Outrage of the Week: Chess Players Ticketed for Being Near Playground

Hi Readers — I’m sorry to say, this is happening in MY town, New York City: Seven chess players have to appear in court for playing the game of kings on the stone chess tables close to a playground — a playground where adults are forbidden unless they are accompanied by a child.

Because, of course, any human anywhere NEAR a child who isn’t personally taking care of one MUST be a monstrosity.

Except these particular monstrosities quietly play chess together. Have for years.  They even teach the local kids how to play. Terrifying!

Oh wise authorities: What makes a community? It’s people interacting, simple as that. People of different ages getting to know each other and, at best, even helping each other.

At least until it’s criminalized. — Lenore

Get a load of these budding miscreants!

Progress. And a Carjacking

Hey Readers: Here’s an odd story of a Texas mom who took her 2-year-old son fishing, early in the morn, with her boyfriend. The mom decided it was too cold, and put the boy back in the car while she went to retrieve the gear. In that window of time, a guy came, stole the car, drove off with it, ran a red light and turned around — after realizing there was  a kid in the back seat!

The mom yelled at him. He yelled at the mom: “Why’d you leave a kid in there?” He fled, cops came and — here’s the progress — the mom was NOT cited for depraved indifference to a child, or endangerment or anything!

Because she WASN’T indifferent. She was sensitive to her boy (it’s cold!) and not being irresponsible (going to get the gear and return to the car) and once in a while, weird things happen.

That is not negligence and kudos to the Galveston police for realizing that!  — Lenore

(Public) Bathroom Humor

Or really, just public bathroom stories. That’s what I’m looking for, readers. As I start pondering the idea of writing another book (and, more to the point, FILLING it), I’m going to be asking for anecdotes from the real world, from YOU. And what I need first, believe it or not, is bathroom lore!

Specifically: Can you tell me about the time you let your kid use a public bathroom WITHOUT you? Was it a big deal? A small one? Scary? Surprising? Wonderful? (Or at least as wonderful as something like that can be?) What age?

Moreover: Kid reaction? Onlooker reaction? Spouse reaction — if any (and printable)?

That’s it. Thanks for any and all stories — we’re on a roll! (Ha ha.) — L.

How Do You Change a Lily-Livered School?

Hi Readers — Here’s another plea from a Free-Ranger trapped in a helicoptering vise. Do you have any suggestions that have worked at your school? Please share them! — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Something terrible has happened at our school.

I wrote to you a while ago about how wonderfully free our village kids are.  Things are changing….. and not for the better.

My children are 7 and 9.  I live 1 mile from school, and our route takes us through a nature reserve, so no traffic and no road crossings necessary.
I have been taking baby steps towards letting my children walk to/from school.  I started by walking the children to school and then I started leaving the children at the school boundary approximately 50 meters from the school gates, they then walked over the boundary line by themselves.

That’s as far as I got…. they walked 50 meters unattanded (but I watched them).

I have received a letter from the school explaining that children have to be taken to and picked up from the school gate. I challenged the school on this rule, and asked them why.  They said, “It’s not worth the risk, SOMETHING TERRIBLE COULD HAPPEN.”  Though they would not spell out what that something terrible could be, and neither has anything ever happened before.

The head master also indicated to me that other parents had been reported to social services for allowing their children to walk to school by themselves.

Please note that the majority of the children live within a mile of the school, and we really do live in quite a safe village.

What can I do? Are they really allowed to dictate to me how my children get to and from school? — Rachel

P.S. I have heard that this has nothing to do with insurance!

So I’m Envious

Dear Readers: Yup, I’m envious, of this mom, her kid, her country:

Dear Free-Range Kids: I don’t know what to say really.  I’ve just found your blog and I’m astonished with the stories I’ve read.  They’d be a lot of fun  –  if they were not so scary.

My point of view is a bit different as I live in Northern Europe where we have not yet realized how dangerous the world really is.  I’ve raised a Free-Range Kid without having heard anything about the concept.  I guess that’s how we roll, up here in the North.

My kid took his daily nap outdoors in a pram in all four seasons. Yes, in winter too.  Yes, with all the frost and snow.  He was a very healthy baby.

My kid traveled 100 kilometers to his grandparent’s house by bus since he was 4 or 5.  The bus drivers are decent people who keep an eye on a little traveler and see that he meets his grandpa at the destination.  No problem, never.

My kid walked to school and back since he was 7 and took care of himself until I or his dad came home from work.  The only problem was the front door which had to be fixed a bit so that the child was able to open it.

My kid spent his childhood upside down doing somersaults and cartwheels and jumping off the swing in its wildest speed and he never broke a single bone.

I don’t mean to say it is weird to be worried.  On the contrary, it is quite natural.

When I became a mother I looked into a mirror: “We have to talk.”  Was I going to follow all my protective instincts and allow myself to see the world as a Very Dangerous Place?  Or would I force myself to be a bit stronger and trust a bit more?

Now that my kid is 16, I’m happy I didn’t thrust upon him the idea of threats and dangers lying in wait everywhere.  All his life he has been learning how to spread his wings one day.  That day is getting closer, but that’s ok. He’s been a good learner.

They all have to learn to take care of themselves, don’t they? It is not something a young adult suddenly knows all about when he wakes up on one particular birthday morning.  Why fear and not let them learn it step by step, naturally? — Johanna

And So, Things Change

Hi Readers! Have a great weekend! — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I just wanted to share with you a small but happy Free-Range story that probably wouldn’t have come about if your site hadn’t given me the courage to articulate the reasons why my children should be allowed to do strange things like walk to school alone.

Every morning I stand out on the footpath to wave goodbye to my 7-year-0ld and 5-year-old as they head off to school on their own. They now no longer want me to wait until I can no longer see them, and I don’t get the lovely waves and blown kisses that they used to give me as they disappeared over the hill – they are too big and independent for that now!

Sometimes the girls would be leaving as our neighbor across the road was getting her girls into the car. I never asked whether her 6-year-old wanted to walk with the girls, as I am always worried that people will think I’m a little strange. But one morning the mom asked if her daughter could walk with my girls.

It has now become a daily event! I let my 7-year-old cross over to pick up her friend, then they cross back together, and the three girls walk up the street. I can’t think of a more satisfying, heart-warming sight.

Recently, the girls started asking me if they could see if their other friend from further up the street (whose house they have to pass) would like to walk with them. Now, this little girl’s mother is definitely not a subscriber to the Free-Range philosophy, if her constant exhortations to her 7- and 5-year-olds to “stop running, walking only” on the way home from school are anything to go by. So I wasn’t sure how she would react, but I said yes. So my 7-year-old asked. And she was thrilled when her friend — same age — was allowed to walk. So was I. Four little girls laughing and skipping to school together, no adult to stifle their “just being.”

I have been planting the seeds in the minds of the two mothers that I hope will continue this next year, even though the oldest girls will no longer be with them, and I think I might have succeeded. I am looking forward to seeing a gaggle of 5 happy children heading off to school next year!

Thanks again! — Janet Matthews

The “Worst Place on Earth” To Lose Track of a Baby?

Readers — This is a non-story about a mom who got her baby’s stroller onto the D.C. metro but then the doors closed before she could get on.

Ritual infant sacrifice time?

Surprisingly, no. Instead, the strangers gathered round the (sleeping) baby, alerted the authorities and got the stroller off at the next stop, where yet more people protected the tyke. All of which prompted one bystander to say that she felt terrible for the mom because this was,  clearly, “the worst place in the world to lose a baby.”

Worst? Where a crowd of people took care of the child, alerted the mom and made sure everything was fine?

Do you think maybe we can quit thinking of every surprising or untoward situation involving kids as ALMOST a disaster, or a disaster NARROWLY THWARTED, or something that was SOMEHOW terrible, please?

Thanks! — Lenore

Life in Wartime (Is What Companies are Trying to Make Childhood Feel Like)

Readers — Sometimes I get so fed up with our fearmongering culture, I almost can’t take pen to blog. Or pixel to blog. Or whatever. But here I am. A reader sent in this link to an extremely popular app that not only TRACKS all your family members, it also alerts you to when they are anywhere near a registered sex offender. This might be helpful, were the registry not jammed with folks who pose no threat to kids at all, chiefly teens who had sex with their slightly underage teenage girlfriends.  (More on that here.)

Anyway, there are other buttons to press that announce the equivalent of , “I made it home safely!” as if the entire walk home from school, or to a friend’s house, was the equivalent of infiltrating behind enemy lines, bullets flying, landmines along the way.

I KNOW the argument is, “Better safe than sorry,” but, how can I put this? We ARE safe. Incredibly safe! Not PERFECTLY safe, but to act as if our children are under seige when we live in one of the safest times in human history is almost saying, “F&$# you!” to all the effort and pain that has brought us to this glorious time.

And so, I must grrrr. Grrrr.

But! Later on today or early tomorrow I have a very nice story to report. So come down off the ledge. As will I. — L

Dumbfounded, File This Under

Hi Readers! Here’s a note from a North Carolina farm mom/ EMT-technician-in-training Stevie Taylor who blogs at ruffledfeathersandspilledmilk.com. She’s taking night school classes with the leaders of tomorrow. Such as they are. –L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I was pleased to teach one of the college kids in class a lesson last week.  He was asking fellow students for money to buy bottled water (which is $1.25 out of the vending machine!!!).  I pointed to the sink that is in the classroom — we are in a medical class together — and the plastic cups that were stacked on top of the paper towel dispenser next tot he sink.  “Why don’t you just get some water from the sink?”

“Out of the tap?!”  he exclaimed, “I thought that was just for washing our hands.”

“Yes,” I assured him, “But it is all city water and you can drink it, too.”

“Well,” he worried, “no one said we could drink that water.  Do you think it’s allowed?”

To answer him, I got up, got myself a cup out of the stack, filled it at the sink, sat down at my desk, and drank it.  I didn’t get arrested and no alarms went off.  So he got a cup of water and ever since then, more people in the class have been drinking tap water in cups instead of buying bottled water from the vending machine.  Imagine a 24-year-old that has no concept of drinking water unless it’s packaged in plastic, and afraid to use a sink in a public classroom as if it were undrinkable or off-limits (even with cups stacked next to it!).  This is what becomes of the kids that are not raised Free-Range!!!! — Stevie

OUTRAGE OF THE WEEK: Cops Threaten Mom for Letting Son Play Outside

Hi Readers! This mom, Kimberlee Morrison of kimleeisawesome, needs a pep talk from all of us — and perhaps some legal advice. You’ll see why. L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I’ve been warned. Literally. By the police. My son left the park, went to El Pollo Loco and asked for water. A stranger asked him if he was hungry, the Boy, thinking the guy was being nice, said sure. The guy bought him some food — and called the police.

The police called me and insisted it was not safe for me to let my 8-year-old “wander the streets alone.” They hit me with the normal fear tactics: He could have been hit by a car, he could have been kidnapped. What if he had wandered off somewhere else and the stranger hadn’t been nice enough to involve the authorities?

To which I countered that there is no law against letting my son go to the park, and that the only problem right now is that the supposedly nice person HAD involved the authorities, even though my son was fine. My son was not lost, he wasn’t injured, he wasn’t afraid, he was just thirsty. I was told that since others thought something was wrong, I should too. Now I’m questioning my Free-Range philosophy.

By law, he is old enough to be alone, but the police insisted that the only reason I wasn’t going to jail is because they had decided it wasn’t necessary. They did, however ask to see where we lived, which I agreed to in the spirit of being cooperative.

Now we’re a little shaken up here, mostly by the threat of, “I could take you to jail right now,” and the fear that the Boy might not be allowed to go to the park anymore without me hovering. None of the other kids in our community are allowed outside the gate. So what do I do? Keep him locked inside? Hover? I want to be Free-Range, but not at the risk of my son being thrown into the system because of it.
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Oh, yeah, I asked what age would be appropriate for him to go to the park and was told 13 or 14. So he has to be a teenager before he’s allowed to navigate the world without me at his side.
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I’m so sad. Kids are supposed to be able to go outside and play. But everyone is so afraid. I don’t know what to do. I could use a pep talk right now, and some guidance. – Kimberlee
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Dear Kimberlee: I’m shaken up, too. My blood curdles when the authorities use their own fears and prejudices to decide what is “good parenting,” or even “safe,” rather than consulting the law OR the actual statistics, which show we are living in very safe times. (Crime has been going down for 16 years and is now back at the level of 1974. It was higher in the ’70s and ’80s, when most of today’s parents — and cops — were growing up.)
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The idea of curbing your son’s happy, normal childhood and locking him inside for the next five years is tragic. It’s ironic, too, considering that cops are supposed to MAKE the town safe, not tell people, “We can’t! Just stay inside.”
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I know, that beyond this site, many folks would say, “The boy CAN go outside! She just has to supervise him.” But since when do adults spend from 3-6 p.m. outside, then come in for dinner, and then head outside again? And spend all day Saturdays outside? And Sundays? A summers? The idea that parents should be in the same place as their 8-year-old children all the time is a new one, born of unreasonable fear.
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So what should this mom do?
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Well, I’d certainly arm my son with a note from me that says I approve of him being outside, and that he knows how to contact me, and you, concerned stranger, can, too.  Then I’d include my phone number. As in my Free-Range Kids membership card (you can find it in my book), I’d add some statistics about things like the fact he’d be more in danger IN MY CAR than in the park.  And I guess I’d go Xerox any local ordinances that say a child of his age can legally be outside, unsupervised.
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Then again, I actually did that when my younger son was 10 and taking a commuter train. I gave him a phone, I printed out the Transit Authority’s home page that said children age 8 and up are allowed to travel unaccompanied, and I still got a call from the police after the conductor felt “nervous” about seeing a boy traveling alone and called the cops. They ended up letting my son go (after asking me the inevitable, “What if some guys had tried to abduct him?”), but the whole thing was unsettling. And who wants the threat of legal action going any further?
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After that episode, we continued to allow our son to travel solo, but it became a little nerve-wracking. And Kimberlee had an even closer police encounter regarding an even more everyday activity: playing. I’d like the cops to think about what the parks are for if NOT for kids to play? No wonder so many playgrounds are empty!
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So my suggestion, heart-in-mouth, Kim, is to let your son go back outside. If he can find a friend to go with him, so much the better. If you want to give him a phone so he can contact you, I guess that might make some sense (even though, if he’s anything like my own sons, then he’ll spend at least part of his outdoor time fiddling with the phone).
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Our Free-Range goal, when you get right down to it, is to change this terrified society. I am pretty terrified of the authorities myself. But I am really terrified of a society that keeps children locked inside — just like the kidnappers it is obsessed by — for no reason other than misplaced fear.
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I wish you and your son everything good. And, for what it’s worth, I am in your corner and will support you whatever way I can, if and when you need it. But I sure hope you don’t. — Lenore