Tony is at a Scouts’ camp this weekend. By himself, for the first time. There are some parents there, mostly dads, to supervise, of course, and there are leaders. No mom or dad though. He is excited, I am too. And if he’s worried at all, he doesn’t show and if I am at all, I don’t show it either. I know it’s good for him to go. And I know he’ll have adventures and live to tell the story.
I do believe that children can do a lot more than we give them credit for. And the weekend edition of the local newspaper touched on the very topic on its front page. Kids today don’t do the things their parents did, they don’t get to have the adventures that make the best memories. We’re suffocating them with worrying over everything. I see children my boys’ age not daring to cross a back lane until the parent says it’s OK to do so. I see kids older than my oldest who are walked into the classroom by one of their parents every morning. I see people’s eyes grow large when Sasha mentions carving with a pocket knife – a dull one, but a knife nonetheless. I see kids scared of strangers because they were told that, until proven otherwise, any stranger could be a bad guy. No playing with sticks, no playing with snowballs, no climbing trees, no running too fast, no exploring too far. But shouldn’t fun be safe, though, most parents would say? The problem is we make fun so extremely safe that it becomes little more than a safety protocol. Back lanes are quiet and aside from a few lucky ones, kids don’t run back and forth between houses to play together after school. Over scheduling – keep them busy and they’ll be safe, some say – and fear of everything bad that could possibly happen create isolation and rob children of a childhood that should include at least one episode of “Wow, that was close!” How else will they learn?
I won’t let my boys run in the middle of the road just for kicks and I will remind them to wear their helmets when going for a bike ride. But I won’t flinch either when they’ll say how slippery the top branch of that tall tree was. And you bet I’ll smile a secret smile when they’ll say how awesome and free they felt when they rode their bikes fast and helmet-less that one time and the wind was ruffling their hair with its long wild air fingers. Because I know how good it felt when I rode fast and helmet-less when I was 10. Reckless? Sure. But they’ll know, just like I did too, that doing that all the time would be plain stupid. Kids know, I really think they do. A wise mom once said to me “When my kids wanted to go cliff-jumping, I never said they shouldn’t. Instead, I showed them how to do it safe.”
Tony is back from the camp. He’s tired, dirty and wet but his face has that unique outdoors glow, and he tells us about his weekend. They lit fires on the beach, they jousted, they fought too, with other kids, they fell asleep by midnight and woke up with the sun. A bear cub and his big mama had to be chased away by the grown-ups, there were older kids having parties late at night, there was swearing and some bad words too that he’ll never repeat because he knows that sheltering mom from such details is part of being a big kid. Even as he sits down across the kitchen table talking about adventures and danger and all the fun he had, I swear he’s an inch taller.
And then he talks about freedom. He loved the taste of it, he says. Walking around knowing he’s on his own. This is just the beginning. We both know it, but no one says it out loud. Nestled in my lap, with my arms wrapped around him, Sasha listens to the stories. His turn is a few years ahead. There is no rush, there never will be.