Chitty Chitty Free-Range

Hi Readers: An interesting note. Do we celebrate community or automatically distrust it? — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: It has occurred to me that Mr. Potts from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang  is the ultimate Free-Range parent, openly supporting his children’s truancy, letting them run amok around town, coming up with imaginative adventures, etc.

A few weeks ago when I took my boys (7, 5, and 3) to see the Chitty Chitty performed by our community theater, I saw just how “crazy” parents find this lovely story these days.

The show was in the gym of a local elementary school. They had cordoned off an area in front of the stage where children could sit on the floor. My two little guys wanted to sit there and I thought nothing of leaving them there while I took my seat near the back of the gym with my oldest. At intermission, when we went up to retrieve my younger sons, the children’s area had emptied out and everyone was  in the foyer, buying concessions and chatting. I couldn’t find my boys, but I waited in the hall near the bathrooms and eventually they found me. My 3-year-old had been a little nervous and teary, but his 5-year-old brother held onto his hand and told him they’d find me soon. We bought some snacks and went on our merry way, only to be stopped by an older woman who chastised me for leaving them alone. “Your little son was crying and lost!” she chided me.

How was he lost? I knew he was in one of two big rooms, and he was with his brother who is a very independent, level-headed guy.

My boys went back to their seats for the final act, as did I.  Now, if you remember the movie, you know that Mr. Potts and Truly Scrumptious left the kids alone and they were tempted and captured by the Child Catcher. (Every parent’s worst nightmare, right? Even Free-Range parents have to admit that the Child Catcher is super creepy!) But guess who saved them? All the hidden urchin kids! Kids allowed to be independent and capable!

At any rate, the Child Catcher, here wonderfully played by a local teenager, was TRULY creepy and at one point came out into the crowd,  getting down into the faces of the little ones on the floor in the kids’ section. Most people laughed, but unbeknownst to me, my littlest guy was terrified!  Luckily, an older boy (maybe 9 or 10) sitting nearby gathered him onto his lap and comforted him through the rest of the show. When the lights came up, that boy’s dad stayed there with them until I made my way up to them. I was so grateful to them for doing a wonderful, neighborly thing: Being kind to a small kid who was frightened. I gave them my appreciation and we walked out.

I cannot tell you the number of parents who stopped me to lament how “scary” the show had been, how “awful” it was that my son had been crying and unable to find me, and how “terrible” it was that the production had allowed the kids to sit “alone” in front.

All I can say is, my child was fine, as evidenced by the fact that the first thing he said when we returned home to my husband was: “It was AWESOME, Dad!” Let’s give kids, and community kindness, a little credit. — Carrie

When Risk Visits the Playground

Hi Readers — Here’s a note from reader Althea Smock, a mother of two Free-range Kids, ages 5 and 7,  in Arvada, Colorado. I find myself thinking about  our inability to understand, deal with or accept risk a LOT and, apparently, so does she! — L.
Dear Free-Range Kids:  The risk adversity in the U.S. is out of control. I just read about the CPSC recalling 7 million candle holders because there was a single incident of one (one!!) melting.
This comes on the heels of a discussion we had at our Parks Board last week where the playground designer came in to talk about the safety of playground equipment. The gist of it was: there is such a permeating fear of lawsuits and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) that playgrounds are required to be as generic as possible, lest a lawsuit occur. There was great discussion about the $600 test each playground inspector must take every three years to be certified to be able to even inspect a playground, and the number of people we have employed just to complete inspections on the equipment in our city alone. Each playground is inspected every 3-6 months: every screw and nut is examined, along with the width of all the poles,  and evidence of settling, protrusions, wear, etc. It takes several hours to inspect one playground thoroughly and completely.
Swings are still allowed, but the CPSC rules –“which are treated as law” — are so stringent on how and where they’re installed, it’s almost not worth putting them in. It was so sad to listen to how the paranoia that has determined how playgrounds will be built, resulting in homogeneous, boring play zones for kids.
At the end of the discussion it turned out that in our town of roughly 100,000 people there has been a single lawsuit over the last 12 years regarding play equipment. A grown woman got stuck in a baby swing and couldn’t get out so the fire department was called to cut her out of the swing. She sued for humiliation. And now swings are becoming a rare commodity.
Please, please, please keep up the work you’re doing in calling out the ridiculous paranoia overtaking our country where a single incident can incite a recall.Threats of lawsuits create such fear that now any risk is unacceptable. And as you’ve pointed out, life is risky! We need to collectively get over it! It’s frustrating to hear at every turn we need to be “safe” of there will be a recall or lawsuit. Erg! — Althea Smock

The swing: an endangered species?

Outrage of the Week: Inflatables Too Dangerous For School Fair

Hi Readers!  What happens when childhood, lawsuits and an all-around inability to deal with risk jump up and down and bump into each other? Here’s the jist of it:

Gordon Tewnion addressed the board recently, requesting the use of five air-filled devices, including a maze and a slide, for a May 26 fun fair at Lester B. Pearson Public School in Ajax. He would also like to use a bouncy castle. “I am pleading with you to allow us to use something new to liven up our event,” said Mr. Tewnion.

The board restricts the use of air-filled devices, following a recommendation from its insurer, which notes they are considered a safety hazard. The board hasn’t allowed the devices since the early 2000s and Janet Edwards, superintendent of education for Ajax, said schools are reminded at the beginning of each school year not to use them. She said the board is concerned the use of inflatables could result in injuries such as concussion, dental damage and fractured limbs.

I totally get that this is an insurance problem. But that doesn’t mean the problem disappears. When insurance dictates what is safe, NOTHING is safe enough. It will sap the life out of every activity, starting with childhood. So let’s start thinking up some ways to turn around this culture, before school fun fairs consist of sitting down in a very low, padded chair and not moving. Perhaps while taking a standardized test. — L

Egads! Doesn't she realize that jumping is inherently DANGEROUS?

Lego of Trust

Hi Readers! Just found out that you can visit the amazing Legoland Discovery Center if you are an adult…so long as you have a child with you. Otherwise, no dice. (And no Legos, either, it seems.) As the Discovery Center states on its website:

Can parents visit the attractions, too?

Of course – The LEGOLAND Discovery Center is a family attraction, so it’s great fun for everybody. However, adults can not visit the LEGOLAND Discovery Center unless they are accompanied by a child/children.

Because, of course, any OTHER grownups who wanted to visit couldn’t possibly be interested in the toys of their youth. No, they’re probably really only there to maul or snatch some kid…even though all the kids have to be accompanied by adults.

Seems like Legoland has decided to treat all child-free adults as potential pedophiles. How wholesome! — L.

“Relaxation Classes” — for 5-year-olds?

Hi Folks! Got this the other day and had to pass it along. I agree with the writer: yoga and such can be good for kids. But there are time-honored alternatives, too.  — L. 

Dear Free-Range Kids: Oh lordie, you’re never going to believe this.   Just saw this posting and had to share.  Now, for the low, low price of $320, your FIVE-year-old can attend a series of eight classes to learn relaxation techniques.

First, full disclosure.  I DO believe that yoga and meditation are powerful and good techniques that people can use to manage stress and lead healthier and happier lives. Moreover, I have no doubt that five-year-olds have stress in their lives.  I have a five-year-old who worries that if he wears a raincoat to school the other kids will laugh at him.  He worries that his seven-year-old sister can read and he can’t.  He worries that his friends all have PSPs and he doesn’t.

So, yes, he’s got stress.  But THEN…he goes outside and plays.  And magically, he stops worrying about everything.  He’s too busy thinking about finding the best stick to use to dig up worms, or trying to figure out how many of his friends can fit on the slide without pushing the bottom person off, or running as fast as he can because he’s a “super-fast runner guy.” And, for the low, low price of hand-me-down sneakers and the occasional bruise, my five- year-old can learn an endless series of relaxation techniques — and even enjoy himself. — Maryland Mom

Applebee’s Over-reaction

Hi Readers — The other day, a toddler at an Applebee’s was accidentally served alcohol instead of juice. It’s appalling — the mom said she knew something weird was going on when he started saying “Hi!” to the walls —  but the bottom line is: The child was unharmed and this was  one single incident. In fact, it was an incident so modest and local, it is bizarre that it made the news. It’s not like this was a terrorist attack. It was one stupid mistake. But as a result, Applebee’s went into OMG mode (probably out of fear of lawsuits as well as bad publicity) and from now on, it says, it will re-train all its employees and use only SINGLE SERVE juice drinks.

So now every kiddie drink has to be individually packed.  I think this is ridiculous, not just for ecological reasons, but for common sense reasons, too. If a child gets hot soup spilled on them at Applebee’s — God forbid — should Applebee’s stop serving soup? Or only serve cold (but not TOO cold) gazpacho from now on? Should it ask patrons ordering soup to sign some sort of waiver, or don heat-proof aprons, just in case?

What the alcohol incident (and official reaction) represent is the fact that though sometimes things go wrong, we cannot accept that anymore. We individuals have been trained to over-react, as has corporate America. We treat minor, even one-in-a-million, problems as major affronts. And then we try to “fix” them, even if there’s very little, if anything, to fix. It’s almost as if we have come to believe that if we just plug every pinhole in the universe, we will all be absolutely safe and sound forever more.

This is the same mentality that says we must issue a recall for any product that anyone has ever hurt themselves on, even if the product is basically very safe. A couple of months ago I read the recall of a table that had a screw protruding from the bottom of the table top. A dog had gotten its hair caught in it. Sad, yes. But worthy of a recall? Can we PLEASE accept that there is some risk in the universe? Or at least some risk under a cheaply made table?

So far I have no proof that we are that mature.  And so we spend a lot of time and money (and political air time) saying things CAN be perfect, and looking for someone to blame when — well gollllly — they aren’t.

NEWS FLASH: Life is not perfect. Sometimes things to wrong. When they’re not too terrible, could we please stop acting as if they are? And when they aren’t anyone’s fault, can we please stop pointing fingers? And, by the by, when there’s no one else to blame, can we please stop blaming parents? — L.

Its not like they gave the kid a whole bottle...

Am I the Only One Sickened by These “Tips”?

Hi Readers — One of you sent me this link to Moms Who Think. Apparently these are Moms Who Think TOO MUCH. They make outdoor play sound like sending your kid off to the Crusades. Voila:

…unlike schoolwork, outdoor play can present physical dangers that you may find downright disturbing.

Children can easily fall and hurt themselves, play dangerous games that result in harm to others, or even become targets for adult predators outside. So how can you allow your children the outdoor exercise they need without either stifling them or signing them up for an unplanned trip to the emergency room?

That sure makes outdoor play sound inviting. Hmm, should I send my kids out  or do I want  them to LIVE? Guess I’ll keep ’em inside!

The “tips” in the article include SUPERVISING the kids (big surprise), but  it never says when you are allowed to stop. Maybe never! That’s not an inconvenience, is it? And, of course, you are also expected to canvass the playground for all sorts of DANGER. They forgot to add that parents should always pack a healthy lunch, gallons of sunscreen and an Uzi.  — Lenore

This does not look safe at ALL! Where is the supervision?!

A Minor Heartbreak

…that just came in the mail:

Dear Free-Range Kids: My father just passed away a few weeks ago.  He had a little lollipop tree in his house, that each child who visited got to pick from.  It was my children’s favorite.
After he passed, my daughter took 15 lollipops from the tree to give to her pre-k class.
She wasn’t allowed to give them out and tell them about her Pop Pop.  They are now a choking hazard for 4-5 year olds. — A Reader

“You’re a Horrible Mother” — PART II

Hi Readers! Here’s a follow-up to You’re a Horrible Mother, Part I. Get ready to seethe — and cheer! (And by the way, I am off for a week’s vacation with my family, so the postings may be sparse for the next few days.) — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Almost exactly a year ago – when Lenore published a piece over at ParentDish about a 5 year-old who’d been (purposely, after a discussion with her mother and the children’s librarian) left to play alone in the children’s section of the library for a couple of minutes while the mom went to a different section to get a book – more than 1,000 comments were left in under 24 hours. (She also linked to the piece from this website, and the discussion here, too.)  The great majority of the ParentDish comments were exceedingly negative and condemning, with many calling the mother horrible names. Some even went so far as to declare – like the lovely letter writer who just wrote to Lenore – that CPS should take the child away, that the child deserved to be molested (so the mother could see how awful her actions were), or even that the mother herself be KILLED so that the child could be raised by someone else.


I remember it very well because *I* was the mother who left my 5 year-old daughter in the library!  I’d told Lenore the story when she’d come to my city to do a book reading/talk.  It was absolutely incredible to me to see the viciousness of the comments, to almost literally *feel* the outright hatred aimed at the mom – at ME! – despite the fact that NONE of these complete strangers knew ANYTHING about me as a person or a parent.  Even though I was entirely anonymous, it stung.

So, albeit in a very small way, I can relate to Lenore’s experience and I can say that it sucks!

But also?  It made me think.  It made me re-assess how I DO parent, and made me look more carefully at WHY I parent as I do.  And the outcome?  I’ve become even more Free-Range!  If  THAT’S the mentality of others out there – paranoid, terrified, helicopter-ish to the max – then I know I *HAVE* to continue with Free-Range thinking and parenting more than ever, to ensure that my daughters grow up to be confident, strong, and capable, and to look at the world knowing that dangers do NOT lurk around every corner, that most people ARE good, and that they, themselves, are competent.

Were it not for Lenore and this site, I never would have attended that book reading,  and my story never would have been published on ParentDish, and I never would have been called a terrible mother by thousands of strangers, and I never would have re-examined my parenting beliefs — and my wonderfully smart, confident, trusting, capable, beautiful, HAPPY children might not have the childhood filled with kid-made sandwiches, scraped knees, hours of unsupervised outdoor play, time “alone” at the library while I look for a book, and more laughs than we can count – that they do.

So Free-Rangers: Keep on keeping on.  🙂 — Emily in Rochester, NY

You Mean Not Every Candy-Giver is a Predator?

Hi Readers! The folks in this Chicago Sun-Times story are SO old, they tried to give candy to their grandchild’s schoolmates. How clueless! Don’t they know that any adult who is nice to someone else’s kids is probably grooming them for an illicit relationship…or worse? — L