My parents should have been arrested many times. Before I was 5 years old, they allowed me to walk a mile to school, unaccompanied by an adult, right through Winthrop’s dangerous downtown. Later, I wandered all over the woods up above High Street, fishing and exploring with my buddies but no adult guides.
OK, one time a young friend and I failed to return home at the expected hour, and toward the end of the day, emerged from the woods at the top of High Street to see a dozen adults coming up the street, about to start a search for us. We had no idea what the problem was. We knew those woods way better than any of those adults.
I rode all over town on my bike, with a fishing rod, and spent long days fishing here and there — sometimes right under the Carlton Woolen Mill where Mill Stream flowed through. Sometimes my buddies and I would ride our bikes all the way to Readfield, then cross over to Memorial Drive to return to Winthrop. And no, adults were not part of our trips.
It is astonishing to me that parents in other states are being arrested for letting their kids walk home alone from school, or enjoy a local park without adult supervision (read protection). And come to think of it, I have seen only one kid riding a bike and carrying a fishing rod in the last five years or so. Have parents become too protective? Is our society that much more dangerous these days than it was when I was growing up in the 1950s and ’60s?
The only dangerous thing about downtown Winthrop, when I was walking through there, was the possibility that I’d be able to obtain some candy. Every merchant knew me, knew my family, and was super-friendly and generous to the kids in town. And of course, the owners were almost always in the stores.
One day, when I was about 9 years old, I got up on the roof of the shed and jumped off, landing in a pile of old lumber and driving a nail right through my foot. The nail was in a small board, and I couldn’t get it out of my foot, so I hobbled into the house, clump, clump, clump, the board clanging on the floor with each step. Mom was beside herself and rushed me to the doctor. The nail came out quickly, no problem. Today, Mom would probably be arrested for child neglect.
With the higher expectations for parents these days, I guess I have to be on high alert when my grandchildren are visiting. They like the woods, love to roam and are full of energy. I feel very blessed by them. Some kids today rarely get out into the woods. They’re tied to their electronic gear. Allowing your kids to spend most of their time online is, in my mind, a real crime.
Today I see kids waiting for the school bus who live within sight of the school. But my experiences teaching writing to Mount Vernon’s fourth-graders this year gave me hope. They love everything about the outdoors. When I took them into the woods in back of the school to take notes about what they saw and liked, I had a hard time getting them back into the classroom to write about that experience. And I sure enjoyed the stories they wrote about hiking, biking, and hunting and fishing with their parents.
They also love wild animals — and not just the ones we hunt. They seemed to have developed, early in life, an appreciation for the many blessings that surround us in Mount Vernon.
But the recent arrests of parents who let their kids run free has me concerned: Were Linda and I wrong to push our kids out the door, to encourage their independence and freedom from fear? Is the world really much more dangerous than we taught them? Actually, it is not.
I can’t imagine any kid had better parents than mine. From Mom’s encouragement (OK, she insisted) that I sing in the church choir, to Dad’s encouragement (and he sure didn’t need to insist) that I hunt and fish, to their attendance at all of our school events, to their leadership of our 4-H Club, to their guidance as I created businesses selling vegetables and mowing lawns, and yes, to their allowing me to roam freely from downtown to the woods, they gave me an idyllic childhood. I feel badly for kids — and parents — who don’t have these opportunities today.