Being free is the pleasure of not being monitored. Remember when you were a kid? You’d head out the door on a Saturday morning, not a care in the world. It didn’t matter whether you had a plan or not. Would you be going right, or left? It was all up to you! Mom said to be home in time for lunch– any time after noon.
Five glorious hours! And after that, five more!
You didn’t have to ask permission to go where you wished, you went on a whim. You weren’t being tracked, or restricted, beyond what you determined for yourself. You wanted to range far? Go exploring outside your neighborhood? You got going! Did you want to sit in front of your house and work on your chalk drawings? Have at it. While you were out, there was no checking in. I’ll bet you were smiling, on your beautiful Saturday mornings.
You didn’t need pocket money or identification. You didn’t need a drink or a snack. In fact, your hands were empty and that was just fine with you, wasn’t it? How else were you going to climb that tree? You were perfectly suited to chase a pal’s frisbee or spontaneously cheer at his astounding jump shot, at the corner lot. Free hands were a must for a kid outdoors. Heck, kneeling on the ground and digging for rocks could lead you to the fossil discovery of a lifetime. You just knew that something great was just out of sight, underground, right below your fingers.
Maybe you walked from convenience store parking lot to convenience store parking lot, head down, eyes peeled for discarded Bazooka Joe comic cards. Those were all the rage in 1975. You could walk from store to store, maybe five or six locations in a two-mile radius, and you’d end up with a pocketful of those cardboard treasures.
You discovered that most people bought the gum for the gum, and just chucked the five-inch by three-inch wrapper and comic. Lucky you! Oh, look– there’s a fresh wrapper with a card inside. Sure it’s next to an oil stain but it’s perfectly clean. Scoop it up, is it one you have? No? Great!
If you owned this particular comic card already, then you’d ask yourself: Is this new one in better condition than the one in the stack at home? Or, might a kid in school want to have it? The card could be traded in exchange for a favor, or for a double he had.
Or you could just give it, freely. That certainly brought its own good feeling. It was a slow cook, but worth savoring.
And when you came home, with dirty hands and knees, mom wanted your dutiful explanation. Just as she was being dutiful to ask. Sure, she said “Oh, dear, look at you!”, but she wasn’t really mad, no matter what groan she let out. Believe me, seeing her kid happy and dirty during a day of play was just fine with her. It meant her kid was getting along– one of the big reliefs of parenthood.
She used the heavy-duty Lava atomic soap bar on your filthy fingers, and you told her the safe stuff. Am I right? You told her about the cool fossil-thingy rocks but left out the live baby turtle you and your intrepid friend transported and released in an inter-pond relocation operation. You mentioned running with Danny but left out your mad dash through Mrs. Haley’s backyard, that biddy’s voice shouting something fierce. Answering mom’s questions about your adventures, you were giggling inside, right? Echoing Danny’s laughter in your ears as you’d run for your ever-loving lives.
One day someone put some paper in front of you. Do you remember that? They didn’t say, “Draw me a car.” Or, “Start writing your family history as you know it.” They said, “This is for you.” They didn’t leave you with one sheet, they left you with a few. No endeavor was so important, at your age, that you needed to be so narrowly guided. The great adults got it: That was not your assignment, when you were a kid.
It was not your assignment to get it right. It was your assignment to get it out.
And it was their job to let you be a kid. Which often meant, granting you a ton of time to be left on your own.
Here’s something every kid knows by their nature: There’s no harm in ruining a piece of paper. And it’s a tremendous loss to resent exploring that space. Old Mrs. Haley called out, “Don’t step on my lawn!” I say, give the kids their moment. It will pass soon. Don’t tread on us.