Guest Post: Warning! Toddler At Play

Hi Folks! Here’s a guest essay from Lisa Baker, who’s trying to be a Free-Range Mom to two kids in Atlanta, Georgia. She writes about her parenting adventures at Organic Baby Atlanta. Enjoy! L.

Warning: Toddler at Play by Lisa Baker

In the Yequana tribes of South America, parents let toddlers wander near open campfires, playing with knives.

In Romania (where I lived for a year), mothers send toddlers alone to the corner store to buy bread and cheese for breakfast.

Me? I let my toddler play in the yard.

Oh, I know it’s a risk. I wouldn’t have let her when she was one, or even two. But when she turned three, we moved to a house with a small, manicured lawn, fully enclosed by a child-proof picket fence. That’s when I began, hesitantly, to send her out the front door alone.

But don’t worry: I watch her. I sit by the window in the kitchen, one eye on my work email and another on her. Not because I’m afraid she’ll figure out how to unlatch the gate and go wandering up the street (though she’s done that) or because I’m afraid she’ll eat a mushroom she finds in the grass (though she’s done that too). No, I’ve got a baby gate lock on the gate now, and Poison Control assures me that highly poisonous mushrooms rarely grow in well-kept lawns. But I still keep a close eye on her.

Because of the neighbors.

They’re good people, my neighbors. I know most of them by name. They walk past often, and when they see my daughter alone in the yard, they  pause and look around anxiously, especially the ones who are parents themselves. They’re wondering where I am.

That’s my cue to run outside and wave enthusiastically. Yes, I’m here. My kid is not unsupervised. Please don’t call CPS.

They smile and wave back, relieved, and keep walking. And I’m safe to go back inside. Until the next neighbor comes along.

Because my biggest worry about letting my child play outside alone isn’t what she might do, or what might happen to her. It’s what others might think.

Of course there’s no law that says I can’t let my three year old play in the yard.

But there’s no law that says I can, either.

And so, even though the closest corner store is only a few blocks away, I don’t think I’ll be sending my daughter to pick up bread any time soon.

And as for teaching her safe handling of knives and campfires?  Maybe in a few years. As long as we keep that in the back yard.

Just don’t tell my neighbors.