Warmer air, sunny skies, kids tramping over the daffodils!
This weekend the thermometer hit seventy degrees and everyone bounded out of the house with a burst of energy fueled by the fine psychological compost wrought from marinating in our own methane emissions for three long, dark, winter months indoors.
However, this spring my bounding children are all a bit taller, all a bit more sure of themselves, all pulling at their leashes and champing at those bits harder than ever.
They want to take off.
And they want to take off on their own.
And I’m okay with that.
No, really. I am.
First of all, we live in a quiet suburban neighborhood that’s pretty much self-contained. That is, it's pretty hard to get anywhere that’s Not The Neighborhood if you don’t yet have a driver’s license. With wide streets bordered by sidewalks and shaded under rows of oaks and maples, our development is outdoor friendly to both bikers and walkers. However any attempt to get beyond the official borders would require biking or hiking up a 1/10 mile hill that is pretty much an inverse incline littered with burned out Volkswagen clutches and enough leftover winter road salt to cause an avalanche. Joggers and bikers challenge this hill at their own peril and not without at least two nose bleeds and a good sob.
Second, our neighborhood has its own soccer fields, airy pavilion, green areas for doggy romps, playground, and biking trail, all encircled by a lovely winding creek that’s perfect for wading, tubing and crayfish catching all summer long. So even if you wanted to scale the incline up and out into the wider world, one does have to pause to remember just why they’d want to in the first place.
A beer or ice cream run comes to mind. But that's about it.
Third, this summer I’m hopeful that there will be a whole lot of everyone out and about. A few years ago the neighborhood seemed to undergo one of those periodic turnovers when some empty-nesters decided, maybe, to downsize to smaller homes elsewhere, and the families moving in arrived with strollers and tricycles in tow. For the past five or six years, most kids were kept fairly close to their own backyard, and any wandering beyond a front sidewalk was only done with mom or dad to chaperon.
This year, I’m guessing that a lot of those tricycles will be two-wheelers, scooters, and skateboards, and the Playdate Pack will finally be full-fledged Free Range Agents. And I look forward a neighborhood full of roaming hordes of kids - sure, more opportunities for peer-pressured one-up and double-dog-dare-you shenanigans...but also more snitches. If one kid is doing something Really Stupid or Really Dangerous, well, that’s usually just too good a piece of information for all but the most conspiratorial of children to keep to themselves. Eventually, some parent somewhere is sure to hear about it, and Kid? We adults all know each others’ emails and phone numbers and aren't afraid to use them.
Because we are spoil sports.
And because we love you.
(Note to self: Do not show children Stand By Me until September.)
Now, all that said, I’m still not sending my kids willy nilly out into The Big Wide Open without making sure that we’re all agreed upon some basic rules.
Furthermore, I’m going to publish these rules and alert my neighborhood parent friends so, Kid, if you’re thinking that Margie’s Mom doesn’t know that you’re not allowed to jump on Bonnie’s trampoline with seven other kids and two German Shepherds, you can forget it: now she knows.
And if she tells me, I’ll thank her by sending her vodka. The good stuff.
In other words, she'll tell me.
So here goes.
THE FREE RANGE SUMMER RULES
1. The Buddy System
As a Girl Scout, a mother, and a former daredevil kid, I am a firm believer in not going it alone. Having at least one buddy around is always a good thing. Just think:
If you’re riding your bike and doing a “Look at me!” no hands move, who’s going to be there to look if you don’t have a buddy?
If you’re riding your bike and doing a “Look at me!” no hands move and hit a pothole and fly over the handlebars and your two front teeth end up twenty feet from your mouth, who’s going to see where those teeth landed if you don’t have a buddy?
And then who’s going to help you back to your front door and warn your mom to brace herself, it’s not as bad as it looks, really, the spurting blood is actually slowing down from five minutes ago?
2. Don’t Leave Your Buddy
I don’t care how big an argument you just had with your sister or that your friend just put a crayfish down your pants. If you leave your buddy, you’re in trouble. You can deliver your sister to the front door and then find another buddy. You can call me and tell me you’re reassigning yourself to another pack of wandering children. You can call me and tell me you’re on your way home alone. However, we’re not yet at the Into The Wild stage of your Free Rangedness. Maybe next summer. We’ll see.
Until then, if you want to be alone, there’s always the tree house in our yard and you can pretend it's in the Alaskan outback. Within site of the kitchen window.
I'll send you some granola and berries.
3. Don’t Go Into Anyone’s House Unless You Call Me First
Your Free Rangedness does not extend into other people’s living rooms unless I know you’ve been graciously and willingly invited by the adults in that house. And that there is an adult at home.
This may seem a bit ironic, but it’s my experience that kids can generally get into more mischief and hi-jinks inside a house (including the garage), than out. I’d like to believe that any forays into a house sans adult will be limited to you and your friend hanging out in the family room and giggling over pictures of boys in the school yearbook. However, you might also be tempted to cook a twelve-egg omelet or play dress-up with all your friend's mom’s clothes and makeup. That would not be good. And don't tell me you haven't thought of it.
So even if Mrs. McGillicuddy asks you onto her back porch for tuna salad sandwiches, you need to dial your cell phone, hand it to Mrs. McGillicuddy, and have her tell me herself that it’s okay.
Also, I’m guessing that other kids’ moms might want their kids out of their houses for the day as much as I might want my own day to finally mop the floor and enjoy its unscuffed, unmuddied glory for a full ten minutes. Stay outside. Get some fresh air and vitamin D. The television will still be there on the next rainy day, I promise.
4. No Trampolines
You are allowed on the trampoline at gymnastics class where the One Person and Trained Spotters and No Dogs rule is applied unwaveringly.
You are also allowed on the trampoline at your aunt’s farm because she knows I won’t sue her and she won’t sue me and goats are way too smart and heavy to lure onto a trampoline.
5. Stay Away From The Creek Unless You're With An Adult
Some days, the creek is ankle high and I’d trust your three year old brother to cross it on his own holding a newborn kitten and a glass of champagne.
Other days - days after a day or two of rain - the creek suddenly turns into a raging current that could pick up our minivan and speedily transport it to the Chesapeake Bay in a matter of minutes.
Just because it’s a sunny day doesn’t mean the creek is safe.
Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean the creek is safe.
Just because it’s Tuesday afternoon and I’m doing my laundry and listening to Brazilian jazz doesn’t mean that the police might not arrive at my door as ask me to remain calm but there’s been an accident on the creek.
I love the creek. I will go to the creek with you. Other kids’ parents are happy to go to the creek, too. We can build rafts and go tubing and pick crayfish and I’ll even let you wander up and down the creek on your own while still in my sight line.
But this summer, no creek on your own.
And not until I’m convinced you know the difference between “ankle high” and “whoops, there goes the minivan”.
6. Stay Off The Main Road
Again, just don’t go there.
I know the main road is marked with a 35 mph speed limit.
I know there is a bike path along the main road.
I also know that plenty of drivers use the bike path as “extra steering adjustment room” when taking the curves at 60 mph. Sometimes, they even use the sidewalks. And front lawns.
7. The Bike Path Through The Woods
I’m torn on this one because I love the bike path and I love that the path meanders through cool, dark woods and I love that it’s a handy conduit between our neighborhood and the next.
For now, however, let’s keep this one on temporary hold.
Having been on the bike path and having met up with some off-leash dogs and snarling dog owners who think it’s your fault for not being smart enough to not get bitten, well…I’d rather wait on this one.
Also, the bike path through the woods just looks like the kind of place where kooky people from outside the neighborhood might hang out and do or say kooky things to kids. It’s just out of the way enough, just far enough away from watchful eyes and immediate grown-up help to be a concern.
Let’s wait until we have a few Bike Path and Dog Safety training sessions under our belt.
Wear your helmet, carry your cell phone, be where you said you’re going to be, answer my calls, no smoking, don’t pick up any “used balloons” in the playground, ask before petting a dog, carry a water bottle, don’t ask for snacks right after lunch, don’t bug other parents for snacks, if a car slows down next to you immediately jump into the lawn and away from the sidewalk, if the car stops and the driver tries to talk to you then run away screaming, no swimming pools unless there is an adult there and you’ve been invited and Mom has talked to the adult, don’t burn live things with magnifying glasses, wear shoes when riding your bike or else I’ll tell you the story about the time I ripped off my toenail riding a bike with bare feet.
I think that’s all.
Now go have fun!
Still close enough to yank you out of the water, Kid, by the scruff of your neck.