Monday, July 20, 2009

Letting Go in Colorado

I do really love the book and the concept of Free Range Kids, the idea that our children should enjoy the same freedoms and adventures that we had when we were young. The theory is great… but putting it into practice?

My childhood summers were spent in Colorado, weeks at a time with my grandmother at her cabin. My mother was often there, and my father joined when he could, though the bank was not generous with vacation time (two weeks, taken together, June through August, not at Christmas). I’m not really sure what my grandmother did all day, but we – my cousins, my brother and I – were free to wander, as long as we were safely tucked inside if it rained or if there was thunder, which was essentially every afternoon. Then we would be shut up in the sunroom with a deck of cards (to play “spite and malice”) and a TV, trying to make the motorized antenna point towards either Colorado Springs (a better bet in thunderstorms) or Denver (which had the more rerun-intensive channel).

The point of the whole area around the cabin – a 50-member-50-cabin community tucked in the middle of National Park land – was fishing. I could never understand who would want to spend time fishing when there was so much to explore. Our explorations took us all over the place. I’m sure my grandmother had no idea what we got up to – if she had known, she would never have let us wander. We rock climbed on piles of boulders, exploring the “lion’s den” (with no safety gear). We made forts at the base of trees which were not even on our property, rather on the next door property (but the owners were old and never there, which left their lake free for exploration). We took scrap lumber, never mind the rusty nails, and built a bridge to a rock in the lake. We pretended to smoke real cigarettes (unlit) in a cave until they got soggy and fell apart (well, actually, she did find out about that one and was not pleased…). We made garages and houses for our matchbox cars under the deck, possibly undermining the foundations. We played Kick-the-Can in the dark. We rode wagons down the hill at breakneck speed – without helmets, elbow or knee pads. And somehow we managed to do all of the above with nothing more than a few skinned knees… and one slight concussion…

So now I’m back, for the first extended stay at the cabin in years. This year I will be here a total of three weeks, something I haven’t done since high school. And now I have children of my own, and I want to share with them the joys of my youth. And I am afraid to let them go. Think of the dangers the mountains present – I helped the boys climb a rock and they raced to the top and danced around, never mind the 2-story drop on the far side. Benjamin loves the fishing, but I’m much happier when he stays on our end of the lake, where the marshes make it unlikely that he could fall in over his head. I tried to show Christopher the lion’s den, but chickened out when I realized that he might fall, and a fall on those boulders could be deadly. I haven’t taken the boys up the valley yet – and don’t want to send them alone for fear of mountain lions. And I would love for them to build a fort… preferably somewhere close to home! I’m working on it… but letting go is hard to do!

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