Friday, June 08, 2007

Child's Play

Bethany, Veronika and Eliza on a windy day at Lake Ulswater.
Today's cuppa: Lemon grass and ginger

Back in the saddle again! Yeeeeeeeeeehaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. It's been ages since I've blogged. It looks like Google has finally sorted out its technical stuff.

Play doesn't come naturally to me ~ I blame it on Saturn in Aries in my 5th house (the house of children, play and creativity)… Saturn in Aries is a bit like going through life with the brakes permanently on! Saturn prefers structure and routine and scratches his head at spontaneity and laughter. Silly old thing.

The other day Eliza and I were playing ball on the netball court. I used to be quite good at it as a kid ~ before I grew breasts and got all out of balance! My fondest childhood memories involve play, and although I'm one of eight children, many of my games involved only moi! But play I did. The resources around me were endless ~ mountains, creek, waterfall, trees, horses, corrugated iron to slide down a hillside on, swimming in muddy dams, building tree houses, acres and acres to run and hide in. Childhood was fun!

I was blessed to live on such a large amount of land, and to be free to explore without the modern day fear many parents have of their child being abducted. There were dangers all around me though. Always the possibility of falling down the waterfall, being bitten by a red-belly black snake (god, I get goosebumps even writing the word snake!!), tripping over in a field away from adults, being thrown off my horses, etc.

Childhood is a great training ground for adulthood. If all the dangers which existed had been used as an excuse to stop me playing, the rest of my life would have turned out very differently. Through risk, and pushing boundaries, I learnt to believe in myself. We can be aware of dangers, but the key isn't to focus on them…lest we attract them in. I read recently that worry is another way of praying for what you don't want! When my children go out to play I imagine them protected by a 'white light' ~ call it a guardian angel if you will. I don't help them by chewing my finger nails in anxiety. I have to trust.

In the news this week we hear shocking statistics of how few children in Britain are allowed to play outside unsupervised by adults before the age of 14. Fourteen? Cripes, I left home at 16! How would I have been prepared for adult life with just two years of risk taking?

It's heartbreaking really. Children need self-created adventure, to take risks, to have fun ~ without adults around.

Just the other day the village boys were collecting bits of wood and cutting the wheels from the wheelie bins (!) to make a go-cart. How different their childhood would be if they lived in a large city. In winter, if it snows, the children get to toboggan down the main road in our village.

My girls can ride their bikes all around here. Are they safe? Yes and no.

I 'trust' that they'll be safe when they go out. The farmers around here have no concept of slowing down on their tractors through the village (they travel faster than cars) and all the while talk on their mobile phones.

I know life can change in a nano-second and that a moment of not concentrating by the farmer could end a life or cause permanent injury to a child on foot or on their bike. Should I keep my children in the back garden? Both answers could be right. As a mother I feel it is wrong to restrict my children to the back yard. If I lived in the middle of London things might be a bit different, but I'd certainly make sure they had access to outdoor spaces without feeling I was watching them.

The odds of abduction are so statistically low that to use it as an excuse to isolate children is very sad.

As for children being sexually abused, it is usually done by someone you know. I never left my children with baby sitters (not for that reason) and the few times they've been in someone else's care, it has been someone I trusted with my gut. I think my radar now for abusers is pretty accurate. God knows I drew enough of them into my childhood!

My children are of an age where the communication between us is such that they could tell me if any man (or woman) ever attempted to invade them or take advantage in any way. They know their body belongs to them and not another.

Our village, Glassonby, only has about 100 residents…it's a tiny place at the base of the Pennines. It does have a holiday cottage and so I'm used to seeing a stranger from time to time, as well as cyclists on the coast to coast route. A year or so back, the girls and I were coming into the village after a long walk. A man came walking past us ~ we said hello ~ and I suddenly felt so sick in my stomach. It was one of those situations where the 'logical' brain was trying to shoosh up the intuitive part of me and wondering what on earth was going on. I don't know why but I said to the girls, 'don't go back out in the village today ~ just play in the garden.'

About half an hour later the phone rang. Another lady in the village called to say that a man was hanging about at the local stone circle ~ ½ mile away. Children had seen porno magazines in the back of his car as well as a Postman Pat blanket. She suggested I might want to keep the kids at home. Turns out it was the same man.

OMG. At least my intuition was spot on. This bloke hung around the village for a week. The police said they couldn't do anything until he'd 'done something'.

It did highlight that even little villages can be targets for those who prey on children. This is one of the last places in the populated world that I'd have expected it… My children roam freely throughout the village and up to about a mile past the outskirts. The condition is they only go beyond the outskirts if they're with each other and that they tell me which direction they're going in.

It can be tough raising kids in this culture. Our biggest fear though, should be fear itself. None of us can know what someone else's soul journey is while on this Earth. To think we actually have control over another soul's life choices is a myth. We can't know that maybe they're meant to fall over and break a leg or fall out of a tree. We can lock our kids up in the bedrooms, cotton wool them from life, but why on earth would we even have children if something as basic and ESSENTIAL as play is being denied?

Collectively we've taken away gentle birth, the in-arms phase, full-term breastfeeding and unstructured learning…now we're taking play away too? Can't anyone see the long-term consequences of this? It will come back to haunt society.

If you're frightened of your children being attacked, let them take martial arts courses or go with a friend to their destination. Life is full of risks but, as someone once wisely said: "Life's either a daring adventure or NOTHING AT ALL." And frankly, without a little risk life isn't worth living.

See you next week! Have fun. ~ Veronika


Anonymous said...

Welcome back! I have missed your blogs on a Saturday morning, I don't always agree with everything but they are always interesting.
I would agree whole-heartedly about the value of play and risk taking. I am constantly amazed in my area that children are driven everywhere, constantly supervised and have very little free unstructured time and then suddenly as teenagers given a lot of freedom (out late, with parents not knowing where they are or what they are doing)with nothing in between! There is no gradual learning curve. Since the sad case of Madeline McCann some parents have made their children into virtual prisoners. It must be frightening for a five year old to be constantly in fear of being 'taken'and yet this is what some parents are telling them might happen. It is a very difficult line to draw because obviously they need to be aware of dangers but still have freedom.
Play is also very beneficial for learning to get on with other children without an adult to sort out all disagreements.Perhaps I am just getting old, but it seems to me that children spend more time arguing among themselves which I think is just because they don't have the freedom my generation had at their age, and it is a way of attention seeking.As a child I could go off and play.I knew where I was allowed to go, and I knew about stranger danger, but my mother didn't know exactly where I was and I felt quite safe, I just had to turn up at meal times.

Mary said...

Great to see you're back.. I was beginning to think you gave up blogging! The new design looks fantastic!
This is a topic we all face as parents, but in our house we have been having a debate these past few weeks with our nearly seven year old son.. he wants to go to the park on his own, unsupervised, like his school friend does (same age). I don't feel comfortable with that just yet, even though this is a small and seemingly safe village.. cars do drive too fast through here, and I can't help thinking about 'strangers' coming to just such a place because people let their guard down.

That said, I grew up in a big city with lots of freedom from an early age, and that has led me to travel the world, as well as live away from my home country and find independence from age 18. What to do?!!! I know many youngish people (early-mid 20's) still living at home now, unable to decide on a life plan, unmotivated.. is this a result of over-protecting parents or lack of life preparation??
Lack of freedom, or too much freedom...This is the parenting dilemma!! but I do agree that life must be an adventure and I hope to allow my children to have that.

Veronika said...

My girls didn't go out on their own until Bethany was about 8 or so..Eliza was only 6 but *always* with big sister...and for short amounts of time. The rules have relaxed enormously over the past two years as they've become more confident. The pair of them usually make lots of noise!!! ~ so I can usually hear them from wherever they are in the village.

You always have to trust your intuition. Every child is different.
Love, Veronika

Anonymous said...

My mum gave me a fantastic book about trusting your 'gut' - "The Gift of Fear". Many times in my life, I have ignored my gut reaction when I *knew* that the person I was dealing with was deceptive, even dangerous. I have regretted it every time. Now I am learning to trust my gut. If a man, woman or child feels that a certain situation is dangerous, they should trust that instinct and do whatever it takes to get away from that situation. If your gut is *wrong* - if it turns out there wasn't any danger, then the worst result is that you may have offended someone - but that's better than going against your gut and being harmed (or worse). It's tough to find the balance between freedom and supervision, but perhaps the best we can do as parents is to teach our children to trust their own instincts, and to heck with offending anyone in the process. Good to see you back, V!

Eva said...

Great to see you back! I love your blog. The picture of you and your girls is just lovely. All three of you are just beautiful! I hope you are enjoying summer time. :)