Chitty Chitty Free-Range

Hi Readers: An interesting note. Do we celebrate community or automatically distrust it? — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: It has occurred to me that Mr. Potts from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang  is the ultimate Free-Range parent, openly supporting his children’s truancy, letting them run amok around town, coming up with imaginative adventures, etc.

A few weeks ago when I took my boys (7, 5, and 3) to see the Chitty Chitty performed by our community theater, I saw just how “crazy” parents find this lovely story these days.

The show was in the gym of a local elementary school. They had cordoned off an area in front of the stage where children could sit on the floor. My two little guys wanted to sit there and I thought nothing of leaving them there while I took my seat near the back of the gym with my oldest. At intermission, when we went up to retrieve my younger sons, the children’s area had emptied out and everyone was  in the foyer, buying concessions and chatting. I couldn’t find my boys, but I waited in the hall near the bathrooms and eventually they found me. My 3-year-old had been a little nervous and teary, but his 5-year-old brother held onto his hand and told him they’d find me soon. We bought some snacks and went on our merry way, only to be stopped by an older woman who chastised me for leaving them alone. “Your little son was crying and lost!” she chided me.

How was he lost? I knew he was in one of two big rooms, and he was with his brother who is a very independent, level-headed guy.

My boys went back to their seats for the final act, as did I.  Now, if you remember the movie, you know that Mr. Potts and Truly Scrumptious left the kids alone and they were tempted and captured by the Child Catcher. (Every parent’s worst nightmare, right? Even Free-Range parents have to admit that the Child Catcher is super creepy!) But guess who saved them? All the hidden urchin kids! Kids allowed to be independent and capable!

At any rate, the Child Catcher, here wonderfully played by a local teenager, was TRULY creepy and at one point came out into the crowd,  getting down into the faces of the little ones on the floor in the kids’ section. Most people laughed, but unbeknownst to me, my littlest guy was terrified!  Luckily, an older boy (maybe 9 or 10) sitting nearby gathered him onto his lap and comforted him through the rest of the show. When the lights came up, that boy’s dad stayed there with them until I made my way up to them. I was so grateful to them for doing a wonderful, neighborly thing: Being kind to a small kid who was frightened. I gave them my appreciation and we walked out.

I cannot tell you the number of parents who stopped me to lament how “scary” the show had been, how “awful” it was that my son had been crying and unable to find me, and how “terrible” it was that the production had allowed the kids to sit “alone” in front.

All I can say is, my child was fine, as evidenced by the fact that the first thing he said when we returned home to my husband was: “It was AWESOME, Dad!” Let’s give kids, and community kindness, a little credit. — Carrie