I was raised as a “free range child,” not like the children of today. We were not fenced into our yards, but enjoyed roaming the neighborhood and town at our leisure. Our parents rarely knew exactly where we were and, without cell phones or social media check-ins, we were essentially untrackable. We were free, I tell you, free.
I have fond memories of times well before second grade when we lived in the country and we walked out of our house, often barefoot, and wandered the creek and woods in search of anything exciting. It was nothing for us “free range children” to wander acres of woods only to return home to eat if we felt hungry. We could travel miles without our parents ever knowing. M-I-L-E-S! If our parents needed us, they called us – not with phones, of course, but with their hands cupped around their mouths as they hollered our names into the wild. Like animals, sometimes we came when we were called, and sometimes we didn’t. If we didn’t, the parents usually took it as a sign that we were not yet hungry and they simply continued to go about their business.
When my family moved into town, we remained “free range”. It was only the range that changed. We enjoyed walking to Main Street for lunch, shopping at general stores, and visiting local -small -town museums. We explored grave yards, brick paths, church gardens, and train tracks. We could be gone an entire day by foot or bike and never even think twice about our parents wondering where we were. Why? Because they didn’t wonder where we were. The only protocol (and this rang true with every family back then) was that all children should be accounted for by dark. If you saw the sun dipping in the sky, it was time to go home. Time had nothing to do with it. We didn’t have to wear watches.
I wish I could raise “free range children” today, but the world is different now. I cannot imagine letting my nine –year- old or even my eleven –year- old wander free from sunrise to sunset without me ever knowing where they were…but sometimes I wish it for them. And so sometimes we go on adventures where the three of us become free range children together. We find some of the few places left in this modern world where nature is vast and open and we lose our day in it. We climb beneath the hollows of great magnolia trees and pick up the glossy over-sized leaves and climb through the twisting branches. We find trees with fruit offerings that we cannot decipher and cut one open and smell the citrusy inside and guess at its identity. We blow dandelions and make wishes and we analyze seed pods and we follow baby bunnies in the hopes of locating their homes. We point out the shapes in the clouds and toss rocks and search for honeysuckle. I watch them wander and explore and I can see their worries drift away with the dandelion feathers. I don’t tell them how times have changed since I was a kid because they don’t need to know that and I don't rush them into the next moment. We let spring take us by the hand and pull us wherever it wants to take us. I have to remind myself to make time to allow them more days like this – more days as free range children.