Saturday, September 12, 2009

Worrying Less

"There has never been a single substantiated instance of any child dying from a stranger's poisoned Halloween candy." Infant formula, BPA, metal baseball bats, cell phone brain cancer, lead, raw cookie dough, and plastic bags are either less threatening than you'd think or completely non-problematic. A walking school bus and giving kids a chance to create their own games in PE are great ideas! "If you actually wanted your child to be kidnapped and held overnight by a stranger, how long would you have to keep her outside, unattended, for this to be statistically likely to happen? About seven hundred and fifty thousand years."

Awesome. I feel better. Much better. Thanks to Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry by Lenore Skenazy, I took Ben to the playground yesterday and didn't feel nervous when he crawled further away than usual, played with friendly strangers, ate dirt and ice cream, and took off his hat when he wasn't wearing sunscreen. I really like Skenazy's message, and I laughed out loud at her humorous prose multiple times. Now The Today Show seems even more alarmist than ever before. Mostly, it reminded me of the freedoms my parents granted me as a child, how much I enjoyed them, and how very much I benefited from them.

Here's a list of some of the best things my parents let me do before I reached age 20. All of these things made me brave and curious and eager to explore.
  • I walked to school without an adult every day of elementary school. In the 4th and 5th grade, this was even more thrilling because it was a much longer walk (perhaps a mile?) and after school we would wander around and explore the huge drainage ditch. I still get an enthralled shiver when I think about that ditch.
  • In the 5th grade, I went to Wild Animal Park camp and petted a cheetah. This may be the best animal experience of my life.
  • When I was 9 or 10, I spent the night with a friend whose parents were gone most of the evening. She and I baked chocolate chip cookies from scratch. (They tasted horrible, but it's one of my most exciting baking memories.)
  • In the 6th grade, my family and I walked down Bourbon Street in New Orleans. I stood still while a street performer did a flip over my head. Everyone laughed, and no one voiced a concern that I might get kicked in the noggin.
  • I spent many many hours as a kid just wandering around our neighborhoods, the mall, the movie theater, parks, and the community pool. Without a cell phone. I came home for dinner, then went back outside to play kick the can in the dark.
  • In the 8th grade, I went on two trips with a girls' service organization from my church. On one trip to a college campus, I encouraged my friends to skip the activities and wander around the campus with me at night (I was so inspired by this that I decided right then I would go to college there, and that's exactly what I did). On the second trip we went to San Antonio, where I encouraged my friends to skip the activities and wander around the Riverwalk with me.
  • My parents took us to Washington, DC. Our hotel caught on fire, but everyone was safely evacuated. We laughed and took photos of ourselves pretending to scream in horror next to firetrucks, then went to the zoo.
  • When I got a driver's permit, my dad would often take me out in the "wart." During these drives he would recline his seat and pretend to nap, or fiddle with the overhead light and tell me funny stories. He didn't give me a lot of driving tips, he just told me not to trust other people's turn signals. Later he taught me how to drive his sports car like a fighter pilot (his profession).
  • I never had a set curfew. My parents trusted me not to get in trouble, and I didn't.
  • In my junior and senior years of high school, I went on two choir tours, during which I wandered around downtown Washington, New York, Toronto, Santa Fe, and Chicago completely without adult supervision and had a spectacular time.
  • I went off to college. Without a cell phone. My mom and sister helped my carry my stuff in, hugged me, and left. It was the best three years of my life.
  • When I was 19 years old, my parents put me on a plane to Frankfurt, Germany, with some cash and a Eurorail pass. Two days after I arrived in the little town of Iserlohn, I called my parents from a pay phone; I cried a bit and complained that I couldn't call the US on the phone in my dorm and someone had stolen my luggage wheels. When I hung up I felt better and went to eat some gelato. My parents didn't feel better, but there was nothing they could do, so they didn't. I had a glorious summer. I went on on several trips with my fellow students and two weekend trips all by myself. One afternoon when I was bored, I just wandered out of the town, up a mountain, through a thick forest of evergreens, and out into a wheat field just as the afternoon sun turned it light gold. It was possibly more beautiful because I was on my own and could have gotten completely lost (but I didn't).

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