Talk About a Free-Range Childhood! (And 9-year-old Driver!)

Hi Readers! This cool note came in from the West Coast. I feel darn timid and tame after reading it. — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I’m a 47 year old lawyer, male, married 22 years, kids 5 and 8. I was born in Southern California but raised from age 2-6 in Guadalajara, Mexico where my father went to medical school. I remember riding the bus there with my brother who was four years older and it was no big deal.

My parents left us with the maid/nanny named Letty for 10 days while they went to California to work and earn money. When it came time to go to church, my 9-year-old brother Kevin drove us there. I was 5, the other kids were 5 and 7. Why did he drive? Because he was a far better driver than Letty and we all knew it. We made it to and from church safely. Our parents were a bit upset when they found out about it, but we knew that Letty couldn’t drive worth a damn and Kevin could.

When I was 11, my older brothers — 13 and 15  — flew with me to Europe for a week. The entire family had planned to go but my mom got sick and so us three boys went alone. We had a great time, stayed in hotels, rode trains everywhere, etc. The 13-year-old was a child prodigy travel agent and knew how to get us everywhere.

When I was 12, my 14-year-old brother and I bought week-long unlimited passes on Allegheny airlines, (precursor to US Air). We flew around all day just to fly on planes.   We made many connections through Pittsburgh and got to know the air crews by sight. The most dangerous thing we did was get into a tussle where chewing gum ended up in my hair and the stewardess helped cut out the sticky mess. We had a great time just flying around. Stayed in hotels at night.

Looking back, I want to understand how events appeared to me when these adventures happened. I wonder why these events seemed to me at the time like they were “not a big deal.” I think my mom was responsible for teaching us about self-sufficiency. By doing things we gained confidence.

I don’t feel like my parents were reckless. But as an adult, it gives me pause. I know my kids will not have the same experiences I had. Still, our motto is: Take Opportunities. Even a misadventure has some adventure in it. — The Lawyer