Friday, October 15, 2010

Free Range At Fairy Tale Town

I'm not supposed to be blogging. But I did something really cool with Ben yesterday and I wanted to share the experience.

Last year, a controversial book called "Free Range Kids" came out and boy, did it stir up a media frenzy. Basically, the gist of the book is that we are hovering way too much over our children, and denying them the independence and autonomy that they need to grow into self-reliant adults. I believe the term "wimpy" was used, in regards to how kids today are turning out.


But what really got the media's attention was this:

The author put her 9-year-old child on the NYC subway. Alone.

But she did it carefully and strategically and with a good, solid plan. A lot of parents called her out as being negligent. "The Worst Mom of All Time" was her identity among some camps. She appeared on all the major news networks. Time Magazine picked up the story as its cover feature. I should know, my own dad bought me a copy and told my mother to make sure that I read it.

I did read it, and I agree very much with the author's position. In fact, if we had a reliable public transportation system, I'd probably empower Ben - in a few years - to ride downtown. Alone. But we don't, and that's a whole other issue.

So yesterday, another mom friend and I took our kids to Fairy Tale Town, which is a lovely and delightful park here in Sacramento. It is entirely gated and geared toward small children. In fact, adults who try to enter the park without a child are denied entry. I should know - Ben rode with the other mom and I met them inside the park. But not before I could prove that I indeed had a child who was waiting on the other side of the gate.

My friend, who has also followed the Free Range parenting concept, suggested that we let the boys (who are the same age) "do their own thing." With a couple of rules: don't go out the turn styles and check in with us periodically.

I had no idea how this was going to go because Ben has been dealing with some pretty significant issues around separation and just last week, had a minor panic attack when he discovered that I had left the house (I was pulling the trash cans to the curb). Nevertheless, I have encouraged Ben for a long time to explore the world on his own, even during those moments when he so clearly needed me to be in clear and constant site.

Contrary to what my dad might believe, I am not a helicopter parent. Nor do I want to be. Ben gets enough hover time from the adults in his life. More than enough.

Fairy Tale Town isn't Disneyland but it's not your average park, either. Most of the time, the boys were in places where we couldn't see them. Doing God knows what. But having a great time, nonetheless.

The "experiment" went beautifully. The two times that I checked in, they were obviously loving their new-found independence. At one point the other boy told me, "Ben got a little nervous a couple of times but I calmed him down."

I loved that.

Because, beyond the freedom that they experienced during our time at the park, the boys were also able to communicate with each other about their own perceptions of the experience.

Not once did Ben cry.

This victory from the child who, just days ago, freaked out in the Trader Joe's aisle, while getting his own sample, because, "I need to see you all the time, Mommy!"

I know a lot of moms - and I do mean a lot - who would not be on board with the "cut the kids loose" idea. Not even at our innocent little slice of paradise called Fairy Tale Town.

But it worked for me and it worked for my child. And I'll do it again, hopefully soon.

Of course, it goes without saying that this is just one more sign that my young child is getting older and gaining more confidence and will eventually not need me at all when he goes off to play.
I'm fine with that. I'm more than fine with that; I'm happy about that.

But this is also one more sign that Ben is on his way to being a self-assured boy who can navigate his own way through a very scary world. And I'm very, very happy about that.


Lish said...

Sometimes all it takes is a child's friend to tell them where it's at. :)

I haven't read the subway article, but I didn't totally gasp at the idea if the premise behind it is what if the child got lost and needed to know his way around the subway? And if the parents had run through it with him many times and I assume, met him somewhere at the end station.

But if they let the child just go somewhere on his own via subway, I would pause. I guess I should read it for myself.

monkey mama said...

Uumm, interesting. I haven't heard of the book or article. I would love to try that but don't think Aron would see the wisdom in it. He still escorts the boys to the bathroom and they're 10 and 8. I guess that's why we like the gym, the kids can run-a-muck and we don't have to worry.