I’ve really been enjoying reading Lenore Skenazy’s blog at FreeRangeKids. (For those of you who missed it, this is the mom who took a bunch of flack for letting her child ride the subway by himself. Her basic premise is that parents don’t do their kids any favors by overprotecting them and micromanaging their lives to keep them from all pain and harm.)
I really love this, in theory. Stephen and his brothers grew up running around their property with slingshots and BB guns. I would love to see Abby grow up to be (reasonably) fearless and strong; I want her to be curious and scrappy and not dependent on me for her security. Unfortunately, the biggest obstacle to Abby being a rough-and-tumble Free Range Kid is…me, her neurotic, paranoid mother who imagines axle-cutting carjackers around every dark corner.
I don’t know where my constant worry came from, or really when it began. But I realize that it is not rational, and that it’s a bit of a problem. So, for the sake of my child, who should not have grow up into a timid little mouse, I must first become a Free Range Mom. Yesterday I made a big, brave step: I took Abby for a walk at the city park.
Stephen and I found this wonderful walking trail last weekend. Right in the middle of town, it’s a wide, paved sidewalk that winds through trees, across little babbling brooks, and beside green fields. 10 yards down the trail, the road noise is literally drowned out by the sounds of wind and insects. It’s quiet, relaxing, and secluded. Thus, it’s appeal…and it’s obvious danger.
After carefully weighing the risks, I decided to venture out. Here’s how it went down:
Approaching the entrance to the walking trail. A city worker is welding on part of the hand rails. I make eye contact with him (Don’t even think about it, buddy…I could identify you in a line-up, now), and smile. He makes a comment about the nice day. I respond politely and keep walking at my brisk pace. Although he seemed nice enough, I look back over my shoulder a couple of times just to make sure I’m not being followed.
I’m barely out of sight of the parking lot and I decide to turn off my iPod and enjoy the sounds of the wind and the water. It’s so relaxing I barely even remember how much bravery I am demonstrating just to be here. My mind wanders and I enjoy the mental meandering.
Passing my favorite part of the trail- a large rock spillway with two loud waterfalls. I imagine my flexible future self stopping to let Abby stick her feet in the water and splash around. Of course, as soon as she was finished I would cleanse her with a sanitizing wipe to remove the amoebas from her little hands and feet…but I digress. I consider parking the stroller by the bench and reading my magazine for a while in this picturesque spot, but since it’s really sunny and Abby is in long sleeves, I decide against it and keep walking.
Stephen calls between classes to check in and finalize our plans for the evening. I make sure to mention that I am at the park. “It’s two o’clock and I’m passing the spillway,” I say, hoping that he will remember this detail if I turn up missing and they need to know where to send a search party. We agree to meet at our house at five.
The trail is open to the public, but many of its features are still under construction. The signs of workmen are everywhere. Along the sides of the path there are plastic Gatorade bottles stuck in the branches of trees and assorted wrappers on the ground. It’s like the trail that Hansel and Gretel might have left if they had stopped at 7-11 for some snacks instead of bringing their own bread.
Around the next bend in the road I see sunlight glinting off of a truck. More workmen! I debate whether to turn around before I get too close and they have a chance to see me. Finally I lift my chin resolutely–onward! The men are actually not that close to the trail; they are clearing some brush in the distance. I wonder– who is more likely to bother me– one solitary welder (no witnesses) or three heavy equipment operators (pack mentality)? I start to feel slightly guilty about my elitist prejudice. These are probably very nice men who would just as soon come to my aid if I needed it. But…I’m a good Calvinist and I believe in the total depravity of every man. Am I crazy for being out here without a concealed handgun to defend myself?
Further down the trail. I do not seem to have been followed. I allow myself to enjoy the sun shining on the different colored grasses, and scope out prime spots for this year’s Christmas card picture.
30 minutes and 1.25 miles later, I come to the end of the trail. It dead ends at a different busy road. I make a mental note that if I ever have an emergency on the second half of the trail, I can flag down help here.
Triumphantly, I tap my sneakered foot agains the curb and do an about-face. Now Abby is facing away from the sun and I open up her stroller shade to let her enjoy the fresh breeze.
About halfway back down the trail, I spy two moms pushing their strollers in my direction. As we get closer, I want to salute them, “Hello, fellow brave travelers!” But I settle for eye contact and a smile. One of the moms is also walking a dog that she calls Bella. This gets me thinking about Twilight, which is a pleasant way to spend the next quarter of a mile.
Past the bulldozing workmen, past the spillway, past the litter. Before long I can see the welder working industriously at the entrance. He seems to have made good progress down the railing, which makes me almost 100% certain that he has not been following me this whole time. His back is to me, and he startles a little when he hears me approaching. “You scared me,” he laughs as I walk past. Ironic.
I am now walking beside the busy street, and now I’m back in the parking lot. I get Abby strapped into the back seat, and the stroller stowed in the trunk. We drive off toward home, unscathed and stronger than ever before.
This post was originally published on October 24, 2009.