Running wild

I've been re-reading Swallowdale by Aurthur Ransome, a lovely old hardback copy from the Coburg market. I adored this series as a child and read and reread each one several times. Every so often I come by one in my travels as an adult and they are the ultimate comfort re-read. There's something very gentle about them, even though the children face danger and have adventures, they have a meandering pace and well, a niceness about them. Most of the stories take place outside the adult world, although there is a sense that the children are being watched and supported by sympathetic adults. They camp, cook for themselves, go sailing and are generally very self-sufficient.

As a child I used to ponder maps such as these and compare them with the mental maps I had of my own places. We were allowed to roam freely from quite a young age and were lucky to have permanent bushland and a creek (albeit polluted) out the back gate and across the paddock. Features of the landscape were given names and invested with meanings known only to us. We built cubbies, dammed the creek, dug caves, climbed cliffs, observed plants growing and explored every nook and cranny of all that land bounded by the roads we weren't allowed to cross. There were feuds with other bands of kids, followed by alliances, then more feuds. We dreamed up projects and made expeditions.

So it's probably no accident that my favourite books and series were those in which children had their own worlds, largely independent of adults. I'm thinking  of the Narnia chronicles, the Famous Five, I am David, and one book, the title of which I've forgotten, in which several children fend completely for themselves over summer and cook their meals in a hay box while hiding from the childrens services. We didn't often play games based on these books, but I'm sure that they fed our sense of adventure. I asked my mum if she worried about us free ranging around the neighbourhood and she said of course she did, and that she would sometimes watch us from a distance until she was sure we would be OK. She said that they had made a conscious decision to allow us this sort of freedom, that they'd both had childhoods with freedom to roam and wanted the same for us. It's not like we were allowed to do anything we wanted though. As a moody thirteen year old, I was allowed to ramble around the bush by myself for hours on end but not allowed to go into the city and meet friends at Flinders Street station by myself. My father came with me and watched from the car until he was sure everything was above board.

Em wrote this post the day before yesterday and I've been following the comments. It's got me thinking quite hard about what sorts of freedoms I want for Grace. I don't believe that the world has become substantially more dangerous than when we were children. We've become more safety conscious (I'm sure I'm not the only one with memories of bassinets strapped to the back seat and parents fagging on in the front) and more aware of possible danger but I don't think that there are more people who wish to do harm to children than before. We're just more afraid of them. I don't want to keep Grace inside, or only in the backyard or going from scheduled activity to scheduled activity. Already I know that this isn't what I want for Grace. Even now she has her own agenda and wants to spend time out of my orbit, and having cleared the area of obvious hazards, I'm happy for her to go her own way. She's still very little so I do watch her, but I try to be unobtrusive about it. When she's older, say middle primary school, I'm going to have to contemplate whether we'll let her go and ride her bike in the park by herself or with friends. Which places she'll be allowed to escape to.

Already I'm looking about our inner urban environment and wondering where it is that kids go to play, or if they do. I once saw a cubbie house in the nearby dog walking park, but it didn't last long. There's a creek but it's concrete and kind of closed in. I don't feel safe walking there so I don't see that I'd allow Grace to play there even if she wanted to. There's some scruffy bits of Royal Park with BMX tracks, but it's quite far away. I guess we'll have to see when the time comes. At least we'll be able to go and stay at a friend's house in the country, there's lots of good rambling and roaming areas there. The whole idea terrifies me but I wouldn't want her to be a young adult having had no experience of making decisions or looking after herself, or even sometimes having to get herself out of trouble.


shula said...

Don't get me started, I have so much trouble with this issue. I had the world's most free childhood, for which I am eternally grateful, but can't let my 12 year old out of my sight without fretting myself sick. It's my Achilles Heel.

Sheree said...

I also had a very free childhood. We lived in the 'burbs so no running thru the woods for us...but we spent plenty of time sans adult supervision, playing games, building tents and making mud pies in the the backyard. I remember hours of bike riding and no parents around till dusk arrived. We used to ride our bikes to the beach- 5miles each way on a major road- daily during the summer.
There's no way I'd allow myself to do those things nowadays if I was a parent. Too many sickos out there- and I don't think I'm being paranoid. When a child can be snatched from their bed while parents are sleeping in another room....*shudder*
But at the same time I worry that my boys don't have enough unsupervised play time. Of course I supervise them now since they are so young- but I would like them to have plenty of time running in a kidpack like I used to as a child. I think it's so important for kids to do that.
Now, just to figure out *where* and *when* that's going to happen!

suki said...

My sister and I would hide in our rooms and make believe different things. As long as we didn't get hurt or end up in a fight, it was okay. Growing up in a city, I know what you mean... Where do the kids go to play - unsupervised? Not many. Maybe that's why as a kid, I used to read so much.

em said...

You mentioned the very books I'd been thinking of and you've discussed the topic so much more eloquently than me!
If the world is not actually a more dangerous place, I wonder why we are more afraid now? The obvious answer is the media... are there any other causes?

sooz said...

Such a challenge. I agree with you on every front, and I share your search for the place to explore.
Just last weekend when we were camping D and I were both reflecting how camp grounds were one of the first places we were given unfetted freedom and told to return at meal times.

suse said...

I am thrilled beyond belief about the Arthur Ransome books - I have blogged so many times about them. I have every single book in the series and know them almost by heart. And I'm gradually reading them to our boys - a chapter per night, with occasional breaks for something else before we start the next book. We're up to 'Secret Water' right now.
I used to sail a wooden clinker-built boat just like the Swallow, so I used to imagine I was Susan or Titty, sailing away to camp on an island and have adventures.
Re our children having freedom to roam - that is partly why we moved out here. We have an acre of wilderness where the boys can build cubbies and 'bases' and get right away from us. There's also national park at the end of the road and they can explore there too. A friend said yesterday 'aren't you terrified of snakes?' to which I replied yes, but we have rules about clothing and they know what to do and I don't want to ban them from going out there all summer.
So there are urban and bush terrors to deal with ... both scary.

susozs said...

It's very hard when you have an only child to let them have that freedom - as all the other parents don't! Just last week another parent left a sour taste in my mouth by requesting that we not let their child go to the nearby park with our child on their own, which I *would* allow.
I also loved all the Arthur Ransome books. And today we were listening to a CD version of the Famous Five before school - even better as an audio story than the written ones.

Penni said...

Ddi you ever read Charley by Joan G. Robinson? That was my favourite of the kids surviving on their own books. I was unsupervised and free to roam my bush suburb from a very young age. I fret about this now, as there's such a trend to supervise, and I really like the idea of Fred and Una having access to some wild spaces. But like you, I'm not sure how this works in the inner city, or even in the suburbs, especially when other parents have much tighter controls.
I am inclined to blame media for the current trends. I think we have more of a sense (in a pop-pyschology, fictionalised kind of way) of the psychology of violence - I think there's a real belief in the 'predator' this kind of modern day boogie man that parents worry about more than kids. I think it's partly news media and partly shows like Law and Order, that create this sense of an intense geography of violence - look at how many terrible things happen in a small country town in Blue Heelers. And then of course globalisation makes us feel connected to terrible things that happen in London, New York, Istanbul...
I'd love to find a solution to this. I don't want my children to grow up supervised and scrutinised, particularly because I think kids need unstructured play and adults suck at that.