Free-Range Experiment

In the playground this morning I tried to apply a bit of Free-Range parenting to my usual routine (albeit with someone else's kids). A lady with a newborn was trying to round up her boys (3 and 4) so she could move her laundry from the washer to the dryer in a nearby building. They of course did not want to leave even though they could "come right back" (which in kid-speak translates to Don Corleone saying, "Someday, and that day may never come").

I stuttered, "You can leave them with me" which was maybe a bit forward given we hadn't met or even engaged in any of the usual playground banter. She went silent for a moment, probably not thinking "Hey, what if this lady playing in the sandbox with her toddler changes her plan for the day and abducts Max and Jackson?" But more like -- "Can she handle all three?" (Especially when most days it's clear to even the most casual observer I can barely handle one.)

She asked her kids if they wanted to stay. They did. She told them, "Rachel's in charge." The 3 boys seemed to intuitively understand they should now play together and stay local. They chased each other around the monkey bars and returned again and again to the water. My main concern was that one of them might run out of the gate while I had to be on the other side of the playground catching Wally before he dashed in front of high-speed swings. Nothing close to that even happened, in fact hardly anyone was even on the swings.

When she came back the grateful mom said she worried only that someone might get hurt and then I'd have to attend to that on top of the others. I guess you could say it was lucky, but it was all so easy. So natural. The odds were stacked pretty high for us. How ridiculous to have to shuttle three kids back and forth from the playground to inside and back just to move a few pairs of ripped sweatpants from a washer to a dryer. I did notice quizzical looks from other parents but the kids couldn't have been happier. When the second adult returned to her post, they scattered out again. Had it not been for the free-range experiment, I wonder if they would have played together at all.


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