They Left Their Kids at the Park and Then…

Hi Readers! Here’s a note I got from one of you right before “Take Our Children to the Park…And Leave Them There Day,” last Saturday, May 21:

Dear Free-Range Kids: We’re doing it as a communal group, with about 9 kids thus far from my various friends. We’re even letting them ride their bikes over instead of driving them. Our plan for the day is to go shoot paintball. (Why should the kids be the only ones to have fun with their counterparts about?)

I think parents need some non-parental time in their lives, which is becoming less and less these days as we become more paranoid about letting kids out of our sights. — Sean in upstate New York

Well Sean’s plan sounded good, so I asked him to let me know how it went. And he did!

Dear Free-Range Kids: The day went great. Since I’m fairly central to everyone, and close to the local park, my place got picked as home base. I woke up early, and knowing I was about to be taking on more than thirty people between kids and grown-ups, I started knocking out breakfast (I’m a cook, it’s what I do), which was made up of pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage, and biscuits.My niece, who just turned five, helped with the eggs and pancakes, and thus needed to change clothes before people arrived.

Everyone converged on the house at about 7:30-8:00 am, and it was on. We went through a few gallons of sweet tea, a gallon of orange juice and several pitchers of Kool-Aid, and my niece kept regaling everyone about how she cooked the eggs and pancakes. After that, we packed up lunches for everyone, and put the eldest, 11, in charge — something she smiled almost evilly about. But we figured there were enough other kids to form a coup if it got too bad. She had a cell phone, the time and place for us to meet up, and was left with $20 emergency/ice cream truck money. Then we waved goodbye to kids as they all mounted their bikes and pedaled off.

The other twenty of us loaded up into cars and vans next, and drove on up to Scaticoke for a day of paintball, and because we had so many people, we got a group rate. We spent all day running back and forth through woods and hills shooting paint at each other, laughing, joking, and okay, a pretty good rash of swearing at times too, but everyone was having a blast. We did get a call while we were breaking for lunch because the 11-year-old didn’t know if she was allowed to use the pavilion for lunch eating. We assured her it was  fine. Then we ran around like idiots for another few hours after eating, and, thoroughly bedecked with paint, realized we were supposed to have left a half hour earlier.

When we arrived, there was Jenna with the rest of gang, tapping her foot like a parent watching her kid slip in after curfew. So we called for everyone to count off (a system we worked out so each kid has their own number, so we know immediately if someone is missing). The count went to nine, and then we hit a minor skid: it then went to ten and eleven. This ended up having an explanation.

The kids had arrived at the park with lunches as well as gear for some games such as Wiffle ball, kickball, ultimate frisbee, and soccer. Well, apparently, while they were playing monster ball (a mash up of kickball and wiffle ball), a couple neighborhood kids decided to join in, and Jenna had given them each a number immediately. The kids hung out all day, and this is where we found out something interesting: They’d all eaten their lunches together as well, even though the other two hadn’t brought any. Jenna and a few others had split part of theirs so everybody got something to eat, and the same went with the ice cream truck money. No one had to tell them, or force anyone to include them, and they hadn’t just been left out. The kids took care of each other without question, or prodding.

Well, we got phone numbers for the newcomers so they could set up some playtime again another time. From there, we rounded up our guys, and went off to  CiCi’s, an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet, for dinner. The only problem left was that pretty much all of the kids (and a few of the adults) fell asleep in the car on the way back. Otherwise, went off without a hitch. We’re probably going to set up another day like that somewhere in the future when we have time and money for it again. It was just too much fun to only do once. — Sean

The date on the photo of THIS park day is June 23, 2011 -- a hundred years ago!

Lessons from The Baby-sitters Club

Hi Folks! Here’s a lovely essay by The Wall Street Journal’s Laura Vanderkam about, well, the cultural significance of The Baby-sitters Club.

Yes, I know how ridiculous (or at least American Studies for Dummies) that sounds. And yet — you don’t sell 176 million copies of any series without making some kind of impression on society. And the impression young readers got from the girls in the Club was that kids their age could actually be responsible and make money. Like adults! As Ms. Vanderkam puts it:

Hidden in the plots that show that friendship is good and that teasing, racism and bossy boyfriends are bad, [author Ann M.] Martin imparts two more important messages that modern readers need to hear: Teen girls are capable of handling far more responsibility than we give them credit for, and they, like the rest of us, can choose to make their own way in the world.

Right on! One of the Free-Range notions is that kids long to be adults, and that’s a good thing. The human desire to grow up motivates kids to learn and strive and get a paper route. (Remember paper routes? Remember papers?) It is our job to help them along that path, rather than putting up a big, “CAUTION!” sign and marching them back to the ExerSaucer.

About a year ago I posted a query asking, “What age did you babysit? And what age babysitter would you hire now?” The discrepancies amazed me. Grown women who had cared for kids, even infants, at age 10 or 11 now wouldn’t let their 13-year-old stay home for an hour alone at night. And they sure wouldn’t trust their toddlers to a 12-year-old.

Scholastic’s Baby-sitters Club, about to be re-issued (with a new prequel, too!), reminds us that not very long ago at all, we trusted “tweens” to do more than just text. God, maybe we didn’t even call them tweens. — Lenore