When I was eight I years old I spent my summer shooting BB’s at everything that moved, and everything that didn’t. When the gun ran dry, I cocked it back, aimed, and blew the crap out of ant hills with the powerful puff of air that came from the tip. I rolled down steep grassy hills, curled inside of tires. I battled five foot snakes on the trail to the garden, crawled through snake and poisonous spider infested grass forts and hung out on the peak of my best friends roof, two stories up.
And then I moved to Alaska where at nine, with no weapon, no jingle bells on my shoes, no pepper spray within miles, I romped the wild wilderness from one end of Kasilof to the other, only occasionally running face to face with a moose…and then I’d just turn and romp the other way. I stepped over the bear poo and just kept walking and I rode my three-wheeler of death until the tires wore thin, no helmet, no rules, no care in the world.
At the bottom of the hill on which I grew up there was an old water well, covered haphazardly with some half rotten plywood. An ancient garden hose stuck out from one corner where the original inhabitants of our land must have fetched the water for their cabin. My friends and I used to flop the plywood off, gaze down into the deep, black, hole, while sucking icy water from the siphon hose. It never dawned on us there was no filter on the other end nor that if we plummeted to the bottom, our buddy would most likely just plop the plywood back into place for fear of guilt by association.
We swam in glacier water with no dry suit, rowed around a nearby lake with no life jackets, and spun donuts on the snow machine while our buddy hung onto a rope thirty feet back, bouncing across the snowy fields as if nobody had ever been skewered in such a way.
And never once did it occur to me to wonder…what the heck was my mother thinking?
Am I the only parent who could have walked a tightrope over the Grand Canyon and had a mother who would have waved and went back to her baking, but won’t let my own kid venture down the front steps without a safety harness and a crash helmet?
I know the world has changed, people are stranger, or at least thanks to the World Wide Web, we are more aware they are out there. I know the population has grown; there are more cars on the roads than there were thirty years ago. Statistically, the odds are greater of something going wrong. But are the bears thicker? Are the moose more cranky? Are the wolves that tread the paths outside my home any more likely now than they were a generation ago, to scare the bejeebus out of a kid? I doubt it.
And yet, I watch my kids, even when we take them up to our 40 acres of wilderness, look back in my direction as they creep further and further into the trees, wondering how long I’ll let them stretch the leash. And even as I hammer on the roof or run the sawmill, I am aware of how many steps lie between myself and the 45 and where each child is in relation to a safe zone.
In first grade I rode my bike down paved city streets, at least ten blocks, to play with a friend. By third grade, my husband had his own paper route in a city of a hundred thousand people. And yet Luke…at nine…is not allowed to cross the empty dirt road that runs beside my house.
It’s the times, they say. Things are a-changin’. It’s not like it used to be. The world is a different place.
All I know is it’s time to lift the wing a bit. Let them stretch their boundaries; explore their world with less constraints and more curiosity. Give a little slack in that leash…not take it off (just in case I need to pull them back up the cliff)…but a little more leeway to make choices.
To ride like the wind, to see what’s on the other side of the road…and to drink from the depths of the well.