We are fortunate to live in a neighbourhood where it seems unlikely anyone will phone Child Protective Services for allowing one's children to do a little healthy free-ranging. Actually, if you are thinking of having, or already have, children and are committed to the free range but fear your neighbourhood might not be well-suited to it, call me - real estate here is well priced and the free-ranging is fine. Plus I'm a good person to live near: I won't stop by unannounced; I will bring you food on occasion; and I basically always have the ingredient you're missing. Win-win!
But back to free-ranging. Small Fry is actually experiencing a version of the childhood everyone seems to look back on fondly, but few people seem to be able to re-create for their own kids. He gets to and from the local school by himself, with his own muscles, and he roams and plays freely after school and on weekends with an assortment of pals. What do they get up to for, like, thirty unsupervised hours a week? For the most part, I do not know because I am not there.
From the breathless snippets I do hear, it all seems very wholesome and distinctly boy-ish: there seems to be a lot of street hockey, soccer, Nerf wars, climbing, digging, and dumpster-diving for "supplies" (for fort construction and boxsledding, natch). Also, interestingly, the occasional cricket match. I hear most of this in passing, usually as an offhand comment Small Fry makes while telling a different and often less-interesting story:
'Wait wait wait - did you just say boxsledding?'
'... A garbage fort?'
'Whoa, what candy stash?' 'Just... in the ground?'
This is all very fascinating to me but I don't want him to clam up so I don't pry, and I try really hard not to intervene. I did learn where I draw the line one day when he popped in 'just to borrow a lighter': I draw the line at accidentally burning anything down. So if this is all giving anyone anxieties (*cough* grandparents who literally never supervised us and we did have lighters, plus your secondhand smoke and no helmets or seatbelts, etc. *cough*), y'all can rest easy now.
Currently Small Fry and a couple of pals are digging a tunnel. I noticed he had been tracking in a lot of leaves and rocks the past few days and asked him to sweep up: 'Oh, sorry Mom, I was underground.'
Hm... it may be time for me to request a tour of this tunnel. All kids think they're digging tunnels, but given Small Fry's admirable dedication to digging efforts in the past, I suspect I might have to shut down operations and - as I understand this possibly-actual-tunnel is located in a public park - perhaps provide an anonymous 3-1-1 tip.
Probably none of this seems terribly surprising - Small Fry is a nine-year-old boy, after all. So in closing, I offer up the free-range story that I think speaks best to the secret, rich emotional lives of kids, and one that couldn't have happened without his ranging free:
'How was your day?'
'Well, Dexter couldn't come outside 'cause he has an eye infection and so does his brother and David wasn't home and I couldn't find the twins that I can't tell which is which, so I went to the bus stop and got one of those free newspapers and climbed on top of the shed** and read it.'
Probably thinking of all the other times he's ever tried to read a Metro - which is to say, sprawled underfoot while I am trying to cook supper and he is supposed to be lining the compost bin with said publication - he paused thoughtfully for a moment, then said:
'It was relaxing. I think I'll do it again a different day.'
** We do not have a shed.