Free-Range in Fiction!

Hi Readers! Here’s a guest post from the very funny Thelma Adams. You may know her as the film critic for Us Magazine and, before that, the New York Post. But TODAY St. Martins Press/Thomas Dunne Books is publishing her novel, Playdate! Here she ponders a Free-Range Childhood. — L.

Free-Range Children by Thelma Adams

I didn’t grow up Free-Range. We lived on a San Diego cul-de-sac surrounded by hilly miles of sidewalk going pretty much nowhere. Civilization – the Woolworth’s! — was a car ride away. Until the very first day one of my friends got a driver’s license, I stuck close to home.

In my novel, Playdate, the stay-at-home father is more nostalgic than me for his youth — an era that now walks with the dinosaurs:

Lance wondered what had happened to the free-range children of his childhood. During those New Jersey summers when he was growing up, the local kids had gathered on the double-wide lawn that sloped from his house to the neighbor’s: a soccer field, a baseball diamond, a slip ‘n slide dream….The games attracted kids from four to fourteen, although occasionally the teens would pair off and disappear to fondle each other in the woods beyond, away from their parents’ prying eyes, and still within hearing distance of the Ollie Ollie oxen frees, the parents’ final calls once the ten o’clock news of slaughter and baseball scores had run its course.

While this memory is pure fiction, my husband’s desire to raise our kids Free-Range was one of the many reasons that prompted us to leave a cozy corner of Brooklyn for a 15 acre park-load of property in upstate New York. He extolled the virtues of a childhood spent running around outside without worrying about kid-snatchers. Kids need that, he argued: the ability to run on grass, hop on a bike and explore, climb a tree, build a fort in the woods. OK, he convinced me.

What we never anticipated was that in Dutchess County, parents live in fear of something else! Deer ticks. Before the kids go outside into that beautiful pine forest that looks like the entrance to Narnia, they need to be sprayed from head to foot and covered in long pants and long sleeves, high socks and shoes. Upon their return, they must be checked for the teeny tiny Lyme disease carriers with more attention than a TSA agent gives to a twitchy, 20-something male with a last-minute, one-way ticket he paid for in cash. Trust me: it really puts a damper on the whole outdoor picnic.

At least if the kids were free-range chickens, they could peck those ticks and eat them for lunch. Oh, well, the best-laid plans. We have a really beautiful view, lots of lawn to mow, Bambi (+ blood-sucking parasites) frolicking outside — and kids as plugged in to TV, X-box and computer as any sidewalk-bound slug.