How many of us can remember that sweet freedom of youth, when a bike was your ticket to independence? A warm summer day, and you just take off. I can still recall the terrific feeling I had at about age 12 when my range had widened to the point where I could get to Wausau News and Hobby and browse racks of paperbacks all by myself. As long as I was home by dinner, my time belonged to me.
Another sad victim of suburban non-planning is the ability of our children to enjoy the freedom of wandering a "territory" of their own. Our children now need to be escorted via car to pretty much every event in their lives. Even the occasional decently sidewalked subdivision is enclosed by wall-of-China collector roads that are impassible and limit safe travel.
A few nights ago the local news featured the story of a child hit by a car in a nearby suburb. A neighbor pointed out the road it happened on; a typically winding, wide, pedal-to-the-metal subdivision speedway. The kid made the mistake of riding his bike a few hundred yards from his house in the hostile environment we currently embrace.
There was talk of an ice cream shop going into Andy's on Rawson and 51st (still planned, as far as I know). Sadly, it's a horrible idea - who would let their child travel there independently, crossing 51st or Rawson? Yet, there it will likely stand, beckoning for - - cars. We will drive our children there, and they will have their ice cream under our sheltering eyes.
I can't imagine being able to read - DISCOVER! - Dune or Tarzan books (start with the classics) while my mom stood over my shoulder at Wausau News and Hobby.
Here are two excerpts from "The Wilderness of Childhood," a story in Michael Chabon's new collection entitled Manhood for Amateurs:
This is the kind of door-to-door, all-encompassing escort service that we adults have contrived to provide for our children. We schedule their encounters for them, driving them to and from one another's houses so they never get a chance to discover the unexplored lands between. If they are lucky, we send them out to play in the backyard, where they can be safely fenced in and even, in extreme cases, monitored with security cameras.
When my family and I moved onto our street in Berkeley, the family next door included a nine-year-old girl; in the house two doors down the other way, there was a nine-year-old boy, her exact contemporary and, like her, a lifelong resident of the street. They had never met.
There is a small grocery store around the corner, not over two hundred yards from our front door. Can I let [my daughter] ride there alone to experience the singular pleasure of buying herself an ice cream on a hot summer day and eating it on the sidewalk, alone with her thoughts? Soon after she learned to ride, we went out together after dinner, she on her bike, with me following along at a safe distance behind. What struck me at once on that lovely summer evening, as we wandered the streets of our lovely residential neighborhood at that after-dinner hour that had once represented the peak moment, the magic hour of my own childhood, was that we didn't encounter a single other child.
Even if I do send them out, will there be anyone to play with?
UPDATE: Upon further reflection, Chabon's article also reminds me of that great White Stripes song, "We're Going to be Friends."fall is here, hear the yell
back to school, ring the bell
brand new shoes, walking blues
climb the fence, book and pens
i can tell that we are gonna be friends
walk with me, suzy lee
through the park, by the tree
we will rest upon the ground
and look at all the bugs we've found
then safely walk to school
without a sound
well here we are, no one else
we walked to school all by ourselves
there's dirt on our uniforms
from chasing all the ants and worms
we clean up and now it's time to learn