They Left Their Kids at the Park and Then…

Hi Readers! Here’s a note I got from one of you right before “Take Our Children to the Park…And Leave Them There Day,” last Saturday, May 21:

Dear Free-Range Kids: We’re doing it as a communal group, with about 9 kids thus far from my various friends. We’re even letting them ride their bikes over instead of driving them. Our plan for the day is to go shoot paintball. (Why should the kids be the only ones to have fun with their counterparts about?)

I think parents need some non-parental time in their lives, which is becoming less and less these days as we become more paranoid about letting kids out of our sights. — Sean in upstate New York

Well Sean’s plan sounded good, so I asked him to let me know how it went. And he did!

Dear Free-Range Kids: The day went great. Since I’m fairly central to everyone, and close to the local park, my place got picked as home base. I woke up early, and knowing I was about to be taking on more than thirty people between kids and grown-ups, I started knocking out breakfast (I’m a cook, it’s what I do), which was made up of pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage, and biscuits.My niece, who just turned five, helped with the eggs and pancakes, and thus needed to change clothes before people arrived.

Everyone converged on the house at about 7:30-8:00 am, and it was on. We went through a few gallons of sweet tea, a gallon of orange juice and several pitchers of Kool-Aid, and my niece kept regaling everyone about how she cooked the eggs and pancakes. After that, we packed up lunches for everyone, and put the eldest, 11, in charge — something she smiled almost evilly about. But we figured there were enough other kids to form a coup if it got too bad. She had a cell phone, the time and place for us to meet up, and was left with $20 emergency/ice cream truck money. Then we waved goodbye to kids as they all mounted their bikes and pedaled off.

The other twenty of us loaded up into cars and vans next, and drove on up to Scaticoke for a day of paintball, and because we had so many people, we got a group rate. We spent all day running back and forth through woods and hills shooting paint at each other, laughing, joking, and okay, a pretty good rash of swearing at times too, but everyone was having a blast. We did get a call while we were breaking for lunch because the 11-year-old didn’t know if she was allowed to use the pavilion for lunch eating. We assured her it was  fine. Then we ran around like idiots for another few hours after eating, and, thoroughly bedecked with paint, realized we were supposed to have left a half hour earlier.

When we arrived, there was Jenna with the rest of gang, tapping her foot like a parent watching her kid slip in after curfew. So we called for everyone to count off (a system we worked out so each kid has their own number, so we know immediately if someone is missing). The count went to nine, and then we hit a minor skid: it then went to ten and eleven. This ended up having an explanation.

The kids had arrived at the park with lunches as well as gear for some games such as Wiffle ball, kickball, ultimate frisbee, and soccer. Well, apparently, while they were playing monster ball (a mash up of kickball and wiffle ball), a couple neighborhood kids decided to join in, and Jenna had given them each a number immediately. The kids hung out all day, and this is where we found out something interesting: They’d all eaten their lunches together as well, even though the other two hadn’t brought any. Jenna and a few others had split part of theirs so everybody got something to eat, and the same went with the ice cream truck money. No one had to tell them, or force anyone to include them, and they hadn’t just been left out. The kids took care of each other without question, or prodding.

Well, we got phone numbers for the newcomers so they could set up some playtime again another time. From there, we rounded up our guys, and went off to  CiCi’s, an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet, for dinner. The only problem left was that pretty much all of the kids (and a few of the adults) fell asleep in the car on the way back. Otherwise, went off without a hitch. We’re probably going to set up another day like that somewhere in the future when we have time and money for it again. It was just too much fun to only do once. — Sean

The date on the photo of THIS park day is June 23, 2011 -- a hundred years ago!

44 Responses

  1. This is a great story but why was it a special occasion? My boy plays at the park by himself 5+ days a week weather permitting.

  2. Shouldn’t the date on the photo be 1911?

  3. I am a high school teacher and mother of 3 kids, 12-8. let me tell you what results from obsessive overprotection: your teens will talk to everyone but you. Think you can keep tabs on them? Guess again! Plan to track and follow them everywhere? Well you’re in for it now! The more invasive you are, the more evasive they will be.
    Obsessive-overprotection is likely a clinical anxiety disorder, a problem that a parent needs to address for him/herself and not transfer to their children, if said parent plans to remain a part of their offspring’s life. No matter your intentions, the message for your child is “I don’t trust you.” Careful, you may end up being the “stranger” your child avoids!

  4. Sounds like they had a blast and I’m glad they want to do it again. I always end up wishing there’d be more kids at the park when I take my kids. I have a 2 year old, so I can’t just leave, but the older two pretty much ignore me to play on their own, often out of sight. It’s fun, and they know the limits.

  5. Can I move to your town? Pleaaase!

  6. I HATE going to the park! It’s boring (I like the paintball idea, that actually sounds fun). If I didn’t send them alone, they would be in the house fighting and driving me NUTS! Let go, you’ll be happier and you’re house will be cleaner.

  7. Sorry, “your house will be cleaner.”

  8. I’m all for letting my kids go to the park on their own, but I don’t think i’d leave home. Even if one of the kids had a cell. I’m just not comfortable with the kids not having some one at home or in the neighborhood (like a neighbors house or something).

    I also hate when I see a really young child on a cell phone. It drives me crazy to see an 8 year old texting or talking to a friend on a cell phone. They should be playing made up games and running around. Drives me nuts!

  9. This sounds like a great day!!! We were away that day, but took another 10 year old with us, and the 2 10 year old girls wandered around the fair by themselves (Maker Faire) and had a grand time! My daughter called me to make sure it was OK to text her friend’s mom a photo of the 2 of them (she’s only allowed to use her phone to call/text us…). She had a much better time than she would have being herded around by us, and we had a better time than we would have trying to herd her!

    My little guy is a little too young to be fully in the care of big sister this year, but I figure when he starts K (and she’s in 7th grade) I’ll send them off together regularly!

  10. Nice. I remember when my family used to do that. But it wasn’t even a setting up, it just was. My family would visit my cousin’s, then other family friends would come by, sometimes even the next door neighbors. While the parents mingled, cooked bbq, all the kids would just take off to the nearby park, playground or school yard and play. And play, and play. Till we got hungry. Then we’d ride our bikes back to the house, eat. Then head back out again. Some of the neighborhood kids would even come over for some burgers. They didn’t even bother calling home. Sometimes we’d even go to their place, they’d yell “mom, some friends are over”. The mother would come into the kitchen say hello, and offer us something to drink and eat. It’s like who’s ever house we went to, we were automatically treated as part of the family. Which included being reminded of manners. Back then, everyone watched out for everyone else, even if they didn’t know the kids. Just the fact that their own kids were friends with us, was good enough for them. Some parents never even got to meet ours. Unless something bad really happened (worse case was a sprained shoulder from falling off a bike), or we were invited to stay for dinner, or even stay over night, our parents never got a call for the other parents. We all just watched out for each other. It was a given.

  11. @Katy. You pretty much nailed it. And as I always say, this issue isn’t with the kids, it’s not even with what MIGHT happen. It’s all about the parents. What makes THEM feel secure, what makes THEM feel comfortable, what makes THEM feel in control. And they have the gonads to say “its for the kids”. Pretty selfish if you ask me.

  12. Congrats to Sean, his friends and his kids friends for a wonderful day.

  13. “If I didn’t send them alone, they would be in the house fighting and driving me NUTS! Let go, you’ll be happier and you’re house will be cleaner.”

    You know, it never quite struck me this way, but though my kids aren’t fighters, I can’t imagine what life would be like if my kids could only leave home (or even our yard) at such time as I was able and willing to accompany them. I would go up the WALL!!!!! How do people even live like that?

  14. I need to move over there so I can join their group!! 😉

  15. a little off – topic here..
    Was just browsing my local news.

    http://www.statesman.com/news/local/child-dies-after-being-left-in-pickup-1498550.html

    Its always a horrible tragedy when an overworked, sleep deprived parent has this happen, ( I will rant elsewhere about the “family friendly” attitude regarding maternity/paternity leave etc of the “Family Values” party) but the key thing in the article that caught my attention is this:
    “In Texas, it is a Class C misdemeanor to knowingly or intentionally leave a child unattended in a vehicle for longer than five minutes. If the child dies, it could be escalated to a felony of child endangerment or criminally negligent homicide.”

    With temperature routinely over 95 and 100 this does happen several times a year.

    Some times within reason when you are specifically aware of what you are doing it _is_ ok to leave your child in a car, BUT always know the local law and the risk you run.

    And prioritize sleep. It helps you avoid all manor of unfortunate attention lapses.

  16. Some times within reason when you are specifically aware of what you are doing it _is_ ok to leave your child in a car, BUT always know the local law and the risk you run.

    If you KNOW you’re leaving your child in the car, it’s probably all right.

    The trouble isn’t with kids who are left in cars, it’s with kids who are forgotten in cars. Human memory is sketchy and fallible.

    Fortunately, fewer than 50 children die like this every year in the US. It’s tragic for them in their families, no doubt, but it’s hardly the epidemic it’s made out to be.

  17. It sounds like Sean and all of the kids had a great day and want to do it again. Hopefully they won’t wait another year to do it.

    My son was at a birthday party last Saturday. But just about every weekend day is Go to the Park Day. He and his friends ride their bikes over to the big playground on the base where I work. They bring balls and play baseball, soccer, and basketball. They also mix with other German and American kids that show up and invent their own games. When they need a break, they’ll walk or ride their bikes to the PX or Commissary to buy themselves some treats and drinks. All of the boys come back from an afternoon at the playground tired, dirty, and happy.

    By the way, I also liked what Katy (the 3rd comment) had to say.

  18. awwws what a great report! Sounds like a fun day for all the kids and the parents. I agree most parents don’t get time away from kids or with other adult friends enough. I had some today because the kids are with their grandparents for a couple days. My BFF and I met up for pedicures and lunch. She left her baby with Daddy. Every parent needs this or they will go crazy. I am convinced of it!

    Glad everything worked out!🙂

  19. Uly, my intended points were be aware of the law and get more sleep. Sometimes things that are reasonable are not legal and there are consequences.

  20. Too awesome! I want to come! (And breakfast sounds great!)

  21. Speaking of obssessive overprotection, you guys have to read this about kids walking to school.

    http://kiddiescornerdeals.com/2011/02/child-what/

    Lenore tweeted this a few days ago and the comments are…well… they cannot be described.

  22. Katy – that is brilliant. Can I quote you?

  23. With a 3-year-old, I wasn’t able to participate in the day, but yesterday my son and I did meet some children who’d been left at the park and were getting along just fine. They were a group of about 7 kids of all ages, the youngest around 2 — she was the one I met, because she grabbed my son’s tricycle for a joyride. We let her have a go on it, and when it was time for us to take it back, I had to gently lift her off because she wasn’t getting off voluntarily. I had brief visions of angry parents as I said ‘I’m just going to count to three and then lift you up and set you down,’ but there were no complaints from anyone. Later discovered her folks were picnicking just out of sight.

    And on the way home I had a lovely discussion with my son about sharing.

  24. it was raining here where I live in Australia (no excuse I know) but my 8 year old daughter did head off to the park with a friend around 4pm on TYKTTPALTTD. They rode bikes down (I usually like them to walk, not always comfortable with them riding bikes on the roads here) they had a watch and only went for a short time.

    But in that time they helped a little boy who fell off his bike, so it was nice to hear that not only did the play but they helped someone too.

    thanks for the push lenore (it can be so hard to let go)

  25. Wow a picture from the future!!!

  26. Sounds like a super-fun day for everyone…and now i’m craving pancakes!

  27. Sean’s day sounded fine, but the whole event was way too orchestrated for my liking. Why did he have to make it such a huge event? Can’t these kids go off for a day at the park or playing in the neighborhood without all the fanfare? Really, does an 11-year-old need a cell phone? Oh, that’s right, she needed to make the all important call to make sure eating in the pavilion was OK.

  28. @Samantha: Wow… you sound like you’re a little over the top there… ease off, killer! So they made a day out of it… I don’t think it affected you or anyone else personally. Sounds like a giant blast – something to ease all those other parents who might not have been ok with it into giving more freedom to their kids on the days they **don’t** have a big shindig. The idea here is to get people ok with the idea of not hovering and sometimes, that has to begin with a big deal over a small one.

    As far as the 11-year-old making a call… good grief – you’re telling me you have a major issue with an 11-year-old who was told she was in charge of 10 kids having a way to ensure they were all ok if something did go wrong? Sure, I wouldn’t give my kid a phone for day-to-day use at that age, but if they’re babysitting? Would you leave a 12-year-old in charge of your kids at your house without a way to contact you in case of an emergency? Or is it too much to think that in this instance, the cell phone acted just like your land line for the “kid in charge?”

    Sean – kudos for getting the idea out there with a bang. Sounds like a huge blast and I truly would have loved to have been part of the party!

  29. @samantha- Sean’s day sounded fine, but the whole event was way too orchestrated for my liking. Why did he have to make it such a huge event?

    We didn’t initially. I simply skipped the part where someone chimed in, “Well, what’re we gonna do with the day, then?”

    one guy chimed in with paintball, and it was pretty much on from there. As to Cici’s, well, okay, I eat there too much. I admit that, and that was my suggestion. This was more of a snowball effect than an outright scripted plan from the beginning.

    Can’t these kids go off for a day at the park or playing in the neighborhood without all the fanfare?

    We made it special because it was fun to do so. Nothing wrong with that, really. It’s not like this is the only time they’ve ever been to the park or anything, this simply happened to be a special time.

    Really, does an 11-year-old need a cell phone?

    In general, no, but then, she’s not my kid. Second, since they’ve pretty much gotten rid of the payphone these days, it’s an unfortunate necessity for simple communication in this instance, like say if the parents are, ahem, running a bit late because they decided to play “one last round”. Jenna, the leader, was the only kid who had a cell phone, and she hasn’t thus far abused it (Though I’m certain that might pick up in the next couple years or so).

  30. What a great success story!!!!

  31. Awesome story! Sounds like an excellent day for all. I especially loved that Jenna immediately assigned the newcomers numbers, and that the kids made sure all had enough to eat! Thanks for sharing.

  32. Unrelated to this post but thought this news report was exactly the type of fear mongering that you would appreciate.

    Such a waste of fear.

  33. Why do people have such a problem with kids having cell phones? We don’t have a home phone. My husband and I both have cell phones only. So if the kids are home alone they have no access to a phone. I bought them a pre-paid TracPhone specifically so they could be more free-range. I pay 20.00 every 3 months for very basic service, 60 minutes to last 3 months. If they want more minutes they are free to spend their own money to buy more. Neither of them have wanted to. They don’t use the phone for anything but communicating with me. That way if they’re home alone I can call with instructions like, I’ll be home in 20 minutes to pick you up, eat something and be ready to go and things like that. What I use it for most it to call them in for dinner. They get home from school and take off with their friends. We don’t have a regular dinner time, it varies day to day. This way when it’s time to eat I just call and say it’s time for dinner and I’ve saved myself 15 minutes of driving around the neighborhood trying to track them down.

  34. This is the way parents do things in our small Midwest town.. The problem is the shear meanness of other kids! I have had to make rules like no going to the park without an Adult because of the mean kids in town. We have tried the last three summers to make friends, but our kids do not go to school with these kids.. They commute with me to the town where I work. Help! Should I choose a random park in a differnt town? I have 6 kids ranging from 15 to three.

  35. @4:21 I read those comments when Lenore originally tweeted. The one who makes her 6ft tall 16 year old call her on the cell phone every time he crosses a busy street to make sure he hasn’t been hit or kidnapped just put me over the edge. Really? Who do you call when you cross a street? He’s 16 and 6feet tall.

  36. Ruth, how are the other kids mean? It seems to me it has to be pretty bad if you’re restricting the movements of your 15 year old because of it.

  37. I love that my 11-year-old has a phone. It is not that expensive and he can go further from the house because he has the phone – no need to worry that I can’t find him. Also, he can text me at work when he gets home from school and not interfere with my job. We actually joke around by text and sometimes he just texts me to tell me that he had a bad day, or that he got an A on a test. Kids text: I actually think by texting, I learn more about him because he is open in his texts.

  38. Yep, it’s all in how you use the phone and even more, how you view it. If you think it makes you safe in ways you wouldn’t be safe without it, you’re probably wrong (barring occasionally situations like a long road trip alone, and even then, you’re only safer if something actually goes wrong.) But if you use it as a convenience and a way to give an extra level of freedom because you don’t have to figure out how to find the kid if you need him for something, it can be a good thing.

  39. Just randomly

    I work with two women that couldn’t be more opposite when it comes to how they are raising their kids… the first one has to leave work at 2 pm every day to drive to her kids school age 14 and 17 pick them up and drop them off at home and then come back to work to leave at 4 because she says that the school bus is dirty and filled with nasty kids and if her kids walk home alone from the bus stop then the neighbor might kidnap her daughter because he always has his garage door open.

    The second woman has and 11 yr old and a 13 yr old she moved a few months ago and it would have meant moving her 5th graders school with a few months left so she choose to let the kids finish the year where they were their school buses drop them off at their old apartment complex where they wander around play basketball with friend go to various other kids houses and have a few bucks to buy a snack from the corner store and they stay there until 6 or 7 when one of their parents can come get them and the mom says that when she shows up to pick them up early they don’t wanna go.

    and then there’s the other woman who works with me that would also run out at 2 to pick up her 18 yr old 12th grade daughter from school because she said that she didn’t allow her to drive or to ride with friends or go out and do much of anything It is a real possibility that she will be dropping her off and picking her up from college since we work a few miles away from one of the states major universities.

  40. Eh I didn’t ride the bus to middle or high school either. I rode it in elementary school everyday and it was fine. My mom let me stand out across the street at the bus stop alone. But we lived in a very nice suburban neighborhood. Then we moved to a less nice area. I started out riding the bus to middle school and it also had high schoolers on it too. That lasted about two weeks.

    There were trashy kids on the bus that cursed and harassed me. In two weeks the bus turned around 2 times because of a fight on the bus and had to drive all the way back to the school to drop off the kids that were fighting meaning I got home super late. It was a nightmare. So as soon as my mom could quit her job she started driving me to school because I did not belong on that bus.

    Once I was 16 I got a car and drove myself to school. She was not being ant free range. She was saving me from a horrible situation. One of the fight literally happened in the seat in front of me so that I almost got accidentally hit. No way, I would not let my kids ride that bus either.

  41. The “local park” for us is “across the street” if by “street” you mean “entrance to a parking lot.” I let the kids play there all the time even though I can’t actually see what they are doing from my windows. And play in the parking lot, especially after school hours, because they can run around in circles on their bikes without my constant supervision. I can hear them and that’s good enough for me. Its when we can’t hear them that we go and find them.

    I took my middle child with me on a long bike ride on Saturday. I lost sight of her several times since she was up to three blocks behind me as I towed on a trail-a-bike my youngest. She had fun. She was scared. Nearly ran right into traffic. Hit me three times, but she learned more how to ride her bike in the four hours we were out than she did in that parking lot. She only got rid of her training wheels two weeks ago. I know other parents would have kept their kids closer, but I know she’s smart enough to keep up with me, smart enough to avoid cars and smart enough to keep her helmet on.

    She had the time of her life.

  42. Yay!! They will all remember that day forEVER!!

  43. I actually welled up a little, reading the part about the sharing lunches and all that.

    Ah, the beauty of relationships that evolve without direct intervention. To me, the definition of authenticity.

    Hallelujah, is what I say. Thanks for this lovely accounting of your day, Sean.

  44. I grew up in a sleepy suburb at the base of some fairly rugged mountains. When I was twelve, my brother and some friends hiked a few miles up to a cave and camped overnight. I remember my mother putting food out on the counter for me to pack: mostly spaghettios and white bread, a bottle of milk. I took an old sleeping bag, a few matches and candles. It was a great adventure. I love her for trusting me. I don’t ever remember getting the stranger talk, only the “be honest, be kind, help others” talk. I’ve now been all over the world, in many cities, in many destitute places…I’ve never felt like I was in a situation that I couldn’t get out of. As for my 6 kids, They’ve slept in those same mountains, spent the day in NYC as teenagers without a cell phone, only the address of our hotel and cab faire, taken planes alone to wrestling and soccer camps, and have had no problems making friends wherever they went. They’ve certainly had their mishaps and failures, but learning those lessons at a young age prepared them for college and marriage and life in general. It’s interesting that each of them chose a spouse who is confident, loving, willing to work hard and who loves adventure…and now I have grandkids. I took my grandson out into the desert (he rides a motorcycle nearly as good as me) we went over the rules (he’s 6 years old) stay on the trail, if you break down, stay there, we’ll find you. Keep water and candy bars in your backpack. The trail is about a twenty mile loop, and sure enough, he broke down. His chain snapped. After waiting for him for about twenty minutes, we rode the loop and found him, resting on his helmet, in the shade, drinking a bottle of water, eating a candy bar, his hands covered in grease from trying to fix the chain. Life is meant to be lived, not worried over.

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