When I was seven years old, I lived on the edge of a forest. It was enormous and daunting and I was sure there were bugs, snakes and more dangerous creatures, so I never entered the forest.
By the time I was eight years old, half of the forest had become a housing subdivision. I had a friend who lived in one of the new houses. (Now, my parents had strongly opposed the new subdivision, citing heavier traffic on our quiet road, so I was quite certain that my friend’s parents were partly evil. Luckily, they were never home during the day so I’d go home with her after school with no worries of running into them.)
The other half of the area was still undeveloped or becoming developed. My friend and I would stray from her house in the afternoons to the area that was still “the woods” and find all sorts of treasures left behind by the contractors.
Those were glorious days! We could imagine we were Indians or pilgrims or even the Ingalls family. We built forts, with spare boards, roofing shingles and rusty nails. There were no adults, no siblings and no snakes (that I saw). My biggest fear at the time (because it was my friend’s biggest fear) was poison ivy. If it rained or got cold, we could go to her house. It was empty and quiet. How I envied her!
I don’t know how my mother continued to let me play with her. I came home to my mother every time asking if she could please get a job so I could have my own key and come home alone too! (Of course, I had three younger siblings waiting at home too so there were a few flaws in my simple plan).
I wonder sometimes what adventures my kids will have to tell about their childhood as much more of their childhood play is supervised.
When I was eight, no stranger ever penetrated our forest sanctuary; we never played with matches at my friends house; despite the rusty nails, I did not need a new tetanus shot and I did not actually come into contact with poison ivy. We were just being kids and we survived.
I am now thirty-five and I have two children. I do not let my daughter (7 yrs) go anywhere alone or with another child, not to mention someplace where there might be snakes or rusty nails! While we live on a fairly quiet cul-de-sac, it’s adjacent to a busy street. So she is allowed to go outdoors alone but she can’t leave our street. (I try to give her some illusion of autonomy but only if I can still see her from one of the windows of my house!)
Am I depriving my children of adventures?
Maybe not. As I started this post the other day, the children came running in from the backyard where they had been planting acorns. (They go and look each morning for signs of a tree. Despite my comments about waiting for spring, they’re quite optimistic).
They came running in to tell me that they had spotted a “giant, poisonous worm!”
By the time they pulled me outdoors to look at it, the monster had disappeared. While I doubt that there are any poisonous worms in Kansas, I was good enough to be quiet and look frightened. Maybe they can find just a little danger and adventure in their sheltered lives after all.
(I can clearly see both of my children involved in this adventure!)