all his favorite shows with a small callous left over on his video game thumb to serve as memories. I want him to EXPERIENCE, to make memories, to get into trouble and to learn the hard way which tree branches will not hold a 60 pound seven year old. I want him to get muddy and have sword fights in the woods. I want to be in the house cooking dinner assured that boys will be boys and have the band aids permanently on the counter. I think this unfortunately is not to be.

Ben already knows that two steps ahead of me without my hand is too far. He is cautious and calculating and looks at me often for silent permission or assurance. I am teaching this way because the world of my childhood no longer exists, maybe it never did but we didn't know better then. We hear about every abduction, freak accident, drowning, hit and run and choking that happens on the continent. We can't help but be more careful, or paranoid now that we know of all the possibilities that could happen because it happened last week to a little boy in Omaha. I wish at times for the blissful ignorance of Parents in the 80's. I wish Ben could play alone in his yard or wait for a moment in the car while I ran into the gas station. Instead I put another knot in the apron string and grip his hand a little tighter wishing for a freedom for him he will never know.


Laura D. Barton-Eady said...

Man I guess we were the last of that care-free generation. I loved everything you said about childhood and think it describes everyone's childhood that is our age. But it's ok that the apron strings are tight, if I had a boy half as cute as Ben I would keep him with me forever.

jjandb said...

lol thanks is indeed my plan!

Christine McKinnon said...

I just finished reading the most amazing book. It's called "Protecting the Gift" by Gavin De Becker. It's all about how to keep children safe without needlessly worrying. I felt the same way as you, but now feel like I can arm Claire with the tools to stay safe in the world. Every parent should read this book!

PS I remember the rule at our house was to come home when the streetlights came on. hehe.

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