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Free-Ranging

March 2, 2011

I can kill a two birds (I WISH!) with one blog title today.  First, we fenced in our little chicken flock so they don’t have full run of the back yard.  It sounds nice, to let the birds roam freely but they scratch the crap out of every square inch of yard, then crap on it.  They pull the leaves off the trees we are trying to establish, and jump the fence around our meager garden.  SO we made a fenced area, about 12 X 14 ft which is in addition to their 4 X 10 foot covered run…still a zillion times better than a battery cage or even one of those giant “free-range” barns where your boutique brand Cage-Free eggs come from.  They squawked like mad the first few days but now they are settling in. I threw several piles of Palo Verde leaves into the pen to give them something to mess with, since their default activity is to scratch everything to death.  We’ve also been more regular about giving them greens and food scraps, which makes them happy and seems to bolster their laying schedule.  Apparently we are extra lucky here in the desert, that the hens lay through the winter.  Several blogs I read are by ladies who also raise hens, and their recent posts about the approaching Spring include references that their hens are starting to lay again.  Dang.  If they stopped laying, I’d stop feeding!  No deposit, no return ladies!!  (just kidding…maybe).

I have also been reading a book called “Free-Range Kids” by Lenore Skenazy.  She was dubbed “America’s Worst Mom” after admitting in public that she let her 9 year old son ride the NYC subway alone (at his request and fully prepared with map, money, phone, etc).  Now she is an advocate for letting kids be the kind of kids WE were, and having adventures and growing up into confident, self-reliant people.  Skenazy abhors helicopter parenting and what she calls curling parenting (curling is that weird winter sport where the players frantically sweep the ice in front of the puck thingy to try to give it the straightest, smoothest path to the goal line.)  She wrote the book to debunk many of the culture myths that have caused people to start raising their kids in bubbles (supposedly skyrocketing rates of child abduction, poisoned Halloween candy, etc.) as well as cultural trends that she feels limit kids (mostly too much TV/computer/video games).

This morning, I had an anti-free-range experience; I rode my bicycle to Trader Joes, pulling LM behind me in the Burley trailer and we were on our way home, riding down a side street past a grade school.  We weren’t going very fast, so I heard a little voice call out “can you hand me my pencil!?”  I made a quick, controlled stop and propped the bike and Burley against the curb so I could help.  It was a little girl with a teacher and maybe 5 other kids standing standing in the corner of the big playground lot behind the school, doing some kind of activity because they all had paper and pencils.  Except for this little girl, who (in the mysterious way of school children) had somehow propelled her glittery green pencil through the eight foot chain link fence that surrounded the play lot and onto the sidewalk.  I picked up the pencil and handed it though the fence and the teacher prompted the girl “what do you say?”  “THANK YOU” she shrieked, and jogged away.  The teacher thanked me again as I got back on my bike and I waved.

A quick glance around the school and play lot told me that yes, the whole lot was enclosed by this eight foot fence, except for one gate on the far side that lets out to a parking lot  belonging to the church next door.  The poor kid had no way to pick up a pencil, for goodness sake!  This school is in a decent part of town, so there is no reason for there to not be at least a GATE in the fence.  The grade school I went to didn’t have any fence around the playground or fields, and unlike the school I passed this morning that was bounded by streets and parking lots, the field in my grade school backed up to all houses, at least 16 or so.  A lot of those houses had bushes or tree fences, but very few actual fences.  We didn’t go into the yards, because the teachers said “don’t go into the yards. Stay on the playground.”  Ok. And there was always one or two teachers roaming the field to yell if you strayed.

I’m not going to recap the whole book, but the anecdotes sent to author by overprotective parents are hilarious, and the statistics that she finds (or lack thereof) are really telling and appeal to the capitalist-conspiracy theorist in me.  Did you know?  There is not one single documented case of a child becoming sick or dying from poisoned or otherwise booby-trapped Halloween candy.  Ever.  Skenazy turned up two cases, one where a father killed his own son with a poisoned Pixi Stix to collect insurance money, and one where a 5 year old got into his parents heroin stash and died so they sprinkled some heroin on candy and pretended that a stranger had given the candy to the child.  The truth came out quickly in both cases, and in both cases the parents ended up admitting that they thought they’d get away with it because kids die from poisoned candy all the time, right?  No, actually.  Yet, a whole industry of safety products has come into existence because of the idea that Halloween is the prime time for random psychos to try to murder your child.  Hmm.

Anyway, I’m going to try my best to make sure that LM has more freedom that most kids being raised nowadays.  I got a lot of freedom as a child, and it made me confident and self-reliant so I want to pass that on.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 2, 2011 8:21 pm

    You are the second person to recommend that book so I should probably add it to my list. (At least once I read down my current pile a bit.) That said, my parents were pretty good about letting my sister and I roam and I’m already letting Audrey have a bit more freedom. Obviously, she’s not going on the subway or whatever, but when we are at the park if she wants to wander off in the field that’s fine as long as she doesn’t go up the rocks towards the street (no fence). At this point I also don’t stand next to her while she’s playing because she’s learned what she can handle and what she can’t. Obviously, I stay where I can see her and will sometimes give her a verbal reminder of the boundaries, but that’s all it takes at this point. When she was younger and the park was less familiar I stayed a lot closer to her, but as she has learned her limits I find it isn’t needed so much. That said, even as a kid I assumed that the Halloween candy stories were an excuse for parents to dig through their kids candy so they had an idea how much sugar their kids were likely to consume in the next couple of days and if limits on that were needed.

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