When I was a kid, summers were a relaxed two months of going to the beach, playing with friends, eating ice cream and drinking ice cold Coke from glass bottles.
My mom was a stay-at-home mom of three so we weren’t required to sign up for scheduled programs such as day care or day camps. And in those days, kids had so much more freedom than they do today.
We’d hop on our bikes and ride around the neighbourhood or we’d all gather at the foot of our street and head to the beach a few blocks away. At the end of the day, we’d come home for dinner.
In those days when we played with our friends, they weren’t called “play dates,” because they didn’t require scheduling by parents or chauffeuring to get to the friend’s house. We all lived in the same neighbourhood so we simply walked over to ask if they could play. We weren’t over-scheduled with after-school activities, so there was more time to play.
All statistics point to the fact that the world is no more dangerous now than when we were kids, online dangers being the exception. Maybe it’s just that we know too much, that we are bombarded daily with reports of children in danger.
I signed my daughter up for the Home Alone course recently, through the Kelowna & District Safety Council, which is designed to provide children up to 10 with the necessary skills and knowledge to be safe and responsible when home alone for short periods of time.
Of course, I made it clear that although she has now taken the course, she will in fact not be left home alone. I realize the decision to leave one’s child alone for short periods of time is a very personal one. I have friends who are much more comfortable giving their children more freedom than I am prepared to give.
At seven, my mom sent me on my first grown-up errand, to the corner store to buy a jar of mayonnaise. I suspect the mayo was incidental and she was just trying to instill a sense of responsibility in me. I was so proud as I carried it home in a small paper bag. Unfortunately, I must have dawdled a little on the way home, because when I got home and presented Mom with my prize, she opened it to discover that the glass jar had broken. Oops.
In Grade 4, I was sent to school with a coconut we’d brought back from Hawaii. So as to share pieces of it with classmates, I was also sent to school with an axe. Yes, an axe. I don’t recall if I was successful in cutting open the coconut, but it didn’t seem all that strange to be taking a lethal weapon to elementary school.
My parents were loving, concerned parents who safely got me through childhood, but they also were not hovering over us every second of the day. My parents did a lot with us and for us, but I don’t recall either of them ever feeling the need to get down on the floor and play with us or to provide entertainment when friends came over. Instead, we were sent to play in the rec room or out in the yard, given snacks when necessary, and were pretty much left to our own devices.
Although I can’t let my daughter stay home unsupervised all summer long, we have been able to take a few weeks off work here and there to give her some of that unscheduled freedom that we enjoyed as kids. With her friends, she’s had fun at the beach, played with Lego in the play room and expressed her creative side with markers and Popsicle sticks.
And, while I’m not about to leave her and her friends alone, I’ve stayed out of the way to just let them get on with the job of being kids. One day, I’ll be ready to actually leave the house. That day has not come yet.