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There are seven kids in my backyard right now. Four boys and three girls, ranging in age from 4 to 10. Most of them just appeared, by biking around the block or by climbing the fence at the edge of the yard.
They’re hard to see but there’s one on the trampoline, two on the monkey bars and four in the treehouse.
And it’s not just today. Almost every afternoon, Braedan brings one or two friends home from Fairfax, racing down the block with backpacks slung over their shoulders. Then another one or two (or sometimes four) neighborhood kids will appear, usually on their bikes, which lay scattered over our driveway. The remaining daylight hours are filled with laughter and screeches as they jump, climb, slide, swing, bike, kick, chase, or scoot from the back to the front and back again.
I love this. I love that few of them are preplanned playdates, with drop-offs and pick-ups. I love that I can glance out my kitchen window and check on them when I can’t tell if the screams are of pleasure or pain (they’re usually of pleasure), but can also just let them go, trusting that they’ll find me if they really need me. It reminds me of my own childhood when all the neighborhood kids played together, no matter our age, endless twilight hours of Ghost in the Graveyard.
This is how it’s supposed to be.
Give kids the tiniest opportunity for independence and, I swear, they take it and run. My children have been transformed over the past few weeks. They play outside on their own for hours on end, while Mark and I actually get things done around the house (today, it was painting the new bathroom). Yesterday, they rode down the block to the neighbors’ house and played in their yard. Today, they went off to the school playground on their own. Well, not entirely on their own, they did have a friend who is almost ten with them. And I did make Braedan wear a watch and come home after an hour to check in.
But still, they did it. And it is great.
In light of the comments I got after my last post, I’m eager to have a broader conversation about how we allow our kids the freedom to navigate their environments without hovering (or worrying) too much. Especially in today’s world, with twenty-four hour news cycles detailing every awful thing that can happen if you dare look away. I’ll admit, a couple of times I wanted to ride my own bike over to the playground just to make sure they were okay. I mean, Austin’s still only four! But with a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old, I knew he’d be okay and held myself back.
I really think that it is perfectly okay — and even necessary — for our kids to make mistakes and get hurt. And then to figure out what to do about it on their own.
This article from Time magazine in 2009 is fabulous and funny and eye-opening (and the accompanying photo is all of those things). But I don’t really want to have a conversation about the relative value of helicopter parenting versus free-range parenting, so much as I’d love to hear HOW those of you reading do it.
When it comes to giving children freedom (and responsibility), what has worked for you and what hasn’t? And, for those of you in the grandmother (or father) set, what has changed since the days your kids were young and do you see those changes as good or bad?
Of course, when you’re parenting two and four-year olds, much of this is irrelevant. You’re obviously not going to send your son off to preschool on his own. But for elementary-age kids, it’s the perfect time for them to develop a sense of competence and ownership over their neighborhood and their actions and their own safety and well-being. I was just about to write, “I am so glad I live in a place where my kids can do that,” but I think most of us do and may not know it. (And I think some people would look at where I live and not think that!)
Sooooo, how does it work? What do you allow your kids to do as they get older? And has that been successful? And how is it different from when you were young? (Besides the fact that we all walked to school barefoot through the snow, uphill both ways?)
Mark and I’ve gone back and forth, back and forth on this house decision. We lay awake at night talking about it, listing all the pros (great house, great neighborhood, great value) and cons (the general hassle of selling our house and moving). We visited and revisited the house, and every time we liked it more and more. We started to feel as if it could truly be our home as we mentally arranged our furniture and hung our pictures on the walls. We spent time with the neighbors and were wowed by the freedom the children experience on that block, running from house to house and yard to yard, with no boundaries slowing them down or hemming them in. We finally decided that yes, we could see ourselves living there happily so . . . we made an offer.
This was on Friday morning when we learned that the relocation company closed at noon for the long weekend. By Monday night, we got word that a couple from California who had visited the house many times and absolutely loved it and intended to buy it once their employment was secured, had put in an offer. So bright and early Tuesday morning, Mark drove over to the real estate office with a modified offer, this time at asking price. And . . .
we lost it.
We’re assuming the other couple’s offer simply said, “Ten thousand more than the next best offer,” or something along those lines. A bidding war in Cleveland, Ohio — imagine that! I mean, if this was the deal of the century to we Clevelanders, I can only imagine what a deal it is to Californians.
It’s okay though, we ‘re fine with this. We’re certainly disappointed and we know that if we’d acted just a little bit sooner, it would be ours (probably for $40K less too!), but we needed to be sure and so we have no regrets.
A few different people, after being told we’d made an offer, said they would pray that we got the house. This was thoughtful of them, of course, but, my feelings about prayer aside, it’s just not that important. Save prayer for the big stuff. Save prayer for Austin’s June scan. We live in a beautiful house with our two healthy children. We can find another house with a master suite some other time (current neighbors, consider yourselves warned).
Today, we are happy, right where we are. We have everything we need and almost everything we want. And that’s good enough.
A winning team sure would be nice though, for once. FOR ONCE!
I don’t think I’ve ever written a post that has generated so many comments, both here and on Facebook, so thank you for your thoughts and your encouragement.
More musings as we work through this decision: A few of you referenced my mom and the fact that my family moved from a “regular” house to a larger and grander one shortly after the birth of my brother Cory. (My parents, three teenagers and a baby had been sharing one bathroom, so I guess I can’t complain!) Well, my mother hated living in that new house and we moved again within eight months. But–and this is important–it wasn’t the house that made her so unhappy; it was the neighborhood she’d left behind. We had lived on the corner of two vibrant blocks that were absolutely swarming with kids. We walked to school in a rowdy pack, played our summer night games (Ghost in the Graveyard and Release the Dungeon) across a dozen backyards, had elaborate block parties with bike races and square dances. My parents met people on that street who become their closest friends and have remained so to this day. So, despite the fact that we only moved a mile away, it was a huge loss for my mom. As a stay-at-home mother, she felt isolated and lonely on a block filled with old rich people. (Ironically, that very street today is alive with young families, but the turnover had yet to occur.)
So it wasn’t that my mom regretted moving to a larger house (in fact, the house they moved to next and that they still live in today is larger than that one was). It’s the people that surrounded them. The lesson here for me is a big one. We live on a nice street now, as I’ve already said and we have lovely neighbors, people who are friendly and stop to chat and follow along with Austin’s story (and I know a lot of you are reading and I truly mean no offense). But these are not our closest friends and they are not the best friends of our children. In fact, there are surprisingly few families with young kids on this block.
Now the block we might move to, the block with the big house, is swarming with young children. I’ve been told by one woman (part of the group currently lobbying us to move there) that there are 43 kids in a block-and-a-half stretch. Forty-three kids who have bike races and lemonade stands, play wiffle ball and kick-the-can, and who walk together in a noisy jumble to public school.
My mom is actually strongly encouraging this move, saying things like, “Oh, I walked by it today and that house doesn’t look all that big.” Now anyone who knows my mom and her reluctant attitude towards extravagence, knows how funny this is. But, in her mind, there is nothing like belonging to a street of families who’ve come together to raise their children. That is the strongest bond. It is our village.
We’re leaning towards it, if you couldn’t already tell. We go back tomorrow with a contractor we know and trust who will help us gauge the significance and necessity (and cost) of improvements and upkeep. For those of you who’ve asked very specific questions, it does have all new copper plumbing and a brand new roof, and yes, we are taking heating costs into consideration (it’s one of the biggest considerations!).
As Mark and I lay in bed last night discussing it yet again (you see, that’s our only chance to talk uninterrupted), we noted how happy we’ve been here, happy as a couple and happy as a family, and we wondered if messing with that could be a mistake. But we both agreed that the happiness and the magic is not in the house. It’s not in this house and it’s not in that one. It’s in us. And we’ll pack it up and bring it with us wherever we go.