On Swim Shoes, Summer and “Seeing” What Matters

Hi Readers — Just got this poignant note from a young woman who sees life, risk and joy pretty clearly! L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am fortunate to live in a community with several wonderful county parks and, growing up, swimming in the lakes there was a  regular part of summer. But then life got hectic and I hadn’t been to the lakes in years, so to celebrate the 4th of July, my parents and I decided it was time to revisit one.

As a child, I never wore my swim shoes in to the water. My siblings and I would stake our claim at a picnic table or lounge chair where we would drop our shoes,  run across boiling hot pavement, sink our toes into to warm sand and  then bounce joyously in the water all afternoon. I could hardly wait to re-live those memories.

Unfortunately, since those days, Mom has heard stories of shards of glass, even needles, piercing children’s feet at the lake, so she did not want me to take off my swim shoes this time.

I am 21 years old, so I could have refused to listen, but I decided maybe she had a point. Maybe we DO have to be more careful these days. I kept them on. But then…something just wasn’t right. I couldn’t bounce around the way I remembered, or kick my feet to swim, because the shoes weighed me down. I found myself standing sullenly in the water thinking I might as well have just stayed on land.

“Can I please, please PLEASE take off my shoes?”

“Okay, but if you hurt yourself–”

“I will take full responsibility for it,” I promised.

Instantly, my shoes were off, my day was transformed and my feet were never even scratched. But after that experience, this blog came to mind.

I would say my mom was a Free-Range parent when my three older siblings and I were growing up. When the weather was beautiful, she would not allow us to sit inside, watching television. And although it wasn’t safe for me to do so, being totally blind in a community with no sidewalks, my siblings would frequently bike to the grocery store or walk to a friend’s house. So to learn that even my own mother had become consumed by fear surprised me.

Of course, those stories of children contracting diseases after stepping on a needle at the beach are horrible. [NOTE FROM LENORE: And rarer than shark attacks!] But while I don’t have statistics about this, the fact that this never happened to me or my siblings or anyone I know  makes me think that,  in the same way kidnapping is so unlikely that it is not worth staying locked in the house, the likelihood of stepping on a needle at the beach is not strong enough to justify missing out on the incredible joy of swimming barefoot. I hope today’s kids don’t.– Allison Nastoff

Allison is a college student majoring in journalism at Carroll
University in Wisconsin. 

Old-fashioned fun at the beach. (Before the needles stories...)

Outrage of the Week: Law Will Prevent Adults from “Staring” at Kids. UPDATED!!

Hello, Readers: If we are ruled by fear, fear will make the rules. And by “fear” I mean mass hysteria.

Here is the latest assault on sanity and rights: A law is being proposed in Maine that will make it a crime for adults to stare at kids.

You read that right (with those eyes you’d better keep to yourself). Those who peer at children in public could find themselves on the wrong side of the law in Maine soon. Here’s the story, from Seacoastonline.com:

A bill that passed the House last month aims to strengthen the crime of visual sexual aggression against children, according to state Rep. Dawn Hill, D-York.

Her involvement started when Ogunquit Police Lt. David Alexander was called to a local beach to deal with a man who appeared to be observing children entering the community bathrooms. Because the state statute prevents arrests for visual sexual aggression of a child in a public place, Alexander said he and his fellow officer could only ask the man to move along.

“There was no violation of law that we could enforce. There was nothing we could charge him with,” Alexander said.

Oh darn! You mean we couldn’t throw him in jail for just standing there, giving us the willies? What kind of country IS this? It’s like the place is crawling with civil rights!

…Under the bill, if someone is arrested for viewing children in a public place, it would be a Class D felony if the child is between 12 to 14 years old and a Class C felony if the child is under 12.

“Hey bud, what are you in for?”

“Me? I murdered my boss and fed him to my dog. And you?”

“I looked at a kid in public.”


The law was, of course, prompted by fear for our children. I fear for them, too: They could grow up and spend their whole lives in jail for doing nothing more than opening their eyes, in public. — L

P.S. I didn’t realize when I posted this that the article was from 2008. Thanks for the alert, readers! And also for the delving into what it may or may not entail. I am very sorry to report, however, that “Visual Sexual Assault” is a real crime in Maine and I even wrote about it, after interviewing a mom whose son was convicted of it. Here is the piece. — L.

I sure hope the degenerate who took this photo is doing hard time.

Guest Post: Free-Range On Vacation (It Can Be Easier!)

Hi Readers — This essay comes to us from a reader who sounds like she had an enviable vacation (at least I’m envying it) and a revelation, to boot! Her name is Amanda Lee and her blog is passionfruit.passionfruit@cogeco.ca

Free-Range in Thailand by Amanda Lee

The crackdown starts as soon as we step back on North American soil: “Mind their fingers!” (On clearing the baggage check). “Where are her shoes?” (In my carry-on.) “They could get hurt!” (The kids are walking the wrong way on a completely empty moving sidewalk.)

We are returning to Canada from the tiny island of Koh Ngai in southern Thailand. There, the rule book was tossed into the serene sea lapping the shore. For one week my children ran with abandon: Free-Range in Thailand.

My two-year-old daughter potted around naked and barefoot. My five-year-old son hunted for crabs in the early morning rocks, while I lounged in our hut. He proudly displayed a bucketful of crustaceans to anyone who would look.

With a backdrop of mountain jungle, Koh Ngai consists of two kilometres of calm beach and resorts. As the days slipped by, I discovered a curious thing: the more freedom my children had to simply be and play, the fewer tantrums they threw.

Without micromanagement, my children’s natural exuberance came out like the tropical sun. Okay, so my son got so far stuck up a palm tree, he looked like a kitten that needed to be lifted to safety. My husband climbed up and airlifted him down. Later they managed to catch a sea urchin in a bucket. How, I’ll never know.

Not sure I want to.

Free-Range also meant free to make friends without playdates! The rules of tag are universal, so the language barrier didn’t matter. My son played Foosball with a United Nations of kids. Freja, a four-year-old from Denmark, spent days with my daughter and any other children they could round up, making sand castles, drawing, or washing the ornate elephant statues. Her parents and I compared notes.

“In Denmark you’d be considered a bad parent in you were too over protective,” they said.

Demark. Thailand. And even Australia, where I grew up: They all believed in letting kids get dirty and run around barefoot. It’s too bad it takes a holiday to give a Canadian kid a taste of childhood.