I am a huge believer in raising Free Range Kids, and while I’m not shy about sharing my views with other parents, sometimes I am stymied.
We have a huge mixed-age pack of kids who roam our neighborhood, riding bikes and scooters, climbing trees, making up games, and generally entertaining themselves outdoors for as many hours as we’ll let them.
It is really terrific, except…
Virtually all of these kids, no matter how young, ride their bikes in the street, with full support and approval of their parents. I have been baffled by this, because I consider it a huge blind spot. Or willing suspension of disbelief of what is REAL, ACTUAL danger vs what is “Nancy Grace/CNN danger.”
Parents who don’t let their kids walk to school alone will happily let them ride their bikes in the middle of the street. Parents who don’t allow their kids to walk one-sixteenth of a mile to a suburban kiddie park with swings and grass (on a greenbelt with no cars) wave and smile happily as their five and six year olds ride bikes and scooters in the middle of the street.
I was talking to one of the dads the other day and he named the town where he grew up. He reminisced about the park they used to go to, then he said, “I wish my kids could go to the park like that, but it’s just not the same world today.”
Nope, it’s not. It’s SAFER to be a kid in 2011 than it was in 1975 when this boy played at the park in what never has been a very safe neighborhood (in the South Bay in Southern California.)
So we have the dramatic, 24/7 news network fear of kidnaping or pedophiles jumping out of bushes, pitted against the pedestrian, ho-hum danger of a kid on a bike getting hit by a car.
Does ho-hum ever win the day in these stories? Of course not. I guess they’d rather WATCH their child get hit by a car than have their third or fourth grader play on a safe, car-free greenbelt with fifteen other kids two blocks over where parents can’t hover over their every move.
I am going to keep fighting the good fight, though. When we first moved here, it was rare for kids to play outdoors on the street or even in front lawns or on sidewalks. My personal project this summer is going to be to get these kids out of the street and onto the pathways (“paseos” as our developers call them — wide-open paved spaces bordered by grass and beautiful trees and other greenery – you know, nature?)
I’m having trouble laying down the law with the kids.
First off, I waver between extremes. When I’m consciously thinking about my parenting style, I practice Love & Logic theory. I’ve even taken a six-week class in it — twice.
But then there’s the other extreme, when the house looks particularly squalid and the kids seem unfocused and out of control. I bellow orders like the quintessential Love & Logic “drill sergeant” (the poster boy for what not to do.)
(I used to think I was a “helicopter,” but I’m really not. It may not be pleasant to think of myself this way, but my natural tendency is toward drill sergeant.)
The other day, for instance, Eva came home from a sleepover at a friend’s house. She was groggy and sugared up (she’d had a cinnamon roll and watermelon for breakfast, and the night before, had eaten a bunch of cupcakes.)
Three things happened in quick succession. Jane played hostess to the neighborhood kids and started passing out popsicles. I told Eva she couldn’t have one because all she’d had all morning was sugary stuff and she needed a real lunch instead.
Then all of the other kids started riding bikes in the street. This is our major new thing in the neighborhood, and I’m still figuring out how to handle it. Hopefully nobody dies while I’m working out a plan.
I told her she couldn’t ride in “the gutter” (what she calls riding in the street where a bike path would be if there were one.) Everyone else, including three kindergartners and the two year old who lives next door were riding in the street. (Seriously! He was on a Big Wheel.)
Finally, I walked into the house and found her bracing with her hands and feet against the hallway walls. You know that segment on Ninja Warrior where contestants have to propel themselves forward by bracing between two walls? That.
I told her to stop.
“Did you just wash this wall?” she asked.
See, that is the type of question that I find rude and disrespectful coming from child to parent, but Scott thinks is just Eva on an uber-logical fact finding mission.
A few minutes later, she came out to the garage, where I was sorting through old paint cans and dog chew toys. Silently she handed me a note and went back inside.
“So I guess I’m never allowed to ride my bike in the gutter, eat a popsicle, or touch the wall. Love, Eva.”
I found her inside and we talked. Per Love & Logic, I decided she’s old enough to make sugar-hangover related decisions on her own, and I reminded her that eating lots of sweets can sometimes leave you feeling crappy afterward, especially if it’s not as part of a balanced meal with some protein to temper it. She decided a popsicle is basically like a few ounces of juice and she’d be going to a Mexican lunch in a few minutes anyway, so she had the popsicle.
Then I told her how drivers can hardly see kids on bikes, and how I’ve personally had some scary near-misses with kids on bikes or scooters. We agreed she can ride in “the gutter” only if she stays right next to the curb, watches carefully for cars, and always stops to walk her bike across if she wants to go completely to the other side of the street.
(That’s not a permanent solution for us, but I am not sure what to do.)
Then I told her she is welcome to use my new Ninja Trainer Wii game as much as she wants, but she is never, ever allowed to purposely touch our walls, even if I’ve never cleaned a wall in the house the entire seven years we’ve lived here. That’s just common sense.
Boy, does “Possibly Flaky Middle School” earn its nickname.
We reached the end of a longish, frustrating road of non-interactions with them (they are really, really bad at returning phone calls and emails), and it’s over.
Eva will continue at her current school for the last year, and we’ll revisit and reassess the whole school thing when she begins middle school.
Want to hear what happened?
Well, first off, if you are local and have figured out what charter school I’m alluding to, ENROLL YOUR CHILDREN THERE AT YOUR OWN RISK!
They are BEYOND flaky. Like off the hook, crazy flaky.
Every time I had to deal with them, it was a major battle just to get phone calls returned. It always seemed that there was only person on earth who could answer my (basic) questions, and she wasn’t available. No, she doesn’t have a place she “usually goes.” She’s “out in the field” at a million different places and no two days are the same so there’s no “better way” or “best time” to reach her. “Just keep trying!”
Getting a phone call or email returned is like pulling teeth.
Example: in early February, I got an emailed letter saying her enrollment paperwork was all underway and that we would be contacted by a counselor to move us through the process, and that this would happen beginning April 3, and that if I didn’t hear from someone by phone within 10 days, to call.
Right away, I was confused. Ten days from April 3, or 10 days from the early February date I received the letter?
And of course I heard nothing so 10 business days after April 3, I called. And heard nothing back. And called again. And heard nothing back. Finally I asked the receptionist specifically about the letter, and she said, “Well, the enrollment person can call you, but it’s not like she’ll have any information for you yet.”
Okay, but can she still call me back, because why did I get that letter?
So she called me back and confirmed that she had nothing to talk to me about, and that I’d hear “for reals” with actual information later in April or possibly even into early May.
Flash forward to now – mid-May – with a frustrating interlude of trying really hard to get calls to someone else returned to tour the campus, which we did, and I wasn’t impressed, though Eva was fine with it.
Of course I still hear nothing, still hear nothing, so I start the calls again. Call, message, silence. Call, message, silence. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Finally I got a reply from the counselor who arranged the tour and asked her for tips on getting a call back from this mythical other person, and she arranged a phone call for me.
At which time I learned (in mid-May, six months after this adventure began) that they aren’t even offering the 5th grade program next year.
Good to know. That actually might have been very valuable information to have before un-enrolling her from her current school and getting her all enthusiastic about attending a new school, touring the school, making plans based on their different start and end dates and school day schedule, etc etc.
But it’s all good, because a few parenting goals were accomplished:
Eva got to make a choice on her own. It didn’t work but she knows that we trust her and are giving her more autonomy over her own education. I was starting to feel frankly VERY nervous about the quality of education she’d receive (especially after sitting in on classes during the school day), but didn’t want to go back on our promise to her that she could choose.
I think we dodged a major bullet and it actually happened in a very elegant series of events. I love when life unfolds like that. The universe is watching out for our family.
And when I ran over to Eva’s current school to tell them she’s continuing for one more year and to un-do her un-enrollment, they were so happy that I was really happy and proud of my daughter, too.
Greek Orthodox and Judaism couldn’t be farther apart theologically, but there are cultural similarities between Greeks and Jews, and we definitely love Greek food.
That’s why I was excited to make a recent discovery via my neighborhood friend Kathy. Her husband lost a bunch of weight during Lent, in part due to eating traditional Greek lenten recipes, which are vegetarian. He looks fantastic! I complimented them both and asked Kathy if she’d share some of her recipes with me, and she loaned me an obviously much-used cookbook, Popular Greek Recipes, sold (since 1957!) as a fundraiser for the Ladies Philoptochos Society of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity in Charleston, South Carolina.
This book lays out general rules for Greek Orthodox fasting, which ranges from no meat or poultry on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year all the way up to strict fasting, which is abstinence from meat, poultry, fish, dairy, shortening, olive and vegetable oil, and alcohol. (There are tons of exceptions and it should go without stating that I am not a competent religious authority in the Greek Orthodox church.)
Interestingly, shellfish is not included in “no fish” so even during the strictest fast days, boiled shellfish is eaten. (So you could “strict fast” on a lobster boil, though you would be barred from dipping it in melted butter.)
This cookbook has a large section of lenten recipes, most of which are very well suited to the Jewish vegetarian kitchen.
This really seems like the type of food Greek families eat on a daily basis in their homes. Delicious.
I also like the Greek translations of some recipes. For instance, it is more fun to eat amygdala cookies or pastries. (Thanks, House!)
You can order the cookbook from The Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity directly, search for it used on ebay or Amazon Marketplace, or buy it, as I did, from the nice folks at Greek Internet Market. (They even included ouzo hard candies in my order — delicious? It’s so hard to tell with ouzo.)
I have a project!
Those of you who have known me for a long time will know that I have been a perennial just beginning (first day!) knitter for most of my adult life.
Now I am a solid beginner!
Years ago I met