This post is different than yesterday’s. Today I don’t have the answers but rather sit here with a conundrum asking for advice.
I don’t remember when it all began. Probably earlier this spring, when the weather was nicer in the mornings, warm enough to go outside. Or maybe it was with the birth of a snail obsession. Those friends are everywhere first thing in the morning, especially after a good rain, and we have had plenty of that lately. Maybe it was when she got her new bike and wanted to ride it as soon as she woke up.
No matter when it was, suddenly Caroline began asking to go outside in the mornings before we were headed out for the day. It was usually while I was getting breakfast ready or cleaning up dishes, maybe packing her school lunch. I was distracted, had a to-do list, and I didn’t have time to stop in sit on the front porch in my pajamas, nor did I think the neighbors would appreciate that too much.
At first she was just wondering around the front stoop in her little imaginary world she escapes to quite frequently. But then the little fresh air turned into adventures along the sidewalk in search of more snail friends. Soon her play world required props she began bringing her little chair and table outside, play food, all of the babies. And now she has just extended her playroom to the entire space in front of our home.
This is so sweet. I, for one, am loving the independent play especially as it relates to imagination and curiosity. As I peak through the window I can hear her singing and twirling and talking to her babies. It is the perfect example of the carefree childhood we want for our children.
But here is my problem…is it safe?
Growing up I remember playing outside on my own for hours. I had the same little world outside with my dolls and me. I remember wandering down the street before dinner in search of my sister who was playing somewhere at some neighbors house. This was all so normal, so accepted, so comfortable. We all talk about the “I remember when I was a kid…” stuff and it was true. I think so many of us have memories of the increased freedom. “Children are so sheltered these days,” you may hear.
So what do I do about it? Abduction is a real and true thing. And we don’t live in a small quiet town where we know all our neighbors. We live in a big and busy city. But that’s hard to remember when our little complex is so quiet, the neighbors stay in, the closest street with traffic is quite a walk away.
But still, I do love the idea of giving her an inch of freedom. I like saying “Yes” when I can. There is far too much “No” in our day. I love giving her the space to explore and appreciate the growing world around her outside our walls. There is a nature deficit in our children and every little opportunity we can find to encourage outdoor play is precious. And I’m not leaving her outside to run to go the store. I am inside, usually with a good view of the window or door where I can glance up every now and then and look for her bobbing head.
Yet I can’t help but wonder if I am just being naïve. It only takes a second to lose your children. I’m sure a parent that has been struck with such a tragedy would tell me this. I just can’t bare to live in fear.
I have set up a few obvious rules and I am trusting that my rule following daughter will abide relatively consistently:
1. Always ask before you go outside. This clues me in to watch for her periodically through the windows instead of assuming she is up in her room playing.
2. NEVER talk to ANYONE and DEFINITELY DON’T LEAVE WITH ANYONE! I don’t care if this is teaching her to be rude. Describing a stranger is too difficult. I would rather the definition of stranger be “anyone that is not your family who is talking to you when your parents are not around.” A blanket rule is much easier to follow than requiring her to decide if that neighbor we have talked to before is in fact a stranger. And obviously the last part is a rule for all circumstances.
3. Close the door when you go outside. I added this one recently when I noticed Elliott had followed her outside and was halfway down the sidewalk. All of these rules I imagine will DRASTICALLY change when the second child is her age. He so far has not demonstrated his rule following abilities. In fact, he is a laugher of rules.
4. You must be able to see the door or the window at all times. If she can see the windows, I can see her. No more wondering around the corner to that tree that you know always has the best snails.
Despite the rules and the personal desire to offer that Free Range Parenting style, I still have my hesitations. What do you think? Searching for wisdom here, friends.