I’m part of only one private facebook group, one with a group of mothers who all were due the month Thomas was born. When first pregnant, we met up on mothering.com (website for all mothers crunchy/hippie), and we’ve kept in touch daily ever since. They accept and love that I still breastfeed my son when he’s eighteen months old, that we coslept, that I never used formula or jarred baby food, that we use cloth diapers, that we delay vaccinations. While I love the mothers I’ve met in my own town, these mothers support and encourage my unorthodox ways.
But a recent story I heard on NPR has made me feel, for the first time, like an outlier in this group. The story is about childrearing in the past generation or so, the way that kids are never unsupervised, never exposed to any kind of risk, always clean and safe, and the detrimental effects it may be having on confidence, on the way children may be taking part in more risky behaviors as adolescents because they never tested themselves as children. The article talks about “playgrounds” filled with scrap wood and fire pits and rusty lawn chairs where kids can roam without rules (maybe a few adults, there only to intervene in Very Serious Circumstances). It talks about the hours upon hours kids spent alone a generation ago and the way none of the children of those children are ever alone, though our world is no less safe than it was back then.
The mothers in the group were all a bit tense in their responses, it seemed. They keep their children close. People drive too fast on roads. There are transients often nearby. No safe places. And maybe they are in dangerous places; I’ve never visited any of them, and cannot judge.
But I can’t wait to see my son’s territory in our neighborhood expand. The day he can go bike on the dirt road without us. The day he can walk to the pond, to the beach (as long as he takes the dog, and then alone). The day he can cross the highway to the other pond. The day he can go to the park. The day he can go to his grandparents’ house or the farm where I work (two miles away). The day he can take the kayak out on his own (many many years off, obviously). And all of the secret places he’ll go to along the way, places I’ll never see, never know about. Places he’ll catch frogs and build forts and look at pictures of naked women an risk is balance and his bones. I want him to come home muddy and scratched. I want him to come home a few minutes late, running like a bat out of hell because he knows he’s late but he got distracted watching a fox or a trail of ants or a thunderstorm coming in from the sea. I want his natural confidence and charm to be backed up by experience and honestly-earned pride, by tested bravery.
I don’t care if he wants to play soccer or sing in the chorus or write computer code. I don’t care if he gets straight As year after year after year. I don’t want college to be his one and only goal through his teenage years.
I want him to get learn to use a knife safely and to build a fire and to find his way home when he’s lost. Technology and sex and teachers we’ll have to deal with inevitably. But wildness can be squeezed out of a child early and carelessly. I want him to know his limitations, and to know when it’s time to push them a little further.
And if people think that means I’m neglecting my son, I guess that’s too damn bad.