We were talking about this in my reading group the other night: the freedom of children to roam about their neighborhoods or town has changed a lot, generation by generation. We all could look back and see that we had much more freedom to roam than we have allowed our own children. And we all remember the experience of that freedom as something that was beneficial, although one of us said she did have a few “hey little girl, want to take a ride in my car” experiences. *Shiver* Well that, of course, is enough to make any of us decide not to let the children simply roam.
But things were different when I was a kid. At 5, we lived in the university neighborhood and I was allowed to walk around the neighborhood. I remember a favorite destination was the Student Union building. There was a room full of jolly college kids playing cards at tables. I had learned that if you stood near a table of bridge-players, eventually some college girl who missed her little sister back home would take you up on her lap, and let you help her play the cards, and someone would buy you a coke.
Therein lay the charm and purpose of the trip to the Student Union. And I think, but I am not sure, that I eventually related my experiences at the Student Union to my parents in such a way as to raise suspicion about my methods of increasing the likelihood of being adopted in this manner. I am sure they forbade me in future to hang around the students looking forlorn and thirsty.
When I was six we lived in a subdivision surrounded by undeveloped land. You drove past empty fields full of red-wing blackbirds to get to our house. I remember traveling in a pack of children, crossing vast expanses of territory, out past the homes and into a wide, desolate field, scrambling through brush and ditches to where the older children said there was a place to find tadpoles. I didn’t know what tadpoles were, but it was exhilerating to go out on such an adventure, even though the day was cold, and the big kids went too fast and did not notice or care if I had trouble keeping up or had difficulty scrambling up the sides of ditches and pushing through brush.
When I was seven, we lived in a town, and I don’t remember having the same kind of rambles as I’d had before, but we lived across a fairly busy street from a grocery store and I was allowed to go to the grocery store on my own–and indeed, I think I ran some errands for my mother by going there and picking up a loaf of bread or some milk now and then. I walked to school and and back home, on my own, but it was only a few blocks away.
For my own children, the best thing we ever did was move to the mountains. In the beginning the children could play in our large yard or in the vacant, wild lot next door. As they got older, they could roam down to the creek or out into the undeveloped area down past the end of our street, an area of dense pine forest, huge boulders, fallen trees, and a wonderful creek running through it all. They could walk down to the library, and in due time could ride their bikes down to town and back. To hear them talk, this kind of freedom was the best of the best that we gave them, and I have no doubt that it was.