The kids found a wood pile in our neighbour’s back drive. The tree grew at a very odd angle that sent large branches very low over the neighbour’s parking spot. Presumably this was a point of contention between the two neighbours and during one of our back-alley parties, we watched while one set of neighbours cut the tree was back dramatically and tossed all the wood under the tree trunk next door. The pile sits there, untouched.
Two days ago my kids discovered it for themselves. The seven-year-old next door knows all its caves and paths and ramparts. While they were out riding bikes I momentarily lost track of Malli and then found him perched on a log within the pile about three feet up. He looked elated. Akka abandoned her bike and followed him into the fray. The seven-year-old snuck underneath some brush and popped up near them.
My first instinct was to snap “Get down from there! It’s dangerous!” Something held my tongue and I just watched for a few minutes. They were thrilled. They were very pleased with themselves. They tested their footing and were overall, quite careful.
I am charmed by the movement of what’s being called free-range parenting and free-range kids. I’m a little surprised that there’s so much fuss about it – most of the ideas are common sense: let your kids play, let them learn things on their own, back the hell off. I believe that, but it’s harder than I thought to implement it. We chose our kids’ school because it’s within walking distance. I envision a day when I will walk the kids as far as the sidewalk and then wave and watch them trot off down the block. I don’t want to hover and smother and micro-chip them. However, when they found the wood pile, my first thought was to get them off it. I had to imagine my own firm grip on my own shoulder and told myself to back the hell off, watch and see what they could do.
Then I saw the wood pile for what it was: something fun. Something not very dangerous at all. One of those childhood play areas that appear huge and thrilling and filled with adventure when you’re three and four. I remember, at sixteen, going back to visit a place where I’d lived from age four to six. I longed to find the gully we used to play in, my head filled with its high walls and small caverns and dusty rocks concealing poisonous scorpions. When we came up to it, it was little more than a ditch. Hardly the castle of adventure I remembered. I think this wood pile will be that gully for my kids. They’ll wander by one day as teenagers and think ‘Is that all? That place used to be awesome‘.