By Judy Reiss
I’m willing to bet that most of you who read this column were brought up very much like I was. Although the name of the town wasn’t Mayberry, it was very much the same. When I started kindergarten, I not only walked to school, I walked home for lunch, back again, and then back at the end of the day. It was quite far too!
When I was in sixth grade, we moved to another town, and it was even more Mayberry-ish. In sixth grade, we did have to take a bus, but we had to walk about six blocks to catch it. And from seventh grade until high school graduation, we walked to school every single day, and I assure you nobody’s mother walked with us. When I met and married Malcolm, we decided to live in Waitsfield, because we loved the rural atmosphere and all the wonderful people we met. Since I worked full time, from the time my children were born, once they were in school and came home at the end of the day, they were alone until I got home.
On my days off, I used to get Sarah, the youngest and about two and a half, dressed and put her outside to play. When she would come back in around lunch time, she would tell me about her best friend, Louisa. I always thought Louisa was her imaginary friend. I can’t tell you how shocked I was when I found out Sarah used to walk to our next-door neighbor’s farm, which was fairly far away, and have tea and cookies with Mrs. Joslin, who was her best friend Louisa.
The only reason I’m telling you about this, is that I believed then, and I believe now, that I learned how to take care of myself from a very young age and my children did, too. I don’t think they ever had a “play date.” They had many friends in the area that they just walked to if they wanted to play. From the time she was about 4, my Polly used to meet her best friend Sally at the halfway point between our two houses and a good time was had by all. I don’t believe I ever “played” with my children either. I was their mother, not their best friend.
I know things have changed. I know the thought of walking to a friend’s house is outrageous for children today, but I have an idea. Instead of trying to be all things to your children, including their best friend, why not give them a little opportunity to try their own wings. How about this: get together with other friends in your neighborhood and create a safe neighborhood and environment for all the children within that parameter. One mother could be “in-charge” one day at a time, and let the kids go. Let them play and make up games and build forts and create whatever they want, by themselves. Don’t set parental rules on how to do any of that, let them decide. What you’re actually attempting to do is to create a little Mayberry. This would be an opportunity for children to grow up as children without the suffocating rules and intervention of constant parental “guidance.” Can you imagine what an innovative thought this is? Allowing your children to grow up and enjoy each milestone and discovery without smothering their growing up experience. Is this a ridiculous idea or what? You and I grew up in that environment and we turned out OK. Why not give our children and our grandchildren the same opportunity?