I knew I was giving up a lot when I moved to the country nearly nine years ago: Access to a variety of incredible restaurants, ethnic food, concerts, plays, art exhibits, all my friends. But now that I’m a parent of two young children, I’m not sure I’d move back to New York City even if I could.
I love that June, who is nearly 4, has almost total freedom on our 14 acre property. She can take off out the front door by herself and I don’t have to know where she is (though of course I do know where she is, at least most of the time; she’s just not aware of it). I don’t have to hover like so many parents in larger, more condensed communities do. June can walk to the end of our 300 foot driveway all by herself, throw pebbles in the frog pond, play with her toys on the front porch or take off up the hill behind our house to wander through the orchard and say hi to the chickens.
The other day while the four of us ate dinner on the front porch, June announced she was going to make a trek to her favorite tree in the middle of our meadow. The tree is only 150 feet from the house but she was so excited to make this journey all by herself. She got up and asked us to watch her. She strode confidently across the lawn and into the meadow where the grass grows tall, grazing the tops of her legs. She turned around and waved to us. I waved back, internally cringing at the thought of ticks attaching themselves to her bare legs, but I didn’t want to spoil the magic of the moment. She reached the tree and turned around again, waving triumphantly. I waved back and almost got a little choked up. It was so touching to see how proud she was of her accomplishment. She raced back to the front porch and into my arms, telling me about her adventure while I scanned her legs and shoes for ticks (there weren’t any).
Other days, she disappears in the Bounce House by herself. Occasionally, I steal glimpses of her from the front porch and can see her through the mesh windows of the house, talking to herself, singing, creating stories. One day I noticed the house become still. I couldn’t see her at all. I became worried she might have wondered into the road (which wouldn’t be so terrible because the road in front of our house receives maybe one car an hour). But no, she was still in the bounce house staring up at the ceiling, talking to herself.
What happens to a kid who grows up feeling like they’re not constantly being watched and monitored? I like to think autonomous play stokes the imagination, fostering an ability to create fun from nothing without having to be spoon fed amusements and toys. It’s very gratifying to see June make due with the same toys she’s been playing with since she was two (with the notable exception of the bounce house!). Sometimes I think, geez, my kid doesn’t have enough toys … but then I see her having more fun throwing pebbles in the frog pond, watering the tomato plants, trekking out to her favorite tree or just meandering up and down that long driveway of ours talking to herself and I’m reminded who needs toys when she has the freedom to use her imagination.More On