If you were a child when I was, or even when my children were, you instinctively know what a Free Range Kid is.
So how Free Range was I? I lived in a small town – a triangular shaped suburb whose borders were defined by “Our” city with a population of 235,000 people, a major river, and the Trans-Canada highway. Before we were even in our early teens, we knew every street and alley in town. We’d crossed the river at the bridge, and headed up and downstream for miles. We’d sprinted across the highway, and visited the horses that lived on the bordering farms.
Compared to my parents, I barely traveled anywhere. My dad, by his early teens, was riding his bicycle all around “Our” city, and out into the country to nearby towns. At that time, the city was 85,000 people.
I don’t know how Free Range my grandfather was in “Our” city – when it was only 44,000 people. But suffice it to say that he was a Free Range soldier in the trenches in France by the time he was 19.
My children were as Free Range as I was. Their childhood was spent in a small town where they also had a river valley to explore. Their teen years saw them living in, and exploring “Our” city, which had grown to 600,000 people.
Now “Our” city is just over 1,000,000 people, and my grandchildren’s lives are much more confined. The wide open spaces that their ancestors explored has been gobbled up by housing and shopping malls.
Urban sprawl. The car is king. In my grandfathers time, there were about 20,000 vehicles registered in the whole province. Today, there are 834,000 registered vehicles in just our city. There aren’t just more cars per capita – our homes, streets, shopping, and entertainment are all designed around the family car. This focus on vehicles often sacrifices walking and bike riding as alternate forms of transportation.
Our society today is also obsessed with safety. I won’t go into all the ways that people try to protect their kids from real or perceived “danger”. But in “Our” city, I wasn’t able to volunteer in my grandsons classroom until I had provided the school with a police report saying I was not a criminal. The fact that my daughter was on the parent teacher council and volunteered in the school, and could speak to my character, was not enough. I had to have a police report made out by an officer who had never met me before…
I was concerned enough about what my grandchildren were missing by living in the city, that I convinced the Spousal Unit that we should buy a cabin where kids could stalk frogs in the swamp, and bushwack through the woods, and ride bikes all over the neighbourhood. It is fun to see them get so excited about such simple pleasures.