The overhead train schedule in that French town said the 8:05 was going where I was going.
But if you’re a college kid backpacking through Europe and you don’t realize Geneva is not spelled “Geneva” in French (it’s Geneve), you just might hop on the 8:05 to “Genoa” and find yourself in Italy, alone, instead of in Switzerland, meeting up with a bunch of friends. And suddenly you have a whole new adventure, and a new set of friends and if you never eat that famous Swiss chocolate, who cares? You’re in Italy !
Getting lost is not just a privilege, it’s a right – a right that is being eroded by GPS and parents. The GPS devices in cars help us adults get where we’re going and maybe that makes life less aggravating. But now there are devices that make sure kids never veer off on their own, and those makes life less, period. There is less to life if you always end up exactly where you’re supposed to be.
That’s why it’s too bad some parents are now equipping their children with tracking devices that immediately alert the parents if their kids wander off the prescribed path home. A panicked call from parent to child’s cell phone follows: Do not chase that squirrel to the park!
Or parents are attaching little alarms on their kids’ clothing, so that if the child wanders more than 15 feet away at, say, the mall, the parental device starts beeping madly. The parent looks up and snatches her kid back before he goes to, say, the water fountain.
I know how horrible it is to look up and not see your child. In Midtown Manhattan a year ago, our then-9-year-old disappeared from the street and didn’t come back for 20 minutes. He’d gone into a three-story, subterranean KMart, looking for us in there, even as we were looking for him outside. He checked each floor thoroughly before finding his way back to 34th Street . When he suddenly reappeared after I’d been shouting his name like a madwoman, it was our own miracle on that street.
I’d have appreciated a beeping device back then, or a GPS sewn into his shorts — or ESP, for God’s sake — but the upshot was: He had an adventure. Not a great one, but a memorable one. He’d gotten lost, been on his own, and found his way back out. If things had gotten really hairy, he knew to talk to a police officer.
This was hardly the defining act of his childhood, but it is part of his life’s relief map – a little dip beside the twin shores of parental protection. Without adventures, even some less than pleasant ones, a kid’s life is as flat as a placemat.
I once was lost but now am found – so goes the song. Let’s let our kids sing it.
In the meantime, for a book I hope to be writing about Free Range Kids, I would like to hear your stories of getting lost. Scary, thrilling or just plain ridiculous, let’s hear the most memorable thing that happened to you as a child when you got lost.
Here’s to the winding road. — Lenore