[Carfreeliving] Free Range Children
echillster at gmail.com
Mon Jan 9 09:34:07 MST 2006
>From today's Chronicle (particularly the fifth paragraph, on):
- Jon Carroll
Monday, January 9, 2006
I've been following with interest the story of the San Ramon couple who left
their two sons, ages 10 and 5, alone in the house for the weekend while they
went to Las Vegas. (The newspaper said they "partied" in Las Vegas, but we
don't know that, do we? The last time I was in Vegas, it was no party -- it
was more like having an ice cream headache.) They are at this writing in the
slammer, which, considering that the younger kid is reportedly autistic, is
exactly where they belong.
There was a sort of tut-tutting tone to the coverage, like: How could any
responsible parent leave his or her child alone at all ever? Moralizing
about parenting techniques is an unlovely feature of the new secular
puritanism, so I found myself in a small snit -- a snit, may I say, entirely
powered by hydrogen, the miracle gas.
So I wish to speak for the large number of former kids who, purely through
economic exigencies, were left alone at home for longish periods of time.
Our parents were not inevitably cruel or heedless; we did not all turn into
criminals; we did not all burn down the house or torment lizards. When
you're a kid, you don't know what is "supposed" to be, so you take whatever
comes along and call it normal.
My mother was single, at least by the time I was 4 she was, and she worked
to support our tiny family. From the age of 9 on, I was a latchkey kid -- I
had to find my way home from school, let myself into the house and amuse
myself. I did not feel neglected or unloved; I had an entirely swell time
finding things to do. When my mother got home, usually about two hours later
than I did, we did the family thing.
As I got older, I tended to spend the time not at home but riding my bike.
There is to my mind no greater feeling of freedom than a 10-year-old
experiences riding his bike alone. He can go anywhere he wants to go; best
of all, he can discover routes not generally known or available. I had two
campuses within a few blocks of my house -- Pasadena City College and Cal
Tech -- and campuses are great places for the creation of impromptu mazes.
Sometimes I would stop and peer into classrooms; sometimes I would find the
mysterious locked building with all the pipes and invent science fiction
When I see a kid in my neighborhood today riding a bike in solitary
splendor, I do not feel sorry for him. I do not think: Oh, he should be at
soccer practice; he should be at clarinet lessons; he should be with his
classmates in a structured environment learning to play whist.
I support unstructured environments and the life of the mind. I sometimes
think that all the parents in their SUVs complaining about their schedules
because Tiffany has her glockenspiel lessons at 3 and Jason has his jai alai
practice at 3:30 and then they all have to be across town at the Newt Rescue
Center by 5 should take some deep breaths, cancel some classes and let their
kids stare at trees for a while. Staring at trees is a fine thing, even if
you never learn a thing about trees.
Nor am I opposed to television. I used to watch television too, and I
learned a wide variety of things. I learned what wanted posters looked like,
and that my local police department didn't really want to hear from a
10-year-old boy who thought he'd seen someone at the drugstore yesterday who
looked like that tristate felon. I watched a show called "You Asked for It,"
in which viewers, like, asked for things. What they mostly asked for, in my
memory, is footage of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsing in a windstorm.
Talk about educational enrichment! Nothing is cooler than watching stuff
I personally would discourage children from watching children's television.
I think their time could be better spent watching various cinematic
iterations of "Imitation of Life" -- you can learn a lot of very interesting
stuff from "Imitation of Life" -- or reruns of "Law & Order: CI" (Bobby
Goren! How can a kid go wrong with Bobby Goren?). And there's always "The
Tempest" in its more familiar guise of "Forbidden Planet," or that show on
MTV where celebrities show off their cribs. Their cribs are often large
enough for several babies at the same time.
I am, of course, utterly opposed to neglecting children. I do think there
maybe should be some more informed definitions of "neglect," and, by the
way, a lot less demonization of working mothers who have to leave their kids
alone. You know, mostly it works out. Plus: A lot of completely rotten kids
are just bathed in parental attention. Signed, One Who Knows.
I am sure it is possible to fall into bad company, but I don't think
scheduling has much to do with it -- there's bad company at soccer practice
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