I spent my summers on my grandfather’s farm in north Florida. It was entirely possible to go without seeing either of my grandparents until we were gathered around the kitchen table for a meal. My cousin and I played dolls, chased chickens, traipsed through the woods, swam, picked blueberries, fought with each other and resolved our issues all with little word from Pops and Granny. Those summers are covered with a golden haze in my mind and are some of the fondest memories I have from my childhood.
But as an adult, I’ve become a hover-er. A worrier. I’m terrified that something will go wrong and I won’t be there to prevent it, or at the very least, witness what happened so I know how to fix it. The thought of Joshua going outside to play without me there to supervise his every move, to redirect him away from what I perceive to be danger and he perceives to be adventure, makes the hair on my neck stand up. My palms get a little sweaty. The familiar pangs of anxiety start to roll in my stomach. I want to call him back and say “no…don’t…but not that…”
Despite my free-range summers on the farm, I’m crippled by fear when it comes to my own children.
I’m afraid that he’ll get hurt and need me. But what I’m probably more afraid of is that he won’t need me at all.
I realize that I was nearly twice Joshua’s current age when I was spending so much of my time outside and unsupervised, but I worry that if I don’t let him start to explore the world on his own a little bit, he’ll never explore it at all.
This morning he was getting a little squirrelly. So I offered up the idea that he could get dressed and go outside and play.
I tossed some clothes at him and he stripped out of his pajamas and asked for help putting on his shirt. Then he ran to the back door and waited for me to unlock it. When I opened the door, he scooped up his basketball, covered in dirt, and took off.
He came to the door and knocked on it no less than 15 times, so really, he wasn’t alone. I refilled the watering can so he could pour water on the “fwowers.” I gave him “bubble juice” so he could blow bubbles. And I kept looking out the windows and the back door to check on him.
I panicked one time when I couldn’t find him and then relaxed when my eyes finally found him.
He had climbed up into the fort on his swing set. He looked through his “nuh-noculars” and his telescope. He spun the steering wheel. And then he went down the slide, a huge smile on his face.
He had fun. By himself. Without me.
And we both survived it.
I know I have to let go, and gradually, I’m learning to do that. To let him explore the world on his terms. To let him have adventures and use his imagination. To experience the world.
To be a kid.