There’s Hope for Mayberry Yet!

Hi Folks! Talk about a beacon of hope.  A Hollywood ending! Success! Get this:

As you may recall, a few years back, a mom from small-town Mississippi wrote to this blog in a quandry. After teaching her 10-year-old son the route to soccer, she’d let him walk there — less than a mile — by himself. On that first time out, a cop picked him up, scolded it wasn’t safe, and tracked down the mom. He told her  he’d received “hundreds” of calls to 911 about the boy and that he could book her for “child endangerment.”

That mom was Lori LeVar Pierce, and that day marked a turning point. Instead of cowering in fear, she called the chief of police and asked if the town was really so dangerous a kid couldn’t walk to soccer. The chief said it was very safe and apologized for the cop’s actions. But mere facts did not calm the local paper. As it wrote in an editorial:

Once upon a time, decades ago, mothers were able to let their elementary-aged children roam free and alone.

While many, including us, look upon this halcyon time with fondness and a longing for its return, the fact remains that things are different now.  The days of Andy Griffith’s Mayberry and “Leave it to Beaver” are gone.

Yeah, in large part because fearmongering media bashed them over the head.

But some people have decided not to listen to doomsday blathering anymore. Lori, for instance, became twice as determined to have her kids play outside after the  cop incident, and thus saw for herself  what her town really lacked. Sidewalks! She became an activist and  now there are sidewalks all around town, thanks to her.

But that’s not all. As of last week, even the local PAPER is changing! Check out this Jan. 25 editorial:

…we, as a community, need to use more discretion when calling 911. It seems we’ve all gotten paranoid.

If there are teenagers you don’t know walking down the street, they might just be kids taking a stroll. And odds are, if you spend much time outside or looking out of the window, you’re going to see an unfamiliar car.

Pay attention. Look out for yourself and your neighbors. But don’t always rush to call the law.

We should feel safe in our own neighborhoods, and the police play a major role in that. But they shouldn’t have to console us every time we have unsubstantiated fears. It wastes their time and our money.

Don’t give in to unsubstantiated fears? Expect to see children strolling down the street? Get to know your neighbors? Darned if Columbus, Mississippi isn’t going…Free-Range!

If a town that told its citizens “This isn’t Mayberry” back in 2009 is telling them that kids can and should be walking down the street in 2012, I gotta say: Columbus, you rock! It takes courage to reject fear.  So hi from your new friend in New York City, and hi also to Lori, who got the ball rolling…and the kids outside. — Lenore

Let's hear it for a little street life!

My Son Went Outside Barefoot. Is This a Crime?

Readers — This letter means so much to me. It’s from a mom in Massachusetts, reminding us that Free-Range isn’t just an idea. It is real. It can change lives. (And it believes in barefoot kids.) — L.  

Dear Free-Range Kids: Imagine my surprise as I looked out the second story window only to see my 10 year old son walking into our driveway with a police officer’s car creeping along with him!  You see my son was “outside,” “alone,” “without shoes” and this was apparently alarming to law enforcement.

Actually, he was outside, without shoes, waiting for his friend to arrive, and in his great anticipation, had decided to walk a few houses up the street.  (How terribly childlike of him!)  The officer asked him, “WHY ARE YOU OUT ALONE WITHOUT YOUR SHOES?”  And my son (quite nervous and experiencing an anxiety-induced brain freeze) said, “Uhmm, I don’t know.”  The officer took note of his name and address and drove away after he was safely inside.  I am left to wonder if there’s a file at the police station with my child’s name on it with a note about the boy who was “outside,” “alone,” “without shoes.”

This year has been one of fantastic liberation. We’ve taken a great leap of faith and allowed our first-born to roam and ride his bike alone and with friends.  He also has the free will to decide if he wants to wear shoes or a coat (unless we’re going to a public place or it’s 20 degrees. 🙂  Since adopting a “Free-Range” parenting style I have noticed that others view this as somehow neglectful and/or dangerous.  Interestingly, I have also seen a dramatic change in my child’s well being since he’s been “let off leash.”  He’s lost weight, he noticeably smiles and laughs more, and he has had many wonderful experiences to brag about — like catching a giant catfish at a pond down the street (alone) and carrying it through town with its tail flapping around, half hanging out of a lemonade container, and then summoning the help of a “stranger” to get the hook out.  He has stories to tell because he is LIVING and I am so happy to give him one ounce of the joy I was allowed as a child.

Recently, as dusk became dark and he was not yet home, I wondered if I had made a mistake.  Where was my boy?!  My heart began to race as I thought of every horrible thing that might have happened to him.  I jumped in the car and as I started down the street I saw the outline of his human shape chugging up the hill to our house.  He made it, in one piece, with rosy cheeks and the smell of childhood all over him.  Free-Range is the way to go!  There is risk in everything.  Freedom is a risk I am willing to take.  Thank you,  you have changed our lives! — Carla English, mom of two

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

Hi Readers! In case you have some friends who still think you are IMAGINING a huge sea-change in our culture, a veritable tsunami of distrust in our kids, their competence and our communities, we present two Sesame Street clips. Same story line. Different era. Can you spot the difference?

OLDEN DAYS

MODERN ERA

Not Completely Relevant But: How Many Australian Politicians Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb?

Hi Readers! The answer is, apparently: None! It is too dangerous! At least, that’s what the Department of Health and Safety says, according to this article.

The issue surfaced during a Senate estimates hearing when Liberal Eric Abetz told upper house colleagues he was prevented recently from changing a light bulb in his electorate office.

He was told that the rules meant an electrician had to be called.

“It is just impractical, it’s stupid,” Senator Abetz told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

“Most Australians would say if a person is not capable of changing a light globe, chances are they are not capable of running an electorate office.”

Senator Abetz said he had been told changing a bulb could require climbing a ladder which was a safety risk.

The (tangential) Free-Range issue here is this: Why are we increasingly subject to rules and regs that have nothing to do with REAL safety and everything to do with litigation, worst-case-scenario-fantasizing and good ol’ CYA? It’s a time, money and morale-waster, with the added benefit of turning competent people into incompetent cowards. Just like so many rules and regs are implementing with kids: No, children, you CANNOT ride your bikes to school. No, children, you CANNOT do your own chemistry experiments. No, children, you CANNOT babysit/whittle/get a paper route/smile at a stranger. It is all TOO DANGEROUS.

And someday we will wonder why no one in the world (except, perhaps, electricians) can do anything.

 

Ok, maybe THIS one would be a little hard to change.

 

Artifact from the Free-Range Past: A Circuit City Ad

Hey Readers! Got this cool letter today from a guy named Mike:

Hello Free-Rangers:  Remember that Circuit City commercial in the ’90’s where the young boy buys a Walkman, and goes to Circuit City to get his price match? Here it is:

There are a number of points that this commercial highlights for me that show how far we have fallen.

1. The father tells the son: “You bought it, you take care of it.”

2. The boy walks to Circuit City completely on his own, taking what seems to be the long way while he gathers the courage to ask for his price match.

3. The boy is talks to the man behind the counter and gets his price match

Today:

1. The parent likely wouldn’t let their child take care of the return, nor allow them to purchase it on their own in the first place.

2. They would drive to the Circuit City.

3. The boy would never be allowed to speak to a strange MAN (because all men are potential molesters of course)

And so it goes — Mike

Lenore here: I actually think the parents might allow the kid to talk to a clerk, no matter what gender. But I agree: It would be a family affair, and they’d get there by car.