Saturday, November 7, 2015

Safety vs. Freedom

Last night I read A Pocketful of Cricket (by Rebecca Caudill) to Sean as a bedtime story. For the most part he does a fantastic job of paying attention, though he tends to be more interested in watching my face than in looking at the pictures. Which is very flattering to me!

Anyway, A Pocketful of Cricket is a very sweet story about a little boy named Jay who finds a cricket on his way home from bringing in the cows, and makes it his friend, and ends up bringing it with him on his first day of school. In his dark pocket, Cricket starts fiddling ("Chee, chee," fiddled Cricket!) and when Teacher realizes that Jay is the one with the cricket, she asks him to put it outside. Jay just sits and looks at his desk, finally pleading that he wouldn't be able to find Cricket again. "You could find another cricket, couldn't you?" asked Teacher. Jay shook his head. "It wouldn't be this one," he said. Teacher realizes that Cricket is not just any old cricket, he is Jay's friend, so she asks Jay to bring Cricket up and talk about him for Show-and-Tell.

I remember my mom reading A Pocketful of Cricket to my brother and sister and me, so of course there's special memories attached to reading it now to Sean. But I couldn't help thinking about several things about the story after we were through: Jay is six years old. And in the story, it's his job to walk down a lane, wade across a creek, walk through a cornfield, and climb over a rail fence into the cow pasture to bring home the cows every evening. The story also mentions that he can whittle, which means he has a pocket knife. He puts himself to bed at night. On his first day of school, he meets the bus by himself at the mailbox at the end of the road. When he gets to school, the driver tells him where to go. He introduces himself to the teacher.

And he's six years old. Given the media and CPS frenzy that ensued when a ten year old and his six year old sister walked home from the park, I wondered if anyone who freaks out at the idea has ever read classic children's books. Remember Henry Huggins and Beezus and Ramona? Those kids were out walking and riding their bicycles all over town. They were building clubhouses (with real hammers and nails and old boards!!) and earning money by having paper routes. One of my favorite series, by Elizabeth Enright, features the Melendy family. It's set during World War II, and in the first book thirteen year old Mona, twelve year old Rush, and ten-and-a-half year old Randy individually traipse around New York City. When their six-year-old brother Oliver imitates them and goes by himself to the circus and gets lost, of course everyone panics a bit, but a policeman finds him and brings him home, none the worse for wear. There is no Child Protective Service investigation.

When I was growing up and scribbling stories in my notebooks, the elder members of my family would tease me for being morbid because, so often, the children who were the main characters were orphans. What I've realized now is that it wasn't morbidity, but rather the only way I could think of for allowing my children to be independent enough to go out and have adventures. My black-and-white conscience couldn't square with letting my characters disobey orders from well-meaning adults to stay put. So I neatly solved the moral dilemma by killing the parents off, thus freeing the children to have adventures with a clear conscience.

I have lots of dreams for Sean's childhood. One of them is that Sean will be able to experience a lot more freedom and independence than what is now socially the norm. I want him to be confident and ready to engage with the world around him, not hanging back fearfully. I want him to talk to strangers. I want him to know that yes, there are dragons in the world, but those dragons can be killed!  I want him to know that his father and I love him so, so much, and that while of course we want him to be safe, physical safety isn't the ultimate goal of existence. I want him to know we long for him to be capable and smart and use the brain that God gave him to do fun and interesting and yes, sometimes, risky things. I want to ruthlessly kill that part of my spirit that would selfishly smother Sean with my own fears and prevent him from learning how to be his own person. I want to slay that part of me that prizes my own peace-of-mind above my son's actual well being. I want to remember that most things worth doing carry elements of challenge or risk. I want to raise a son who is ready by the time he is a young man to get out and have adventures and do what he feels God is calling him to do, even if it might seem risky.

And who knows what that will look like? I don't know exactly, but I have ideas. The first step will probably be letting him go for a boat ride with his Grandaddy next year, once he's big enough to fit into a life jacket. Honestly, that idea is not attractive to me. But Sean's life isn't about my peace of mind, is it?

Right now, he's four months old. He's dependent on Nate and me for everything. But I see that glint of determination in his eye as he practices sitting up, and I watched the triumphant expression on his little face when he finally mastered rolling from his back to his tummy. I can already see the grit and the stubbornness in his little personality, and all I can think is, Watch out, world! Sean is coming!


  1. I LOVE that you are already thinking about this, before the little man can even scoot around. This is something that is on my mind often. There are few contexts where it is deemed acceptable to allow children to experience risk... Yet is raising a generation with hearts crippled by fear really the right way to protect them? You really have to be intentional to parent against this current of anxiety and overprotectiveness, it's great that you are starting on that path!

  2. Annie, I love your comment, especially what you say about being intentional to parent against the current. Parenting out of fear just seems like a lousy life both for parent and child. Matthew 6:27 comes to mind.

  3. Lovely. And I totally agree! Although I also agree with Emily--it's difficult to navigate the parameters that society has established. How do we encourage our children, especially sons, to be adventurous and risky and courageous within those parameters? I don't think that a world that doesn't allow children to walk home from the park alone is a deal breaker. I think that nurturing our son's adventurous spirits will enable them to be risky within the boundaries set for them and will also help them determine what boundaries can be pushed against. I think that adventures aren't solely for "orphans," and that part of being a creative being is finding ways for our children to have adventures in our designated space.

    Also, for me, teaching my son to take other kinds of risks is equally or even more important--speaking up for the voiceless, standing up to bullies, defending the weak, loving the unlovable. Etc.

    Thanks for posting! A super fun read. I love reading about how you are finding your voice as a mother of a little boy!!