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-sufficent.
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 remanent bushland and a creek (albeit polluted) out the back gate and accross 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 forgotton, in which several children fend completely for themselves over summer and cook their meals in a hay box while hidng 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 neighborhood 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.