Dear Free-Range Kids: I had my first half-way Free-Range encounter with another parent the other day. I was at the ice rink with my toddlers, watching the kids on the ice from a bench near the front door. A man with a young boy, 4-ish, approaches the bench and sort of looks us over. The dad then tells the boy to stay here and wait, but is looking at me strangely. Then he goes to the desk maybe 10 feet away. After a bit of chatting with the boy about his plans to go skating with his dad and brother I realized the dad was outside the rink, down the stairs heading to his car for his tween son. He wasn’t gone very long.
I realized that the strange look was him deciding that I’d probably keep an eye on his kid for the 5 mins he was gone to haul his hyper-texting tween out of the car. He probably figured a mom with two toddlers was pretty safe. But my thought was: WOW, he could have just asked me to keep an eye on his son. I would have been happy to — my kids were enamored of his skates and the kid had a great time showing them off. It seemed to me that the dad was thinking he was doing something wrong and was afraid to ask.
Wouldn’t his son have been safer if (like my parents used to do) the dad just said, “Hey, I’m running out to the car (it was raining buckets and the 4-year-old had on his skates). Can you keep an eye on Jr here?” No big deal. So sad. Not that his son wasn’t safe this way either 🙂 — Dee
Lenore here: Yes, it would have been better, and nicer. I wish folks would stop equating “leaning on each other” with “imposing.” Part of the whole Free-Range idea is that when we connect instead of suspect, we create the very thing that makes kids (and parents) happier and safer: Community.