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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Free Range for Who?

Danger. Adventure. Thrill seeker. These are things I still aspire to, but have never quite managed. Well, yes, you can’t avoid danger all your life, and I have been in some pretty dicey (if not completely scary) situations. A short laundry list would include being  threatened with violence, in car accidents, nearly drowning, falling down stairs, being burglarized repeatedly and more. None of them were fun.

But I’m thinking about the danger that can feel almost thrilling, like you see in movies, but rarely happens in life. I’m thinking about the kind of crazy-romantic kind of scenes you want to find when you travel--but often do not. 

My friend Janet seems to find these kind of adventures, though. She is always going somewhere interesting--Costa Rica, Columbia, Paris, you name it--and recently invited me to a friend's house in El Salvador for a vacation sometime. After seeing the pictures and hearing about the house and how much writing she gets done and the restaurant next door with just-caught fish and the surfing, ocean, sky and moon, I am nearly desperate to go.  

And yes, I've read the WashPo article - but when my husband says he thinks it's a bad idea, I ask, "Don't writers need to get out of their comfort zones?"

My husband is having none of it. But listening to my friend's stories for years about all the places she's traveled have made me feel extremely jealous, and more than a little staid.

At times I tried to tell myself that because my friend isn't a parent and I am, she has been able to be more adventurous. But when Janet goes to El Salvador she usually goes with her friend Ellie and Ellie's young son, and they surf together. (Note to Ellie: I want you to be my mom.) 

But I tend to hang back as a parent, though I'm not really sure why. When my son was small, we took him to places where there was plenty to do and see. But you’d never have caught him in an abandoned house or back yard or woods somewhere (unless we didn’t know about it.) Of course, that’s what I did nearly every day of my childhood. 

Was there a house being built on the block somewhere, with loose boards, nails and sharp objects lying around? I was in it. How 'bout unsupervised fights with bullies? I once got sat on and nearly suffocated when I was seven. 

Then there was the so-called haunted, abandoned house where the window slammed as soon as you climbed inside and got stuck. That happened to my sister and I had to find another window to get her out. (Still one of my favorite childhood memories.)

But what happens to us (meaning me) when we have kids? Did all the adventurousness in my  body and soul vanish and get replaced by alarm bells going off every half minute? When my son had just learned to walk, I literally watched him step  into a pool (and get fished out again promptly by a very sweet teenager). But after that happened, I couldn’t let him go near another pool for a second by himself, could I?

Now that he's older and going to school in another state, I try not to spend every spare minute worrying about the danger/adventure/thrill seeking coming his way. In fact, I try not to spend too much time worrying about anything my son may be doing (and of course you know I do.) But that terrified mom response is starting, very slowly, to subside, and I’m most anxious to let her go. If only she would go.

I have come to the conclusion that the best way to send her packing is to go after more adventures and thrills of my own. Because writing them into books like The Beat on Ruby’s Street isn’t enough any more. At the very least, I need more stuff to write about.

And since El Salvador is calling... should(n't) I go?

Before I forget, though -- to learn more about the pros and cons of free range parenting, check out these articles: