Free range childhood

Each day, one of our kids goes for a run, walk, or bike ride in the early morning as a way to keep busy and try to feel less anxious and depressed. That’s a good thing, of course, but I worry constantly about safety, and I keep looking at the Find My… feature on my iPhone to make sure my child is ok during these times. It is a relief whenever they walk in the front door, safe and sound.

When I was growing up, there was no such worry. In many ways, I had a free range childhood, able to go out and about whenever and wherever I wanted. That’s something my children have never experienced.

The older I get, and the more I reflect on my childhood, the more I realize how fortunate I was to grow up when and where I did. By no means was my childhood perfect, but in this one thing at least, it was special.

For the last few months, siblings, spouses, and my mother have gotten together via a weekly Zoom meeting. The primary reason to set this up is so that we can keep tabs on my mother, who is elderly and often has health issues. The weekly Zoom meeting has become an important event, and has brought our scattered families into closer contact.

In the most recent one, I mentioned our free range childhood and this sparked some interesting discussion as well as sharing of various memories. We all agreed that it was a very good thing for us. I asked my mother, who worked full time for all of my growing up years, if she was ever worried about us roaming all over creation without any supervision. She said no, not really.

I thought nothing of roaming the woods, the fields, and the area around the river near where we lived at any time of the year. We fished, we canoed, we went ice skating and sledding, and we drove our bikes for miles on country roads around the small farming town we called home. We collected butterflies, moths, and other insects. We played lots of imaginative games. We got our share of poison ivy as well as various scrapes, bruises, and of course, lots of mosquito bites.

We never worried about weirdos or people bent on mischief. What a luxury! In fact, even when we went on vacation, we left our house unlocked. Our house was unlocked most of the time, actually. Car keys were left in cars with doors unlocked, as well. It wasn’t that there was a complete absence of criminal behavior (drug use, for example) but somehow, it seems like the world was a much safer place then in comparison to today.

Again, I am not portraying my childhood as idyllic because it wasn’t. But in comparison, there was a lot less to worry about than there is today where children are concerned. I wish my children could have experienced the freedom and liberty of a free range childhood like I did. It gave me a lifelong love and respect for the outdoors. And, it instilled in me a sense of independence, self-confidence, and resourcefulness.

The only place where my kids have experienced something close to that is when we visit with my in-laws in the far north woods of Wisconsin. At some point soon, we will be traveling to a similar area for a week’s vacation now that some travel restrictions have been lifted. I can’t wait. Given their ages, I’m not sure how many more such trips we will be able to enjoy together with our younger children before they all leave home and become independent like their older sibling.

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