How Free?
David's journal from his bike trip.

When David was 17, he rode his 10-speed bike from his small town in Minnesota to Washington state, then down to California.


Please imagine this with me. Still in high school. No cell phones. No family stops along the way. One boy. One bike. The great unknown and hours and hours and hours by himself. Imagine all the things that could have gone wrong.

Except, nothing really did. He prepared his trip really well, he knew how to take his bike apart, fix it, and put it back together. He budgeted his money for food and supplies. He had family and friends send him letters at post offices along the way. He knew what he was doing and he did it. He confided in me that it was one of the hardest things he's done, but also one of the most rewarding. His mom once said, "I'm not really sure what we were thinking letting him go on that trip all by himself." And we've joked that it was a bit of stretch, his parents letting him do that all by himself. But David was (and is) pretty responsible and was (and is) really great at planning travel. So it all worked out.

If you're not a frequent reader of Free Range Kids, then you should be. I absolutely love that blog and read it often to get a dose of parenting reality. I think, as a parent, I fall somewhere in the middle. Pretty protective in some areas, and super lenient in others. If you've been to our house you know we are surrounded by trees, rocks, and the occasional cactus. Sometimes people will come to our house and be visiting with me and suddenly gasp, "Your children! They're going to kill themselves!" I follow their gaze and see my kids hanging from trees, jumping off giant rocks, and sitting precariously close to places where Black Widow spiders most likely live. For me, when my kids are outside I really don't care what they do. I want them to ride their bikes around the neighborhood by themselves, get to know strangers (like our neighbors), play, get filthy dirty, and build things with hammers and nails. I want them to (and I let them) ride elevators by themselves and meet me at the top. I want them to (and I let them) go into the grocery store with money, pick up some milk, pay for it, and meet me back at the car. I want them to (and I let them) be out of my sight for long periods of time and solve their own problems. Right now Zinabu is in the kitchen cutting his own apple with (gasp) a knife! These sound like such little things, but in today's version of parenting, they're monumental.

Would I let Carver, at age 17, ride his bike to Maine? Probably not. But I always hope I am the kind of parent that lets my children stretch their wings, test the water, loosen the apron strings, and gain some independence without me always hovering over them, making sure their grapes are forever cut in half or that they have clean socks.

It's all about balance.


Mama Papaya said...

Okay, I am not sure about the cross country bike trip, but the rest - YES! Great reminder, mama.

I remember heading out first thing in the morning and turning up only at meal times as a pretty young child. These days you send your 5 year old to the bathroom (that you can clearly see) by herself and people scold you.

They need to be free and I need to be better about (slapping a helmet on them and) sending them off on their way.

jenlyn said...

This is an area I have some growing to do and some balance to find. I was allowed to roam free as a kid and was abused when I was 9 and again when I was 11 and ....well, that kind of thing marks you. So, I definitely am protective, especially in the stranger regard. I was not equipped as a child to keep that from happening; and I believe I have equipped my kids, but still, I keep them close to home.
This definitely gives me something to think about.
I love your blog, Cathy!

jayme said...

That is completely awesome!

I didn't bike across the country, but I did enjoy quite a bit of freedom when I was growing up. During the summers I left in the morning and just had to be home when the streetlights came on. We neighborhood kids were a motley crew and loved spending our days exploring this old abandoned mansion and its grounds -- the only undeveloped piece of land within walking distance.

As a teenager, as soon as I got my driver's license, I was going on road trips. I remember that my parents had to make the hotel reservations for me, and I got hassled a little bit by hotel managers who couldn't believe a 16 year old was traveling alone.

I'm not sure when that transition of being super overprotective of kids until they're at least 18 began. 50-60 years ago in america (and right now in most other countries) kids much younger than that are already shouldering the responsibilities of adults.

I try really hard to walk that fine line between protecting my kids from the world and giving them the tools they need in order to protect themselves. It's hard, but I think it's so, so important that children have an opportunity to find their own meaning in this amazing world.

hotflawedmama said...

that is amazing. David and I talked a bit about this when I was in CO as well. Zach and I want our kids to do some sort of "coming of age" trip when they get about 17ish as well. We talked about doing just a father/son or mother/son father/daughter mother/daughter trip as well. I love the idea of them learning so intimately that we trust them, that the world is good and that at some point they're going to get through life the way THEY plan and not the way WE do.

Love you!

Chatter said...

This is great advice and such a good reminder. I am overly cautious and some areas and more laid back in others. Like you said, life is about balance. I'm definitely checking out the blog you linked on the post. Thank you!

Waiting for Zufan! said...

Yes! I let my 11 (now 12) year old ride her bike to target to buy hamster bedding or whatever this summer (with her cell phone along), and my mom thought that was way too dangerous. I feel like it is fine. Yeah, it is all about balance, but I do let my kids do a lot of things some other kids aren't allowed to do. But I agree, no biking across the country alone! Scary.