Outrage of the Day: Coffee Banned from Mother’s Group for “Safety”

Hi Readers! Here’s one to get your blood (and water) boiling, direct from The Mirror, in England. – L.

Mums have been told they cannot have a cup of coffee while looking after their toddlers at a children’s centre – because it’s against health and safety rules.

Council officers told the group to change its name from Coffee and Play to Baby Play – and swap biscuits for fruit and breadsticks as snacks – because it’s against health and safety rules.

No children have been hurt in the five years the group has been running but the council said hot drinks were dangerous – even in special safety flasks.

How I remember the months when I was home on maternity leave and our giant Manhattan apartment complex had a community room. What brought many of us down there was the joy of having someplace to hang out with our kids (and by kids I mean “other adults”). What kept us sane was: Free coffee!

I don’t doubt that coffee presents a hazard. I just think that NO coffee presents TWO hazards: 1 – Insane parents. 2 – Insane law creep. When we start taking age-old, pretty darn safe practices and squinting at them them through the danger microscope, we will start outlawing everything normal and good, including moms drinking coffee….

Oh wait. – L.

Arrest this dangerous hussy?

Letter: Why Am I Being “Checked Out” by Another Mom Before Her Son Can Play Here?

Hi Folks! As I finish up my last few days of vacation (Mexico!), here’s a letter to chew on. — L.

Dear Free Range Kids: My son started school a few weeks ago and has already made a new friend. The boys want to have a playdate and after discussion with the other child’s mother, we arranged to have the first one here. Then she informed me that on the day of the playdate, she would pick her son up from school and follow me and my son back to our house, so she could “check it out.”

While it’s not something I’m taking personally, I am offended — and confused. Does she think our house would be suitable for my son but not for hers? Doesn’t she realize that if there was anything that would mark our house as unsuitable for a playdate, I’d be sure to cover it up, pack it away or simply hide it before she arrived?   How far is “‘checking it out” likely to go? Just the areas the kids will be playing in or every room in the house?

Is this a typical thing? Am I over reacting or is she? Part of me would dearly love to tell her what she can do with the playdate, but I don’t want to break the hearts of two 5-year-old boys.  Any advice would be dearly appreciated! – Mom with Nothing to Hide

A 4-Page Playdate Waiver? Is This the New Normal?

Hi Readers — This mom wrote to me wondering if what she just experienced is normal. I’m wondering, too! — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I have a situation perhaps your readers can help with.  Yesterday my daughter came home from playing at the “new” neighbor’s house with a 4-page liability waiver that they want us to sign!  Wow!  I guess that dangers lurk over there – in the form of a trampoline – and if she is going to set foot on their property she needs a release first.   I can’t help but feel paranoid – should I then be worried about having their kids over at our house, because the first thing in their mind is legal action?  Has anyone heard of such a thing? Is this the new normal for making friends?  — Stunned Mom

The Drop-Off in Drop-Offs

Hi Readers — I thought this was just a great observation of how our kids-in-danger society is changing what it means to be a child — and parent. It’s by Matt Wall, a full-time stay at home dad of two boys, former software geek, part-time baseball umpire and Coast Guardsman — as well as “a recovering hovercraft parent.”

THE DROP OFF IN DROP-OFFS by Matt Wall

My topic today is the disappearance of the drop-off. As in, you drop your kids off at school, a friend’s house, sports practice, or practically any activity for a child under the age of twelve — and then you leave.

That doesn’t happen any more. Why not?

After all, our coaches are background-checked, we file sports physicals for the kids, and everybody on the planet has a cell phone, so emergencies are already covered. And of course parents are forbidden from interfering with coaching  — rightly so — so they’re not needed that way. I’m searching my memory for a sports practice in my youth when there was a parent present besides the coach, and I’m coming up empty. And yet, parents are required to attend practice these days, or their children are not allowed to participate.

What earthly good are we doing there?  I have never had this explained to me other than, “You need to be there in case something happens.” In case what happens? Nobody knows! It’s a generic fear of a generic something.

Of course, the real message to parents is: You are an adjunct,  parenting by penumbra, “participating” in your children’s sports event by watching them dribble a soccer ball from one end of the field to another. And I say this as someone who actually enjoys sports! What a deadly bore for the parent who does not.

Bear in mind, I’m not even getting into the subject of how kids never get to organize their own time and games. Whatever constraints or inhibitions our kids have in our presence remain.  Their experiences are never fully their own.

And I pity the poor coaches, teachers, and other organizers. It’s hard enough doing these  jobs without having your every move put under the microscope!

My kids have a range of activities, from formal to not so much, where this parental presence requirement is in effect, sometimes subtly, but often legally. My kids’ swimming lessons require us to be present, since who knows what could happen in a pool with six trained lifeguards surrounding it and another four swimming instructors in it.  I also can’t leave my older child alone in the craft section of the local children’s museum while my younger one plays in another area, because my child might go berserk with the glue gun, or fatally cut himself with the blunt scissors were I not there to supervise him.

Even more disturbingly, I have had a real problem getting other parents interested in swapping “drop-off playdates.” (I’ll resist the temptation to get into the very concept of a “playdate,” which did not exist when I was a child.) I offer  to let my sons’ friends stay with just me as supervisor of the kids all the time, but never has another family taken me up on the offer. (Nor have I had it offered in return.) This has extended thus far to birthday parties and “group playdates” (which we used to call, in their parent-free incarnations, “afternoons” when I was a kid).

As for school drop-off: I still have to escort my second-grader right to his classroom door. Really? The child of course can’t be trusted to walk fifty feet by himself? So much danger lurks that a parent can’t be more than an arm’s reach away until the child is safely delivered to the teacher?

So it has gone for Cub Scouts, the library (where I’ve been chastised on two occasions for letting my kids return their own books in my full view while I browse books from thirty feet away), gymnastics, and even giving a neighbor a misdelivered piece of mail.

The net effect is that a large portion of my life is spent being idly present in my sons’ lives, not living a little extra of my own, or letting them live their own lives in tiny, incremental pieces of independence. The subtext is that adults can’t be trusted, unless it’s your own parent.

To paraphrase a slogan of another social revolution: maybe it’s time to drop-off, drive off, and tune your kids in…to their own experiences. – M.W.

This child seems adequately supervised, for sitting on a bench. (He also appears to be the future king of Norway.)


Free-Range in Fiction!

Hi Readers! Here’s a guest post from the very funny Thelma Adams. You may know her as the film critic for Us Magazine and, before that, the New York Post. But TODAY St. Martins Press/Thomas Dunne Books is publishing her novel, Playdate! Here she ponders a Free-Range Childhood. — L.

Free-Range Children by Thelma Adams

I didn’t grow up Free-Range. We lived on a San Diego cul-de-sac surrounded by hilly miles of sidewalk going pretty much nowhere. Civilization – the Woolworth’s! — was a car ride away. Until the very first day one of my friends got a driver’s license, I stuck close to home.

In my novel, Playdate, the stay-at-home father is more nostalgic than me for his youth — an era that now walks with the dinosaurs:

Lance wondered what had happened to the free-range children of his childhood. During those New Jersey summers when he was growing up, the local kids had gathered on the double-wide lawn that sloped from his house to the neighbor’s: a soccer field, a baseball diamond, a slip ‘n slide dream….The games attracted kids from four to fourteen, although occasionally the teens would pair off and disappear to fondle each other in the woods beyond, away from their parents’ prying eyes, and still within hearing distance of the Ollie Ollie oxen frees, the parents’ final calls once the ten o’clock news of slaughter and baseball scores had run its course.

While this memory is pure fiction, my husband’s desire to raise our kids Free-Range was one of the many reasons that prompted us to leave a cozy corner of Brooklyn for a 15 acre park-load of property in upstate New York. He extolled the virtues of a childhood spent running around outside without worrying about kid-snatchers. Kids need that, he argued: the ability to run on grass, hop on a bike and explore, climb a tree, build a fort in the woods. OK, he convinced me.

What we never anticipated was that in Dutchess County, parents live in fear of something else! Deer ticks. Before the kids go outside into that beautiful pine forest that looks like the entrance to Narnia, they need to be sprayed from head to foot and covered in long pants and long sleeves, high socks and shoes. Upon their return, they must be checked for the teeny tiny Lyme disease carriers with more attention than a TSA agent gives to a twitchy, 20-something male with a last-minute, one-way ticket he paid for in cash. Trust me: it really puts a damper on the whole outdoor picnic.

At least if the kids were free-range chickens, they could peck those ticks and eat them for lunch. Oh, well, the best-laid plans. We have a really beautiful view, lots of lawn to mow, Bambi (+ blood-sucking parasites) frolicking outside — and kids as plugged in to TV, X-box and computer as any sidewalk-bound slug.

The Irresistible Onion: “Kid Ready to Start Playdating Again”

Oh Readers — Who can resist the temptation to quote from America’s Finest News Source? Not me. So here goes. To read the perfect article in its delightful entirety (complete with mom trying to set the boy up),  click here! — L.

TAMPA, FL—Despite having been hurt more times than he can count, local kindergartner Kyle Gallagher told reporters this week that he’s finally ready to get out there and start playdating again.

Gallagher, whose last serious relationship ended three months ago, said his decision to meet new children and return to the playdating scene wasn’t easy.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous—after all, it’s been a while since I’ve played spacemen with someone else,” Gallagher said between small sips from a grape-juice box. “But I just can’t worry about that kind of thing anymore. It’s time to get back on that horse and see what’s out there for me.”

“I mean, I’m almost five and a half,” he added. “I’m not getting any younger.”

According to sources close to Gallagher, the small child has focused on keeping himself busy in recent weeks by drawing pictures of ninjas and searching for hidden treasures in hopes of distracting himself from the pain of his recent breakup.

Despite his efforts to forget about Jeremy and the time the two spent together jumping up and down on his bed…

Ok! Go click!

More News of Tide Turning! Two Girls Make Own Playdate!

Hi Readers! This just in! Yes, it is the tale of an extremely normal childhood moment, but in this day and age it counts as Big News!  Ring the bells, hoist a juice box and read on!

Dear Free-Range Kids: I had a Free-Range victory yesterday as well! My 8-year-old daughter (third grade) has a girl in her class this year who lives in the same little section of our neighborhood as we do. It takes about five minutes to walk to her house.

The girls have played together several times throughout the school year. Usually they all (the mom and her two daughters) come by our house on the way to the park or something or we (moms) arrange something by phone. The last couple of times that they have invited my daughter over, my daughter has walked down to their house without me.

Yesterday their daughter came to our house all by herself, knocked on the door, and asked if our daughter could go to her house to play. The two of them walked together back to the girl’s house.

I was so excited! We have three kids ages 5, 6, and 8 and we have children the same ages all over our neighborhood. This is the first time any child has ever come over by themselves and asked to play.

I go back and forth between being ecstatic and being slightly depressed that I would be so happy about something that was so commonplace when I was growing up. Baby steps… — Susan

Prisoner of the Playdate: Let’s Help This Mom!

Hi Readers — Here’s today’s yelp for help from the frontiers of modern parenting. Got any great ideas? Share ’em!  Meantime, as to her plea, “How can I find other Free-Range parents in the neighborhood?” I really do hope to be revamping this site soon, with a feature to help like-minded folks connect where they live. Give me another week or two. Hopefully it’ll be worth waiting for! — Lenore

Dear Free-Range Kids: We moved to a different state recently.  We never lived in a “subdivision” before.  I thought that having all the kids around would be good for my 6-year-old daughter, who is super-outgoing and social (unlike me).

Where we lived before, the kids were free to play outside and visit each other’s houses (given instructions as to when to be home, and regularly checked up on).  However, here I was surprised to find that the other kids are rarely let out unsupervised.  So I have become a prisoner to “the playdate,” which I find absurdly ridiculous.  Some parents want to stay when their kids are over.  That’s too much pressure for me…maybe I don’t want company? I’m happy to have her friends over anytime, but I don’t want to have to entertain their parents.  I feel so bad for my daughter, who can’t seem to understand why she can’t just go over to people’s houses anymore, or have her friends over spontaneously.  Any suggestions on how to find other like-minded parents in the neighborhood? Or how to change the ones here? Thank you!