, originally uploaded by Ada I dirtyolive.
“Okay”, he says, “only SOME humans are stupid”.
I let him think and we walk a few more metres.
“I wish I wasn’t a human.”
He’s mad, frustrated, hurt and confused and I know there isn’t much I can say to console him at the moment. I’m a part of the problem, actually – although I haven’t admitted this to him yet.
There is a field near our house that has remained untouched by the university (read: no bulldozers and no construction in a campus that seems to be constantly building) ever since we moved in here a few years ago. We’ve launched rockets and flown airplanes, we’ve explored the trees (both under and above) and Franklin has learned to ride his bike along the soft sides of the path that runs through it. It’s been wonderful to have such a large place to run right next to our home.
Lately, it’s been even more wonderful due to the university’s decision not to cut the grass. As the photo above shows, it was up to his chest. It was way over Eliza’s head. They loved running through it. There have been times when Dickson and I have brought the kids out there, sat down and promptly lost them. Eliza was close by (really! – although Dickson told me he fell asleep in there once…) but Franklin went off on his merry way and explored. It’s amazing what a field of long grass will offer – more than a playground or a manicured field can do times a million trillion zillion.
Last week, they mowed it all down.
Here’s the thing. Sometimes in life you see the same issue come at you in a few different ways all at once and it seems to say, “Hey, Ada! Pay Attention!” And I’m getting better at it – the paying attention. The thing I’m paying attention to is this:
Kids need open spaces. Wild open spaces.
Now, I’m not talking about how every kid needs an acreage of forest behind their house. Wild can be an urban concrete jungle or a forest in the middle of a suburban landscape. Wild can be the beach and wild can be a field of grass up to your chin. Whatever the case, it needs to not be managed – mowed, trimmed, trailed and marked off. There needs to be room to explore, be reckless and to make your own rules.
The weed free Starbucks neighbourhood park doesn’t give a child that – neither does constant supervision or demarcated trails and sidewalks. Kids need to get wild in the wild. It’s just as important as knowing where your food comes from – and I don’t mean the romanticized version Mom and Dad perpetuate when we plant food in the backyard and then eat it as a nice summer hobby. I’m talking about understanding that we are connected to our food. We kill for our meat. We use water, a hell of a lot of water, to grow our vegetables. We need to know how to survive when the rules no longer apply – not for the doomsday scenario, but for the understanding, appreciation and revelation of where we all fit in the world.
A friend of mine mentioned a book on facebook, “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv. This was around the time I saw the affect that the wild long grass field had on Franklin. Then this spot, this wonderful spot with the long grass and the wild space… I helped snag this very spot for the new campus community garden. A few months ago I pointed to one of the last remaining non-building designated spots on a campus map and said, “That looks like the best spot, in my opinion”.
I’ve read Richard Louv’s book. It’s good. I’ve just started to read it once more because the last time I went through it, I didn’t have the experience I have now – of seeing Franklin’s confidence and independence grow as he is left more and more to his own devices in Haro Woods, Mystic Vale, the beach or this grassy field. When I was reading it a few years ago, Franklin was probably about 4 years old. Supervision was pretty standard and non-negotiable. It’s different now. When you let a child wander off on their own it is a little scary but I have to remind myself of all the times I took off on my own when I was a kid. Have we taught him to make sound choices? Yes, I believe we have. Will he panic in a situation that’s unfamiliar to him? Probably. All the more reason to let him go though, right?
I want him to be able to get caught on the higher branch of a tree and figure out for himself how to get down. I also want him to stand on the edge of an unknown field, no houses in sight, and feel a mixture of fear and longing. I want him to have a special spot in the woods, inside a tree stump or along a dried up creek bank that is his secret place. I don’t want to be a part of that. I want that to be his own.
Louv is correct in that you don’t see kids finding these spaces on their own very often. You don’t see kids getting in trouble for grabbing their parent’s tools, a jar of peanut butter and a sleeping bag to make a fort in the woods. In fact, kids are looked down upon for wandering free. Our building maintenance guy once told me that in his experience, “It’s the kids who aren’t enrolled in any camps during the summer that get into trouble – because they’re bored”.
I don’t think they are bored. I think they would have a great time, they just are getting “in the way” and as they are required to stay close to home they are supervised so much that they (read: the parents) will run out of options and “activities” for them to do. What happened to the phrase my mother used to yell at us, “Get OutSIDE! – and take your little brother with you!” I can hardly wait to yell that at Franklin.
Of course, this will be after I apologize for helping to turn his wild open space into a plant colonizing, highly organized, and routinely managed community garden landscape…. sigh.