Back when I was a kid, and dinosaurs roamed the Earth, I spent about a week one summer staying with a great-aunt in Arlington, VA. I don’t remember exactly when– some time in the early 1980′s– and I don’t remember where my parents and sister were at the time. I recall that they came down later and picked me up at the end of the trip, but not what they were doing while I was there by myself.
Anyway, since I was in the DC area, and nerdy as hell even as a pre-teen, I wanted to see a bunch of the Smithsonian museums. My great-aunt never had any interest in that sort of thing (she did take me on the tour of the Treasury and FBI buildings, though). So, she drew me a map of the Mall, gave me a few bucks to buy lunch with, and dropped me at the Air and Space Museum in the morning, with instructions to meet her at the Natural History Museum that afternoon.
It was one of the highlights of my trip– I got to poke around the Air and Space museum at leisure, had lunch in the cafeteria, then set off with my map to go see dinosaurs. I made an unscheduled stop at the National Archives, just because I happened to pass it on the way between museums, and it was much cooler because I thought of it myself than if I had been escorted there. It was a great day, and one of my best memories of the whole trip.
Now, to be fair, I’m pretty sure I was older than nine at the time (I really don’t recall how old I was, though), and getting from one side of the Mall to the other isn’t exactly urban orienteering. And even back in the idyllic days of the early 80′s, my mother was kind of freaked out when she heard the story (she does tend to worry…).
Still, I’m pretty much with Lenore Skenazy on the general issue of over-protective parenting these days. Reading baby books in preparation for FutureBaby’s arrival has really amplified this feeling– given the sheer number of things that are sources of CERTAIN DEATH, it’s a miracle I made it to junior high, let alone to the verge of parenthood.
I grew up out in the sticks, but when I was a kid, we routinely spent summer days playing in the woods a half-mile from our house, on the other side of a flood control dam. This was not without its dangers, even beyond the chance that we might fall out of a tree or into the lake– one time, we had a dog get caught in an animal trap, and on another occasion, some deer hunters pointed a gun at us. Still, that’s what we did for fun, much of the time– we’d go over into the woods, and tromp around through miles of woods, and when it started to get close to meal time, one of our parents would come to the top of the dike and yell for us to come home. We all made it out alive, and unscathed.
So, I’m going to do my best to avoid freaking out when FutureBaby shows up, and gets to the age when he or she wants a little independence, I’ll try to respect that. I don’t think I’ll be dropping the kid off at the Met, and meeting them later at the Natural History Museum on the other side of Central Park, but that’s mostly because we don’t live in The City, and if we make a museum run, I’m going, too.
(And as for the subway, Lord knows, I saw kids who looked nine-ish on the trains in Tokyo all the time, so it’s not like they lack the cognitive ability to navigate public transit by themselves. Given some base of experience, I don’t doubt that a nine-year-old could get around in New York just fine.)
Of course, I might end up changing my mind a few years down the road. Enough people have told me enough times that becoming a parent changes everything– maybe that’s one of the things. I hope I can maintain enough perspective to allow FutureBaby to run around outside without constant supervision, though.
And one of the things I like about our neighborhood in Niskayuna is that I do see kids running around outside like, well, kids. Kate and Emmy and I don’t approve of the people who let their ten-year-old walk their Alaskan Husky by himself (Emmy especially disapproves when the kid is on a Razor scooter being towed by the dog), but that’s because the kid isn’t big enough to control the dog, not because we’re afraid that evil ninjas are going to leap out of the trees and snatch the kid. It’s a nice neigborhood, and there’s no reason kids can’t play outside without an adult watching every second.
So count me as at least tentatively in support of Free Range Kids. For now.
(We did give in and buy the expensive foam crib mattress, though, because soft equals death. It’s hard as a freakin’ rock– I still say coffee table books would’ve been an economical substitute…)