Guest Post: The Up-Side of Downsizing

Hi Readers! Here’s a seasonal  essay by Corbyn Hightower, a writer and mom of three in the suburbs of Sacramento, CA. She has six chickens and a “disobedient husband.” More of her work can be found at — L.

SIMPLY SUMMER by Corbyn Hightower

My oldest child—a preteen—is having a friend spend the night. I’m surprised how self-conscious I am on my daughter’s behalf. We haven’t many guests since the recession demanded that we downsize our life, at which point we sold our only car, axed the cable and Internet, and moved into a shabby old house by the rail yard.

It’s really hot inside, and there’s no air conditioning. Some doors don’t have knobs. Our chickens have rendered the back yard unusable, and our driveway has been taken over by raised garden beds. What we lack in decorum we make up for in freedom from too many Rules About Things.

The guest says, “Your house is colorful.” I look at this crumbling place and I see the salvation of its underpriced square-footage and prolific fruit trees. This has been safe harbor, even with the nearby train tracks. I bite back apologetic explanations for the bicycles in the dining room and the cords from all the whirring fans that kept us from wilting in this destructive heat. We harvested pounds of squash from our garden, and that’s going to comprise the bulk of our dinner. My husband steams it, seasons it lightly, and serves it with a pot of brown rice. Our young houseguest eats heartily.

The next day it’s just so hot, and our little neighborhood creek bubbles below the foot bridge with promise of relief. I send the older girls out, where they will break small green branches from the fennel plants that grow in great fluffy drifts on the shore. They will have to climb through the remains of a concrete ditch, make way under a bridge festooned with lovers’ graffiti, and wade through the murky water to get to the small, hidden beach made of smooth stones and small shells.

They return muddy, sun-pinked, and happy. They’ve collected fistfuls of fennel along with small glittering rocks and treasures. Our new friend has gotten splinter on her foot. I make up a warm footbath with crushed lavender, and my son tells her that it will help with the splinter, and with her emotions, too. “It’ll make you feel okay until it gets better. It will give you a peaceful feeling.” I smooth her hair down and kiss the top of her head, our initiate. She holds her foot up to me to investigate.

Later, I send my five-year-old out to water the garden. The tomato plants have blooms, and the other plants are straining upward, not full-grown but strong, with their broad leaves facing toward the sun. Yesterday we feasted on the first truly awesome strawberries of the season. The sparkling flavor and seeds made them taste almost carbonated.

My children will have a summer of these simple memories, ones in which I participate, and others where my only job is to remove the splinters and wash off the mud upon their return.

All Gardeners are Perverts, Part I

Hi Readers — Here’s the latest “help” on the way for kids threatened by those terrifying thugs: community gardeners. In Denver, people can rent small plots on school grounds to grow what sound like “victory gardens.” But now — after 25 years of this program — suddenly anyone who plants on school property is required to undergo a criminal background check, or get out.

Said one participant, quoted by the Denver Post’s Mike McPhee, “Where  did we go so wrong that if you potentially have contact with a child you have to have a background check? ”

Where indeed? That is what Free-Range Kids examines all the time: How we came to distrust almost everyone, and fear for our children almost all the time, and discourage the very thing that keeps us all safest: community-mindedness. This gardening story is just the tip of the iceberg (lettuce). — Lenore

Kids Can Do More Than We Think

Kids rise to the occasion. That becomes abundantly  clear when we look at what kids get to do —  and are expected to do — in other countries, cultures, eras. Here’s a little note that just came in. I cannot think of anything my kids have done in school that rivals this for independence and instilling a “Can do!’ sense of confidence.

Then again, it’s not like I’m saying,  “Oh, if only I got to raise them in the  USSR!” either.

By a Free-Range Kids reader named Alena:

I grew up in a small town of the former USSR.  Even in the first grade we had to behave as adults.  Each class was responsible for their classroom, and after classes were finished we had to clean our classroom: map the floor, dust and such. During recess we would go outside and pick up any garbage around the school. We had our own garden behind the school were we grew greens such as scallions, dill, parsley and cabbage which were served then in the school lunchroom. From the 6th grade till the end of the high school we had done plays, concerts and many other activities by ourselves, teachers were there just to supervise.  It was never accustomed to ask parents for the money for one or another activity in school.  We made everything by hands from the supplies provided by the school.  Girls used to bake and boys would provide lights and music. My friend and I started baking cookies when we were 8 years old, i guess that’s when we learned how to read the recipe.

I live in NYC now and I have a 11 year old daughter.  Since she was 9 she was allowed to go to the nearest  supermarket to get milk or bread, she can make pancakes for us in the morning and she bakes cookies as well.