Thinking The Worst First

Hi Readers — Let’s take a vow: Let us vow to see men and women as decent until proven otherwise. Let’s vow to interpret their deeds as non-malicious, until proven otherwise. And let us vow not to assume the worst first. Here’s why:

Dear Free-Range Kids:  You’re always talking about how its a real shame men are so often assumed to be predators, to the point that they hesitate to help a kid in need for fear they will be accused of having ill intent. A friend of mine told me something along those lines that is even more disturbing.

She was having a conversation with some male family members at a family gathering. There were kids in the pool and another male family member who didn’t have kids was in the pool, playing with them. The group of male family members who had children remarked that the other guy had no business out there playing with the kids because he didn’t have any. Since my friend also follows your blog, she began to ask them: Why? Why couldn’t this other male family member play with the kids? And why are men who either aren’t in uniform or don’t have children with them forever banned from interacting with children?

The men had no real answer other than that it just seemed “suspect.” My friend challenged that notion and told them about the little girl who drowned because the man who noticed her by the side of the road was afraid to stop and help her [for fear of being branded a predator if someone saw him with the girl in his car]. And do you know what their answer was to that? “It is a necessary evil. To keep children safe.”

Except — she wasn’t safe! BECAUSE of that attitude!

What is our society coming to that a man can’t even play with the kids at a family function? Or is considered suspect  for doing it because he doesn’t have children? Just so kids can be “safe,” men should’t interact with children unless they have their own?

To which I replied: This is sickening and sad — and ironic. Shouldn’t the dads be glad another grown-up is in the pool, keeping an eye on their kids? Shouldn’t we ALL be glad when we watch out for each other?

These paranoid papas remind me of the folks who were upset about the 3-year-old girl who walked a few blocks to the local fire station to help her dad, who was slipping into a coma. “She could have been kidnapped!” wrote some tsk-tskers.

What about the dad? He was ABOUT TO DIE and SHE SAVED HIM! But the “What if?” people actually feel smug and “protective” thinking up their hideous fantasies instead of looking reality in the face: The girl was NOT in much danger and her father WAS.

No, they think the worst, first: All children are in danger, all men are potential pedophiles, the boogey man lurks beyond the front door and any child who does anything on her own is asking for trouble (as are the parents who let her).

Our pledge is to reject Worst-First thinking. Our pledge is to think, period. — Lenore

And While We’re on the Subject of Hero Kids (and Competence) —

Hi Readers! Here’s another great story: 9 year old boy saves 2 year old brother who was face down in the family pool. The older brother used the CPR he’d just learned at school.

First off, let’s hear it for teaching kids basic safety skills!

Secondly, let’s remember that everyday dangers, like pools, are the things we really have to be aware of.  More than, say, the boogeyman.

Finally: Hats off to the pint-sized hero! — L.

A Sweet, Simple Moment (That Nonetheless Made Me Cry)

Hey Readers — Just a nice summer note from a gal named Lynn:
Dear Free-Range Kids: So, last week were were out camping at Chincoteague, VA, and my kids and a man with four kids ranging in age from about 5 to maybe 10 or 11 were in the pool.  The man with the four kids had a son who was about the age of mine, and they ended up playing together.  I’d give them the “go” and they’d jump in the pool at the same time, seeing who could jump furthest.
Anyway, in the course of this game, the man and I made eye contact, and grinned at each other and struck up the occasional short conversation.  In time, I heard him telling the kids that they needed to get out of the pool because they had to go move their campsite.
The kids didn’t really want to go, but were good about doing as he asked.  So I offered to watch his kids in the pool while he went and did his thing, and when they were ready to go, I’d bring them back.  He was surprised at my offer, but said that if I didn’t mind, that would be great.  So he told them that if they wanted to stay in the pool that I was in charge.
On signal, the kids kind of pulled together and played in the shallower end where my kids were, and eventually, when they were ready to go, we headed back to their campsite.  No problem.  Nobody drowned.  Kids were happy to play a bit longer.  I was happy to be able to help.  The dad was happy to be able to go move the campsite without having to haul the kids out first.  Kids made new friends at the site.  Win win.
Also while camping, my 6 (almost 7)-year-old, usually very much a “Please do it with me, mummy”-type of kid, asked if she could go to the camp store and buy milk.  By herself.  So I handed her some money and sent her off to get milk and to bring me the change.  Which she did, coming back as pleased as punch with herself.
Perfect place for independence. I mean, really.  A campsite.  A family campsite.  The lady who ran the store had seen us in and out all week and recognized my daughter.  Even though I could see the store from our site, I just did my thing, trusting that she’d be all right.  And she was.  In a way, that’s what communities should be like everywhere.  People recognizing each other and wanting to help each other and keeping an eye out for each other.  Too bad it’s not like that everywhere. Free-Range?  Love it. — Lynn

Guest Post: Don’t Call Me Brave!

Hey Readers — I’m not getting totally lazy (I hope), but I DO keep getting these great things I want to post and that I think you’ll love, too. Here’s the latest, from a Tucson, AZ.,  mom of four:

DON’T CALL ME BRAVE, by AMY UTZINGER

I don’t like being called brave. You’d think it’s a positive thing, but I don’t t think so.

So my kids are going to diving lessons this summer. We drive there on the way back from another activity, but the pool is quite near my house. The first day I stayed just to see what they were learning and how the class worked, but my 6-year-old is too young to attend and he was squirmy and bored sitting on the side of the pool for an hour and a half. So ever since the first day I’ve dropped the kids off and gone home for most of their lesson, then we stop by a bit before it’s over to catch the last few minutes and see what they’ve learned. When I did this, a few of the other moms (who had stayed the whole time) said, “You dropped them off and went home?!? You’re brave!”

What they really meant, of course, is that in their opinion I’m nuts and am taking unnecessary risks with my children’s safety. Then one mom, probably seeking to defend me, popped up with, “Well her oldest is 13, he can look after the younger ones in case something happens.”

In case what happens? It’s at a public pool with people swimming, diving and sunning themselves all over the place. What is likely to happen that my presence could prevent? A masked gunman could come in and shoot everyone, but I’m not bulletproof and I’d be of little help. I guess someone could drown, but the moms are all busy yakking with each other anyway and not paying attention to the kids, so that wouldn’t be any help either. I’m not depending on my 13-year-old to protect the others from anything, because I don’t think there is anything they need to be protected from during diving class.

I was called brave when two of my kids took a plane as unaccompanied minors to visit their grandparents. But it was a nonstop flight, and we put them on the plane, and their grandparents met them at the other end. They were in good hands throughout.

I was called brave when my first grader was assigned the chore of taking our dog for a walk, even though he only ever walks her around the block.

I was called brave when my 12-year-old started taking the public bus to his middle school, although he says it’s a lot calmer and more well mannered than the school bus ever was.

They even said I was brave to let my 8-year-old daughter go to a sleepaway camp that doesn’t let prents call, text or email for the 5 days the kids are there.

In each of these cases, the person calling me brave was looking at me like I was completely bonkers. It seems to be a code for saying, “What you are doing is reckless and foolhardy, but I’ll put a positive spin on it by calling it brave.”

But in a way I guess I am brave. Brave enough to go against the prevailing parenting theory that your child is never quite safe enough. Brave enough to ignore the peer pressure to never let my children out of my sight. Brave to allow my children the freedom to explore and have adventures without me looking over their shoulders.

What about you? Ever been called “brave” by someone who is giving you that “you’re nuts” look, for allowng your children to do something that was totally normal 20 years ago? Just curious! — A.U.