“Only Bad Parents Make Their Kids WALK to School”

Hi Folks! I read this over at RixaRixa and asked if the blogger was game to let me reprint the whole thing. Yes! So here it is, in all its infuriating bureaucrat-brained fullness!

We’ve been walking Zari to and from kindergarten. It seemed the most logical of our three options (walk, ride the bus, or drive) since we only live 1 km away. If Zari rode the bus, she’d have to leave the house almost an hour earlier, and she’d get home 1 to 1 1/2 hours later. That adds up to over 2 hours on the bus per day. Driving was out of the question; why drive when our legs are perfectly capable of getting us there?
So far we’ve enjoyed our twice daily walks. Eric and I switch off walking duty depending on who is teaching that day. We get time with Zari and we get extra exercise. Sounds like the perfect scenario, right?

Yes, except that we have to cross a Death Trap road on the way. It’s a state highway that runs through town, and there are no stop signs or stoplights in probably a mile either direction. There’s a flashing light that goes on during school hours. This means that cars are supposed to slow down to 25 mph, but no one does. Every time we cross the street, it’s like we’re inside a giant game of Frogger (this totally dates me!).

I first contacted the school transportation department to inquire about crossing guards. After all, the road where we’re crossing is the main entrance into the elementary school and to the county fairgrounds. The reply? They used to supply a crossing guard at that intersection, but not any more. They told me to talk to the police department.

So I met with the chief of police and explained my concerns–that the school no longer provided a crossing guard and that I was having real troubles getting us safely across the street, especially during the morning rush. He sympathized with my situation and said he’d send some patrol cars out in the morning, but otherwise he coudln’t do much else. He suggested talking to someone in the state transportation department, since traffic signs on that road are regulated by the state, not by the city.

This morning I spoke to a woman at the state transportation department. I explained our difficulties crossing the road and asked if they would consider doing a traffic survey to put in either stop signs or a stop light. I told her I’d already met with the school transportation coordinator and the police chief, and they both told me they couldn’t do much else to help me. Her response:

“You really should have your daughter ride the bus.”

I explained that this option made no sense in our situation. We live close to the school, and riding the bus would take an extra 2+ hours out of my daughter’s day. Her reply:

“Well, you’re the one who’s choosing to put your daughter in danger. You’re choosing your convenience over her safety. She has a safe option, and that’s to ride the bus.” 

Excuse me?! When did walking your child to school mean that you’re a bad, selfish parent? I abandoned any niceties and dropped my polite tone. I said that it was not just a choice between convenience and safety. After all, we’re facing major obesity and pollution crises in this country. I feel very strongly that it’s an irresponsible choice to put my child on a bus for 2 hours a day, or to drive her to school (as many parents at this school do), when we’re perfectly capable of walking. The solution isn’t just to put my daughter on a bus; it’s to help us find a way to safely cross the street.

Her reply:

“In my town, I have several friends who live across the street from an elementary school, and they all have their children ride the bus because it’s safer than crossing the street.”

The then told me that she likely couldn’t do anything to help me, and to talk to the school and the police again.

Can anyone else see what’s wrong with this picture? Is there anything else I can do? (I do have something really subversive up my sleeve…more on that later!)

Lenore here: I like the sound of ‘something subversive.’ Please keep us looped in! – L

A Conversation with an Older Man

Hi Folks — To be filed under, “What we’ve lost.” Or maybe, “What Free-Range Kids is working  to bring back.” – L. 

Dear Free-Range Kids: I had an interesting experience in the Target parking lot today. While
I was unloading my cart, an older man passed and complimented me on my
four kids. I thanked him, and we struck up a conversation.

When my three-year-old shyly turned away from the man, he said,

“That’s right, I forgot you’re not supposed to talk to strangers these
days.” And he turned to leave.

I said, “No sir, I teach my children that it’s okay to talk to
strangers. They need to learn how to speak with adults. I just teach
them never to go anywhere with a stranger.”

The man said, “Yeah, when I was in my 40s and 50s, I always pictured
myself sitting on a park bench one day, giving dollar bills to little
children. But some wackos messed that up for the rest of us. Can’t do
that anymore.”

I told him the world was worse off for it, and I try to teach my
children that most people are good and it’s okay to interact with
people of all ages.

The man started to leave again, but then abruptly turned around,
pulled out his wallet, and gave each of my kids a $1 bill. I wanted to
decline, mainly because I like my kids to earn their money, but I
could see how delighted they were, and how pleased the man was that he
could do that for him. I realized this man probably genuinely enjoys
interacting with children, and we live in a world where he may not
have an opportunity to do so.

I wonder what our children could learn from old men sitting on park benches.

Lauren Richins

Guest Post: Parents — Reach for the Duct Tape

Hi Readers! Here’s a little list of tips from Vicki Hoefle, author of the brand-new book: Duct Tape Parenting: A Less is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible and Resilient Kids. – L

5 Simple Ways to Let Go and Raise a Resilient Child, by Vicki Hoefle

Hey there Free-Rangers! I want to give a quick kudos to you for encouraging your children to take reasonable risks. It takes courage to foster independence in a world that prefers to hover and hyper-protect. By stepping out of the way and trusting them, you are enabling resiliency, confidence, courage and independence in your kids. Thank you and keep up the radical faith, folks!

If you start to lose a little steam or you begin to hear the chopper blades grind, here are a few things you can do to bring yourself back into the “less is more” parenting mode.

1. Try saying yes. Sometimes, we simply say NO because it’s habit, or it’ll take too long or we’re not sure they can handle it or it will be messy. This is a choice of convenience (for us) over experience (for the kids). Luckily, it’s an easy habit to work on so consider yes before you throw out an automatic no!

2. Ignore the mess. Engaged, thinking, curious kids are messy and they don’t always look perfect, have their stuff together or make the “right choices.” Yep, they might say the wrong thing (and make you blush), forget their homework or wear mismatched clothes. Give yourself permission to stop “tidying up” for them and celebrate independence!

3. Encourage your child to do for himself.  Kids ask for all kinds of help that they really don’t need us for. “Can you get me a drink?” “Can you find my hat?” And so forth. Encouraging kids to do it themselves is vital to them developing self, home and life skills – and it’s a natural confidence booster.  Remember it’s about practice, not perfection, so keep your expectations reasonable.

4. Hang Back vs. Hovering. It’s easy to watch our kids try and succeed but it’s hard to watch when they make mistakes or fail.  If we can hang back, though, we’ll watch our kids solve the problems they create in creative and often surprising ways. Hanging back and observing sends a message that you trust your child to try and yes, to fail is just fine.  This is certainly good for resiliency!

5. Zip the Mouth. Technically, this is easy but mentally, it can be fiercely challenging. (I put duct tape over my bossy mouth!) Some parents talk all day long (without realizing)– correcting, nagging, reminding, chiming in, etc. This “noise” interferes with a child’s decision-making process and puts the thinking on mom or dad’s plate. It’s counter-productive if we want kids to know how to figure things out vs. calling mom or dad for everything, right? Right!

You Can Be Free-Range and Choose NOT to Trust Your Kid in a Particular Situation

Hi Folks! I liked this letter because it reminds us that Free-Range Kids is not dogmatic and not silly. We don’t say you MUST trust your child in every situation or you are a lily-livered ninny. We don’t reject thinking things over, or even erring on the side of caution. All we DO reject is knee-jerk “worst-first thinking” — immediately assuming the worst in all situations. – L 

Dear Free-Range Kids: Parenting Free-Range children does not mean throwing all caution to the wind.  While reading through some people’s stories and comments I have commonly seen the inner struggle of  “should I or should I not?” in trying to determine what is best for their children.  I consider myself a Free-Range Parent even though my kids are young.  I do not let mainstream media or exaggerated emails govern the raising of my kids in a state of fear.  However, I was met with a Free-Range struggle last week at the park.

My son and daughter were happily playing soccer with another set of boys, with a total range of age from 3-5.  Out of nowhere the dad of the boys appeared and started playing with the four of them.  I watched from my bench as everyone was having a great time.  I was thankful for this dad entertaining my kids, even though he did not speak English (I’m an ex-pat American living in Europe) and my kids were a little confused regarding his instructions.  I did notice he seemed to be slapping my daughter on her skirted rear end quite a bit.  At first it was a “good job” sort of thing but still I just didn’t like it, cultural differences or not.

My son ran up to me and said he had to go to the bathroom.  The bathroom at the park was a good 5-minute walk away and not that clean.  So here I was presented with a choice:  I could leave my 4-year-old daughter with this man I have just met so she can continue playing, and trust that he will look after her.  Or deal with the “I don’t want to go” tantrum and take her with me.

My first instinct was to take her with me.  But a voice crept up, “Shouldn’t you trust this man you have never met before in your life?  Isn’t that what being Free-Range is all about?  Aren’t you giving into senseless worry, if you fear leaving her with a stranger?  What would Lenore think?”

I ultimately decided, no, leaving my 4-year-old daughter with a man I don’t know is not being Free-Range.  It is taking an unnecessary risk, especially when I live in a country that is notorious for abuse.  Lenore would want my little girl safe.  Her time to be truly “Free-Range” will come soon enough.  As for now, my role is to teach her how to be safe and ready for the world ahead of her.”

I write this in case any other parent who believes in Free-Range philosophies gets struck in this sort of conundrum — the ” I feel like I shouldn’t but maybe Free-Range says I should!” spiral. It is important to believe in your kids and yourself, but don’t throw all instincts out the window.  I have faith in people and society but I don’t consider myself blind to it all either. – A Mom Abroad

These Moms Created a Neighborhood Camp (And So Can You!)

Hi Readers! Here’s a letter about a homemade camp started by two moms that just may inspire you —  the same way THEY got inspired last year, thanks to ideas being spread by Mike Lanza of Playborhood. (Here’s a cool post by him of how he turned his front yard into a neighborhood hangout.) If you start a camp, let us know! L. 
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Dear Free-Range Kids: I wanted to let you know that you, Mike Lanza, and the Camp Iris Way creators inspired me and a fellow mom, Karen Hoffman, to start out own neighborhood camp.  The first annual “Montara Street Camp” happened last week and was a huge success!  Not only did the campers, counselors, families and neighbors love it, but Karen and I had so much fun running it.  Of all the volunteer efforts I’ve been part of as a stay-at-home mom, this one was the most rewarding and fun.
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We modeled our camp after Camp Iris Way, and actually were in contact with Iris Way founder Diana Nemet [see below] when we were having difficulties getting our permit.  Since this was a new concept for the police and city, there were various concerns and hurdles.  However, the permit was ultimately granted and we had so much fun holding the camp in the street.  As a result of our camp, the neighborhood definitely feels closer.  Campers and counselors formed a special bond and new friendships were made.  One of my favorite parts of camp was it pushed parents to let kids walk and ride bikes by themselves, many for the first time.  I just loved watching everyone walk to camp.
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Here are links to the two local articles: HMB Review and  HMB Patch.  We made the front page of our local newspaper and have received lots of positive responses from people in town.  We are looking forward to running it again next year and hope it becomes an ongoing part of our little coastal community.  Again, thanks for being such a great inspiration!  My husband got so sick of hearing me quote your book after I read it last year.  I couldn’t help it!  – Sarah Bunkin

The Montara Sreet campers
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And here’s a note from Diana Nemet, who started a neighborhood camp last year:
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Thrilled to learn of the success of  Montara Street Camp–it’s absolutely wonderful! Reading about it brought back memories of the first year we ran Camp Iris Way. It’s definitely an incredible community-building accomplishment and I’m sure that the kids will enjoy each others company a lot more this summer than they had in the past!
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We had 73 kids attend Camp Iris Way this summer. Neighbors are still astonished that we have this many kids living just on Iris and Primrose Ways. I suspect you’ll see the numbers jump for next year’s Montara Street Camp. Our neighbors actually schedule their vacations around CIW now so that they don’t miss it! 🙂
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I suspect it might be valuable to include another link to the workplan and templates that we provided in last summer’s post. Congratulations Sarah and Karen! I’m delighted to learn of the fun you had, and agree that it’s one of the most rewarding contributions to my community that I’ve ever made.  Best,  Diana Nemet

But is Your Baby Safe ENOUGH?

Hi Folks! This guest post comes to us from the proud papa of a bouncing new baby book!

Safety Products You Need NOW! by Jacob Sager Weinstein

For my book How Not To Kill Your Baby – a parody of overbearing, fear-inducing pregnancy and parenting books – I made up a series of ludicrous child-safety products. My challenge was: could I come up with something more ridiculous than the stuff actually marketed to parents?

I’ll let you decide how successful I was. Below are four marketing pitches. Only three of them describe genuine products you can actually buy. Can you find the one absurd parody hidden amongst the absurd reality?

A:  Nursery Water: Have you ever fed your toddler tap water? You MONSTER! Don’t you know that tap water is full of… full of… something horrible that we can’t think of, but that is definitely going to kill your child! Now, can we interest you in paying extra for carbon-filtered water that’s been steam-distilled, then ozonated and flouridated?  We can? Even if you’re not quite sure what “ozonated” means?  Great! Thank you for your dedication to our new Mercedes. We mean, “to your child’s health.”

B: Thudguard Infant Safety Hat: For millenia, human children have learned how to walk without safety gear. But in the early 21st century, gravity apparently got stronger, because your toddler now needs a padded helmet to do what billions of humans have already done. Sure, a baby who is just learning how to walk probably won’t go as fast a motorcyclist, but if she did go as fast as a motorcyclist, wouldn’t you want her to have the same protection?

C: Saf-T Brand Line of Children’s Classics: Children’s books are too damn exciting and imaginative. That’s why we need Saf-T Brand Children’s Classics, which  have been carefully edited to remove bad role models,  unsafe behavior, and anything else that made them worth reading in the first place. Saf-T Brand Peter Pan eliminates all references to flying, which might inspire children to jump out windows. Instead, Peter Pan and the Darling children jump up and down on a mattress, after having a grown-up remove it from the bed and place it safely on the floor.  The only thing missing is padded pages to prevent paper cuts.

D: My PeePee Bottle: If you’re anything like me, you often find yourself thinking, “I’m not inside so there are no toilets nearby, nor am I outside so my kid can’t just pee under a tree. If only I had a dedicated urine jug that I carried with me at all times!” Enter the $9.99 “My PeePee Bottle.”  It looks pretty much like  a generic water bottle you could get for half the price, but generic water bottles don’t say “My PeePee Bottle” on the front in an adorable, child-like cursive. And generic water bottles don’t come in pink and blue so that you can assign gender roles to your child’s waste products after they’ve left their body.

ANSWER:

A: Click here.

B: Click here.

C: Don’t click anything.

D: Click yet again.

Only the Saf-T Brand Line of Children’s Classics is deliberately meant to be nuts. — J.S. W.

Guest Post: You Can’t Helicopter-Parent Three Kids

 Hi Folks! This guest post is by Laura Vanderkam, author of All the Money in the World:What the Happiest People Know About Getting and Spending, out today from Portfolio!

You Can’t Helicopter-Parent Three Kids by Laura Vanderkam

Having a baby changes everything. Having three in four and a half years? While that was common in the 1950s, when the average American woman had nearly four children, it’s a lot less common now. But hey, I like to be an overachiever. At least on the fertility front. Because, as I learned this fall after bringing my baby daughter home from the hospital, when it comes to raising kids, having three little ones will throw any perfectionist tendencies under the bus.

When I only had my oldest son, I fretted about using television as a babysitter. Now that I have three kids, I literally use it as a babysitter, parking my oldest two in front of a video while putting the baby to bed on nights I have all three on my own.  The kids are no longer at risk of being overscheduled. I decided not to sign my oldest up for indoor soccer this winter because I couldn’t bear to deal with the logistics of getting him to practice 20 minutes away on Wednesday afternoons. If he was an only child, I might worry about him being behind on his skills. As a mother of three, I’ve realized that starting one’s soccer career at age 4 has absolutely nothing to do with how you’ll turn out in life.

Trying to keep track of everyone in the house, I’ve started to see that one reason 1950s moms let their kids wander around all afternoon is that it was too hard to keep tabs on that many kids all the time. Smaller families make it possible to plan and monitor a child’s every move, and that possibility makes people think they should. If everyone had four small kids, leaving the three younger ones in the care of an 11-year-old while you ran a quick errand to the post office wouldn’t seem so nutty. Whatever can go wrong is probably not nearly as bad as what can go wrong with four small kids tromping across a parking lot.

And what can go right? Well, here’s the thing. When you have lots of little ones, more hands helps. So teaching an 11-year-old responsibility in small chunks sounds pretty smart. It’s a skill many 11-year-olds these days — who are left with sitters themselves — don’t pick up. As for the little ones, with less parental monitoring, you learn to be flexible. Yes, someone just put you in your brother’s pants. No, you might not get your favorite TV show or story tonight. But being resilient and having an internal locus of control — the belief that you are responsible for making your way in the world — is not a bad lesson to take away from childhood. It’s certainly better than thinking your mother should show up with you for a job interview. I can barely remember my own professional appointments these days, let alone someone else’s.

In short, you can’t helicopter parent three kids. True, I probably won’t let the kids wander around 1950s style. I’m actually not so sure about letting an 11-year-old babysit (even if I did at that age). But with three, I can see this: you just can’t follow each one around on the playground. So it goes — you can’t follow them around through life either. And it’s good to learn you can make the swings move on your own.

It's just horse-sense: Three kids = kids on their own!