Free Range Grandparents

William was bouncing on my bed. I knew this because he was bellowing at the top of his lungs “Look at ME, grandma! I’m jumping on your bed!”

I continued putting the pillows into fresh pillow cases. “You’re getting pretty high” but before I could finish my sentence, he bounced into the footboard of the bed. There was a clunk. His hands went to his mouth, his eyes were shocked and wide, and his grandma nearly had a heart attack. Envisioning broken teeth or blood or something, I dove for him the same moment he began to shriek.

I was very relieved to find a small abrasion on his chin and nothing more. I scooped him up with soothing words and we headed for the kitchen and a boo-boo pack from the freezer.

We sat on the couch and he had a very good five minute cry as I rocked him and snuck a couple more looks to make sure that there was no major damage that I’d somehow missed. Nothing. Thank God. But in that moment I took the opportunity to berate myself for my carelessness even though I had been standing right at the side of the bed putting pillowcases on the pillows.

I was also thinking that maybe four was too big to be jumping on the bed. Before I could say this, William pulled the ice pack from his chin. “It is very dangerous to jump on the end of the bed,” he announced seriously. “I will jump in the middle of the bed. I don’t need ice anymore. I feel better.”

I said, “Good,” and he scooted off to put the ice pack back into the freezer for next time (and without a doubt, there will be a next time).

I watched him go and marveled at his practicality.

Have you heard about the so-called ‘Free Range Parents’ in Maryland? They have two children, ages 6 and 10, who were held in protective custody well past their bedtimes because their parents allowed them to walk home from an area park unsupervised. It is not the first time that the parents have been warned about this so charges of neglect are being mulled.

But to listen to these parents tell their side of things, they don’t sound neglectful to me. They have a real problem with those hovering overprotective ‘helicopter’ parents. Their oldest child was, after all, 10. Their kids sound intelligent, resourceful and sensible. That’s not a bad thing.

When we walk with William, we’ve begun not to hold his hand. We are certainly near enough to grab him if we have to. Well before every intersection, we prompt him. “What do we do up here at the street?”

He will tell you that we need to stop. He will look both ways. Being a ‘better safe than sorry’ sort of dude, he will see a car stopped at a light two blocks away and tell you not to cross. We will have a discussion about whether we have the time to cross safely. When he does cross the street, more likely than not he will be shrieking, “RUN!!! Run for your life!!!”

The end goal of this training is that someday William will be crossing the street alone. Not when he’s four, of course, but when he does, we want him to be able to do it safely. And maybe without the “RUN!!! Run for your life!!!” Those two things.

The goal of any good parent should be fostering independence in a child. Just my opinion. I know that some very protective (grand)parents feel that they are doing what they need to be doing for their (grand)children too, and it’s not my place to tell them they are wrong, even though I might believe it with all my heart.

But turnabout is fair play, don’t you think?

This means if a parent has made the decision that their children are old enough to walk to the playground by themselves, if said children are well fed and happy, bearing no signs of abuse, if they are dressed appropriately, confidently walking down the street in a safe manner, well, I think that getting in the middle of that is wrong.

With all of the cases of child abuse in Maryland, protective custody for these kids was deemed necessary, yet there are scores of cases in which children have died at the hands of their parents, children who might have been saved if only someone had decided that those were the children who needed protective custody.

Things have changed a lot since I was a child.

My parents never gave it a second thought when we disappeared for hours on end to play unsupervised in the woods or in the creek. In the days before hand sanitizer and cell phones and the like, we played for long stretches. We always came home dirty and tired. Minor injuries were often ignored, lest our mother get out the dreaded bottle of mercurochrome. That was life.

I know that is not the world of today. It’s kind of sad, isn’t it?