Around the corner

by DaniGirl on June 14, 2011 · 20 comments

in Mothering without a licence

It continues to amaze me that the most remarkable milestones in the boys’ social and emotional development seem to happen unpredictably and completely without precursor and, even more astonishingly, with pretty much no intention or intervention on my part.

It’s early Saturday afternoon and I’ve just returned from my weekly grocery adventure. I’m unpacking cereal and pickles and red peppers when Simon asks if I can call A’s parents to to ask if A can come over. A is Simon’s school chum, and lives down the block and around the corner.

Because I’m concentrating more on the task of fitting an 11-inch long bunch of celery into a 10-inch crisper, and because we have had this conversation many times before, I don’t give Simon my full attention. “Not now, Simon,” I begin, ready to put off yet again the coordination of a playdate. “We still don’t have A’s phone number, and I don’t know what their plans are today…”

Then I stop, and think. We know kids in the neighbourhood but not on the street, and I’m vaguely annoyed on an ongoing basis that I have to act as social coordinator any time the kids want to play with a friend by setting up play dates in advance via telephone or e-mail with the parents. Why am I doing this? When I was a kid, if I wanted to go out and play with a friend, I’m pretty sure my mom never called ahead to arrange things. I just went. I knocked on the door, and if the friend couldn’t come out, I’d wander off and find something else to do, maybe try another friend or maybe play on my own. The only thing even remotely resembling a scheduled play date was either when friends who had moved out of the neighbourhood got together, or when we visited my parents’ friends who happened to have kids, and then we all played together while the parents drank and played cards discussed important parenting issues.

I take a long look at Simon, who is looking at me and my derailed train of thought with curiousity. I don’t consult with Beloved in advance, but he’s sitting right there listening and I know he’ll speak up if he’s concerned.

“Do you want to go ask A if he wants to come over to play?” I ask Simon, and he lights up like a pinball machine.

“Oh yes!” he exclaims, dropping the video game controller in his hand.

“Tristan, will you walk with Simon down to A’s house and walk back with them?” There is safety in numbers. It’s only about 10 houses, maybe less, and one very quiet residential street to cross, but I feel better if they’re together. It’s only a little bit further than our community mail box, to which Tristan regularly walks alone. Tristan, always up for any perceived gains in independence and who also likes A, is amenable to the idea.

I figure it’s vaguely more polite to invite A back to our house than for both boys to show up uninvited expecting an invitation in, even though that’s exactly what I would have done at age seven. I look at Beloved, but he seems fine with the idea. I briefly talk them through any potential pitfalls in the plan: if A is not home, they are to come straight back. If they get invited in, call home to let me know. No talking to any other grown-ups on the way, no stopping, no wandering.

They scamper off across the lawn and I watch them go. I’m smiling and anxious at the same time. They deserve this freedom, I know, and I truly believe it’s important. Still, I can’t help but worry. I wander back inside after they disappear from view, and ask Beloved if it’s wrong that I’m more concerned about my mother’s reaction to this abdication of parental responsibility than I am about the risk of child abduction or other unspeakably remote horrors.

Enough time lapses that I have put away the groceries and kindled a small flame of anxiety wondering why I haven’t heard from them when they come rambling back up the street with A, A’s older sister who happens to be in Tristan’s grade, and their father in tow. Waiting on the porch as they round the driveway, I feel the tiniest flicker of something that is not quite embarrassment, not quite shame, wondering if A’s parents are agog that I’ve let the boys venture out unshepherded like this. He seems content enough to leave the kids to my care, though, and after a few hours I lead a rag-tag parade of all four kids, plus Lucas and the dog, on the expedition to return A and his sister home.

The boys are seven and nine, and this is the first time they’ve ever simply walked over to a friend’s house and knocked on the door. I’m proud of them, but a little bit sad, too. How did we get to a place where this is a milestone achieved so late in the kids’ lives? I clearly remember running in a pack of neighbourhood kids that included an unsupervised three-year-old, bane of the existence of us older kids. I know this isn’t the 1970s anymore, but really, is the world so different?

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Vanessa June 14, 2011 at 7:27 am

I think a lot has to do with the neighbourhood in which you live too! Living in a quieter, more rural-esque area lends itself better to that kind of thing. When we lived in the suburbs (Riverside South) I would have never imagined allowing my kids to play outside without direct supervision, or letting them walk or ride their bikes to the video store to get an ice cream with a group of friends. I think living in a quieter more rural, village setting has more of a community feel, and people look out for each other’s kids like they were their own. At our house, in the summer, i’ve grown used to kids flying through the front door yelling “just need to pee!” if they happen to be closest to our house when the need strikes. I know my kids are equally welcome to make themselves, and feel comfortable asking for help from the neighbours if they need it. I don’t worry about them as i think i would if we still lived in the suburbs. When the day start getting shorter, I know that they will come in from outside when it starts getting dark. Unless they come in to tell me that the kids are playing a neighbourhood game of Hide and go Seek in the dark. It’s bliss. It’s security. It’s what growing up should be like.

2 chichimama June 14, 2011 at 7:46 am

I don’t think the world is much different, but people’s perception of it is.

I was actually just lamenting to a friend that the helicopter moms make the rest of us look bad, even though we are the sane ones :-). A has been very distressed that I don’t stay to “help” her at practice like “so and so’s mom” and I had to explain to her that the point of practice was for her to work with her coach because her coach knew what he was doing and I did not, and having me “coach” from the sidelines would help no one and would annoy everyone.

3 Heather June 14, 2011 at 7:59 am

Dani, you should check out – even contact the blogger and share your story – her mission is all about this kind of age-appropriate freedom and the values it instills. You’ll feel a lot better about letting the boys “out” in the neighbourhood after you read some of her stories.

4 Irene-Ann June 14, 2011 at 8:28 am

I think it’s ok for kids aged 7 & 9 to be walking in the neighbourhood together ๐Ÿ™‚ I love hearing this! We lived in the US for 2 years and it was depressing how few kids their were just out and about in our neighbourhood. In fact there was only ever one kid that I saw riding his bike to school everyday by himself – he must have been around 11 yrs old and the school was about 5 blocks away. It is so refreshing to be back in Ottawa where kids hang out and walk to school or the bus stop together. My daughter is 7 yrs old but is eager to go exploring on her own. We are lucky to have many kids on our street and a cul de sac too where kids gather on weekends and evenings. It is getting easier to let her wander off to meet up with her friends ๐Ÿ™‚ I think it’s an important way that our kids will learn to trust their own instincts about personal safety and security.

5 SleegsSkees June 14, 2011 at 8:35 am

Congratulations to your boys. I’m finally letting R do a bit more without me being in arms reach as well on a recent vacation DH pointed out that every second word out of my mouth is R. Know what – so far she has always come back and really never been out of site. Hope that doesn’t happen for a while as she is only 4. She’s loving the ability to explore the world on her own, even if mom and dad are watching.

6 Coco June 14, 2011 at 9:10 am

I totally agree with chichimama…but we( Mothers) all know that if something untoward happened while our child/children were on their own, fingers would be pointed and tongues would wag. Sad comment on society.

7 Windex June 14, 2011 at 10:20 am

I actually think the world is different but I don’t think that should stop us from given the kids the freedom when they need it. In your situation you can quickly conclude there is little risk but huge gain in independence/confidence to be had in this case.

8 Paula June 14, 2011 at 11:54 am

I was recently having this same discussion with my husband the other night. I grew up in a suburban neighbourhood with lots of young families, and I do believe the neighbourhood has a lot to do with it, but I do believe the world has changed. When I was young, my mom stayed home with us. Although I was allowed to roam freely on our street (always staying on the sidewalk or crossing a neighbour’s lawn) to play with the other kids, we weren’t ever truly by ourselves on the street. All of the other moms on our street also stayed home, and there was always someone keeping an eye out for us – sometimes a neighbour would be taking her clothes off the line, or someone else was unloading groceries, but there were still a lot of people around, even though they weren’t supervising us per se. I decided to stay home after my third child, and during the day all the kids on my street are in daycare and there is no one for my kids to play with – so of course, I end up having to schedule playdates! I take my kids to the park every day, and quite often we are the only ones there until the parents all get home from work. I live in a neighbourhood very much like the one I grew up in, and yet don’t know most of my neighbours. People have changed too – I’ve seen some of my neighbours yell at other kids who walk slightly on their lawns to avoid walking on the street when getting off the bus – that never happened when I was young. We are currently organizing an evening of “Kick the Can” with our kids’ friends to give them a glimpse as to how we used to spend our summer evenings!

9 Amber June 14, 2011 at 12:08 pm

I find it highly ironic that today’s grandmothers are horrified when we allow our children far less independence than they allowed us. But I know that my own mother would feel the same way.

10 andrea from the fishbowl June 14, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Mine are a touch older than your kids, so we’ve already been through the scenario you’re describing. I will say this: it does get easier!

My childhood was a lot like you described. We were free range kids who wandered the neighborhood (and on bike too!), finding our own stuff to do. It was wonderful, and I want that for my kids too.

11 Fawn June 14, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Yay, what a great milestone! Last week, my daughter’s friend A, who is 7, arrived at our door with her 4-year-old brother. She asked if Jade (who is 5) could come over and play. My heart was just so happy that a friend came by and wanted to play with her! So A took my 2-year-old by the hand, guided the whole group across the street to where the sidewalk is, and they all played together until suppertime.

They live 5 houses down from us, but I can’t see their house from ours because of all the trees in the way. It felt like a HUGE step!

12 Leanne June 14, 2011 at 10:39 pm

Not long into the start of Grade 2 this year I insisted that Kieran, 8, start walking home alone or with the other boys on our street who walk home from the school bus. We like in a very large city, in a residential area in the downtown core. The school bus drops off about 3 or 4 blocks from our house at a park. We went over rules for walking home and he’s been doing it ever since. Sometimes he plays for an hour with the other boys before coming home. When I was his age, I’d been playing unattended for YEARS! His brother is just turning 4. I let the two of them play out front together with the front door open, or around back (no back yard, just parking and an alley). The world is far safer than when we were kids and yet we are far more scared of it.

13 DaniGirl June 15, 2011 at 6:11 am

Thanks for all your thoughtful comments – I went offline all day for a field trip with Tristan’s class and it was great to come back and read all your perspectives.

Heather, I’ve been a fan of Leonore’s Free Range Kids site for ages, thanks! ๐Ÿ™‚

I do agree that neighbourhood has a lot to do with how much freedom you might give your kids, as does the personality of each child. And yes, Paula, you do raise a point about the “every mother” sort of watching eyes when we were kids.

Funny too, that you mention a street-wide kick-the-can game — I was just thinking of inviting all the kids of various ages (we have a range of 3 to 12 that I thought might be interested) out for a massive water-gun afternoon. I figure it’s a great way for the parents and kids to get to know each other, and water guns transcend age and gender barriers. ๐Ÿ™‚

14 coffee with julie June 15, 2011 at 8:54 am

This was a lovely post about a big milestone. I actually don’t think the world has changed that much since the 70s … in fact, stats show that crime rates are lower since then! And I too remember with great fondness running around the neighbourhood until dark on long summer nights. Our kids deserve those fond memories too ๐Ÿ™‚

15 Shan @ the fairyblogmother June 15, 2011 at 8:21 pm

We live in a very small rural village where everybody knows everybody and everybody’s kids, so someone always has an eye out. Abby is well versed in the idea that even if I’m not around someone is bound to be watching and word will get back to me about what’s she’s been up to… good or bad. Every day after school she drops her stuff, has a snack and then wanders back out to see who wants to play, she has to tell me where she’s headed and check back in if she’s playing somewhere else. Just as often we have kids show up at our door asking if she can play. It’s fantastic because I am a horrible play date Mom. I hate setting them up.

16 Hilary June 16, 2011 at 8:26 am

I don’t think the world is much different – there wasn’t an abductor lurking behind every tree then and there isn’t now – but the parental and societal attitude to risk, and what we perceive as acceptable risk in childhood, has changed hugely. I think we’re living in a somewhat extreme moment, and I think it may swing back slightly at some point. Well done to the boys on an exciting and appropriate milestone! ๐Ÿ™‚

17 Marianne June 16, 2011 at 1:20 pm

I want to give my children freedom, as I had through much of my childhood. I am also a classmate of a 6 year old girl abducted in 1982 and never found. So it’s something I know I’ll struggle with over the next few years (my oldest is only 3 and a half so I have a little while yet).
My parents were very good. While we were much more carefully watched in our community after Tania’s disappearance, my sister and I were given opportunities when we were at family cottages to run free outdoors and just come back at mealtimes. And when we left Edmonton and moved to Ottawa three years later the restrictions eased again, with time and distance. It’s something I shoudl ask my mother about, how she felt about it all.

18 Neeroc June 20, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Love hearing this, and I think when more kids are out playing, more kids will go out to play (if that makes any sense).

We’re in the process of moving in to a neighborhood where there are more kids, and more interesting places to explore (including a stream!). I cannot wait for V to have that sort of freedom. My crazy fear is drivers. I perceive that people are more aggressive and short-tempered even when driving in residential neighborhoods, and less likely to see the kid that isn’t paying attention.

19 Helen Chris August 14, 2011 at 8:34 pm

I really love reading this postโ€ฆYou have inspired a lot of peopleโ€ฆ

20 jocelynverna November 21, 2012 at 6:57 am

Obviously as I observe kids now a days are not what we call the ” do-it yourself kid” or simply self reliant, they still need ambassadors for them to invite others. During our time, it’s not a difficult task to ask permission from a friends mom to let his kid play with us. Though kids now a days need to be taught that it is good to practice self reliance than having mom’s to do the initiating, follow ups and good will ambassadors.

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