I actually have about ten other things I should be doing right now. Instead of doing those things, however, I’m sitting on the back porch writing this while Mason covers himself in enough dirt to make Pig Pen from Peanuts look like the most sanitary person who ever lived. The reason behind this is pretty simple – I’m fuming over an article I just read, and rather than bother Daddy while he is actually working – I’ve decided to vent this frustration on here.
The article isn’t about special needs kids, autism, or any of the normal hoopla that would get my blood boiling, though it does involve a kid, so I guess that counts in a way, right? Anyway, the article was about two parents right here in the Sunshine State who were arrested and charged with felony neglect. You see a headline like that and the first thought that pops up is “Great, another shining example of the assholes that populate this state.”, or at least that was my first thought. Until I kept reading. These people – who I do not in fact believe to be actual asshole parents – were arrested because….
Their ELEVEN year old son was found playing basketball in his backyard unsupervised for an hour and a half.
Yeah, you read that right. And maybe you’re one of those people that sees a million things wrong with that – if you are, you should probably stop reading right now, because we aren’t going to see eye-to-eye on this one. Here’s the long and short of it: The parents were running late (caught in traffic, rain, whatever), and when the boy arrived home there was nobody there. It doesn’t say where he was to begin with, or how exactly he got home, but the point was, nobody was there. The kid didn’t have a key to his house, so instead, he hung around his back yard shooting hoops until his parents got home. A nosy-ass busybody neighbor (in my opinion) saw the kid out back playing alone and called the cops.
The parents arrived home and were promptly handcuffed, searched, and taken into custody, while the 11 year old and his 4 year old sibling (who I’m assuming was with the parents at the time) were taken into foster care. Where they bounced around from place to place for about a month after a relative decided he/she didn’t want to take care of the kids. I’m not going to get into all the details of the article – if you want to read it for yourself, feel free to check it out here.
Before I really get into why this pisses me off so much, allow me to suggest a ‘fun’ little experiment. Open up another tab, and Google “Parents arrested for child playing outside” – and tell me that the sheer number of different articles, cases, situations and stories doesn’t completely blow your mind. Because it blew mine. I found myself caught between wanting to hit something, and feeling like I was going to throw up.
What the hell is wrong with society these days?! Okay, legit neglect is a horrible thing, and every single person guilty of legitimately neglecting a child should be put in the stocks for the public to abuse at will. However, SO, so many times parents are being wrongfully accused of neglect because they allow their children to do something that all children should be allowed to do. Have a little bit of freedom. Play outside. Ride their scooters. Enjoy the playground.
Yes, there are an alarmingly massive amount of horrible people in the world. And there are far too many awful things that people do to other people. Nobody is denying that, on any level. But for crying out loud, when did we all become so f*ing paranoid that our children don’t even know what it feels like to have a sense of independence? I overhear people all the time, and see it on Facebook and social media… “Kids these days…” Everything from they have no manners, no self awareness, no world awareness, no common sense. They are selfish, greedy, entitled, too engrossed in electronics… well WHOSE FAULT IS THAT!?!?
I’ll tell you whose fault it is – ours. It is our fault. This generation of parents vacillates between one extreme and the other like it’s a flippin’ Olympic sport. We’re either “helicopter parents” or we are “neglectful, lazy parents”. Where did the middle ground go? When did we start calling parents who believe that being outdoors, using your imagination, getting some exercise, and learning to socialize without the use of a handheld device “free-range”? These are kids we are talking about here people, not chickens. Everything either must be organic or it’s going to kill you. There’s a serial killer, kidnapper, human trafficker or drug dealer behind every tree and bush. Our entire lives are documented for the public to view (um, hello fellow bloggers!), privacy is non-existent, and we act like petulant little brats when our posts, pictures, and tweets don’t get enough “likes”.
You know what my life looked like as an 11 year old kid? I basically lived outside. I spent all of my free time either in a tree reading a book (and I had multiple scars from falling out of those blasted trees), crashing my bicycle into a ditch, or running around the woods playing with my friends. Were there eyes on me the whole time? Not that I’m aware of, unless my mom & grandparents were capable of astral projection (which would actually explain a lot). Did I get hurt? Sure. I just told you I fell out of trees constantly and my bike was basically totaled at least once a week. But was I stupid? No. I knew the deal – stay away from traffic, pay attention to what is going on around you, trust your instincts, never go farther than this house or that corner, be back inside by dusk, and for the love of God, use your brain.
And oddly enough, I’m still here. I did (of course) sometimes cross the line, and I got myself into quite a few bits of trouble – because that’s what kids do. But I learned my lessons each time I was grounded and forced to stay inside. Being stuck inside watching tv on a beautiful day was a punishment. I gained a sense of independence by being given the chance to have some freedom. From 5th to 9th grade I used to walk the mile to and from school (which was entirely my choice by the way, the bus actually did come to my house, unlike the asinine way they do things in our county, where you only get offered transportation if you live more than two miles from your zoned school – but that’s a different subject for a different day). I must have locked myself out of the house on 30 different occasions throughout those years. Sometimes I got creative and stacked various things on top of each other (garbage can on top of the grill) to climb up to the second story and wiggle my way into my bedroom window. Other days I just played outside until someone came home.
Now, I get it. Apparently the world is a vastly different place than it was all those years ago (what a difference 18 years makes!). Because it couldn’t possibly be that the news prefers to run scare pieces over positive ones, significantly more than they used to. Couldn’t have anything to do with every freaking lunatic who has a social media account posting story after story about the terrible things people do to other people – children often being the main focus. No way are we just so f*ing plugged in that we have managed to completely unplug our ability to “go with our gut” and follow our instincts. Right?!
When I say I get it though, I’m not just saying it. I really do totally understand how so many parents these days think. Maybe even more so, because I had the insane fortune of being blessed with a kid who thinks that bolting through a busy parking lot when he has a meltdown is a great idea – after having just given ALL of our personal information (names, address, ages, etc) to the cashier at Winn Dixie. Paranoid doesn’t even begin to cover how I went through the last few years with the Monsters. I wouldn’t let the kids play in the back yard – at all – because we live on a golf course, and at least three times a day some idiot with a bad swing is driving through my yard on a golf cart searching for his/her ball.
Every time I thought about sending them outside to play I was bombarded by my own sense of paranoia. What if they get hit in the head with a golf ball? Sure, the odds are pretty astronomical, but still, if it weren’t for bad luck I’d have no luck at all. It’s not like they do background checks on the people riding around on the golf course, what if some freaking wacko decides to take my kid when I have to run inside to pee? What if my kid steps on a bee? He might be allergic to bees! I don’t have an epi-pen. OMG why don’t have I have an epi-pen?!
Seriously, I was the queen of reasons why my kids couldn’t play outside. For years Daddy has been shouting from the top of the “our kids watch too much television” train, and for years I’ve come up with what I felt were totally logical justifications for this. It’s educational. We don’t have anyone nearby with young kids. There are too many kids at the playground, they’ll get overwhelmed. It’s too hot to be outside. It’s too cold to be outside. It’s too wet, too sunny, too green to be outside.
And then one day I realized just what a paranoid freak I’d become. I was sitting inside with the boys, who were both pale and pasty, and they were fighting – as usual. Finally I hit my limit and couldn’t take listening to the bickering anymore, so I ordered them both to go outside. I grabbed a ball and we headed out to the backyard. Where they proceeded to stand there and stare at me, like…. okay, now what? I stood there, exasperated, and said “Just… go play!” And as they just stood there looking at me with these confused expressions, all I could think was have I really failed so badly that my kids don’t know how to play outside?
Yep. I certainly had. And that was it for me. All of those idiotic excuses and justifications flew right out of my head, replaced by little mantras like “a little dirt doesn’t hurt” and “fresh air is better than air conditioning”. Now, Kaleb can usually go whatever way. Most days he’d rather be inside with a book or his art supplies. But Mason? That kid lives for being outside. So now on a near daily basis he spends at least a couple hours outside, pouring dirt on his head, digging holes in the base of the trees to drive his construction vehicles through, and hunting for spiders. Are my eyes constantly on him? Um no. Point in case, I’m staring at my computer screen right now. I know where he is in the yard, and what he is doing, but he doesn’t need me to be constantly monitoring his every move. A little freedom is healthy. When we go for walk/scooter rides they are allowed to go only so far ahead of me before they know to stop and wait for me to catch up.
I no longer feel the need to stalk them on the playground, or constantly remind them to slow down, speed up, stay here, go there – because with the bits of freedom I’ve given out, they’ve become more consistent on following what they know are the hard and fast rules, versus feeling the need to constantly push boundaries because they are being stifled at every turn. Summer rule #2 – no television between the hours of 8am-12pm or 2pm-8pm. That two hour break consists of “quiet time” where I don’t have a problem with them taking some down time in front of the tube – it lets them have a break and get ready for the afternoon, while I get to actually accomplish some things (like eating without having a four year old sinking his teeth into my sandwich every time I blink). As much as I fought against it, now I like the idea of the television being more of a novelty – for all of us, because as much as it pains me to admit, Daddy was right – we wasted far too much of our lives with our eyes glued to screens.
Basically, I think as a whole society needs to take a chill pill. Let the kids have a little freedom, loosen the leashes, and enjoy the outside world. Maybe if we all took a little more time to relax and just enjoy everything around us that is real and present, we wouldn’t be so miserable all the time. I know Mason is certainly a lot happier covered in dirt than he is planted indoors being “educated” by a bunch of cartoon characters. Life is about balance. Compromise, middle grounds, and enjoying the lives we have been given. Not arresting parents who actually allow their children to do normal kid things.