As you see from my blogroll, I follow Lenore Skenazy’s blog, Free Range Kids. I discovered it after listening to her on the radio, defending her decision to allow her 9 year old son to ride the New York subway to a friend’s house with $20, knowledge of the routes, and instructions to find uniformed personnel in the event of a problem. People were predictably outraged and I was struck by the idea that the kid riding the subway shouldn’t be a big deal, but felt like it.
Like a sore tooth, I poked at my instinctive reaction, trying to understand it and eventually decided that I wanted to let my kids range free, even though the decision felt/feels scary. Statistically speaking, letting one’s child out of our watchful eye isn’t as dangerous as putting them in the car for 20 miles twice a day.
Anyway, I recently read Lenore’s blog post about Leiby Kletzky and, much like Lenore, I had to remind myself and re-affirm, that, despite isolated tragedies, Leiby’s parents did nothing wrong, Leiby did nothing wrong, and most likely nothing so heinous will ever touch my family.
For the 4th of July, we decided to take the boys to see fireworks for the first time. Ramona has a big production every year, with fund raising by the Rotary club taking up advertisements from January to July. This year, the location was Olive Pierce Middle School, where we schlepped our chairs, lemonade, and snacks to a big grass field. It reminded me, very much, of summers in Milwaukee, going to the park or the lake for fireworks; everyone you knew and the odd stranger packed onto a field of chairs and blankets, waiting for dark. This year, the Rotary had jumpers and slides and an obstacle course, along with sack races and balloon tosses and vendors with food.
We set up our chairs close to the entrance and wandered to the rear to buy tickets and check out the activities. After a while, we decided to just give the boys their tickets and retreat back to our chairs. With the admonition that they stay together and check back often, we let them do their thing. Keeping the extra tickets helped. Of course, we didn’t have much fun, Ronise and I. The entire time, we scanned the crowd, the jumpers, and the slide for the boys; we strained to keep an eye on them through other kids and from 75 yards away. We had to scold a few times, when one boy returned without the other. This went on until their tickets, thankfully, ran out and visibility was reduced by the crowd and the gathering darkness.
It was the boys’ first real taste of big boyness. They even abandoned us to sit with some much older boys (10-12) on the blanket behind our chairs. They discussed their new school, fireworks, and general boy stuff. It was way sweet and a real foreshadowing of our near future. (A special thanks to the generosity of those boys, who were genuinely kind and welcoming when they could have been dismissive.)
While it is scary, I think the boys should be able to enjoy their community without fear. We’ve tried to find a reasonable safe and close-knit community for them to grown up in. That doesn’t mean we are safe from predation and tragedy, but I don’t want them to live in fear of something that most likely won’t happen. I try to remind myself that Danielle Van Dam, Chelsea King, and Amber Dubois (along with Leiby Kletzky and others) are anomalous, even though North County San Diego has been hard hit by such crimes.