Free Range Kid

It is Friday night, 6:53 pm. I sit on the chair swing in our backyard and feel the strong breeze make it sway. Newly refreshed hair (my term for the enhancement now required to maintain my redhead status) whips the skin on my neck and on my cheeks. The tall dandelions and the unruly grass growing between the cracks in our paved patio dance in the light of the steadily departing evening sun.

Nick isn't home. He's nine now and all he wants in life is to play with a friend. Each summer day, long before it is socially appropriate (by my standards) he begs to ride his bike a few streets over to knock on one or several doors until he finds an available pal. I say no until the clock reads 9:00 am and even then cringe a little when he happily hears my "yes, you can go now."

He does not carry a cell phone. He does not wear a watch. He does, however, possess one of the largest appetites for fun of any kid I know. His appetite is so large I sometimes, well, honestly, most of the time, don't know how he'll satisfy it. I do know my quiet, lost in my imagination way of spending time at home is not enough for him. He does not know what to do with my directions to find quiet entertainment. He'll read for approximately seven and a half minutes and proclaim the day half done. That he's been reading for-ev-er! Before he departs, sans cell phone or watch, he tells me his initial destination but we both know he will likely end up somewhere else.  

I feel a twinge of guilt when I stop reading long enough to wonder about his whereabouts. Though I recognize the guilt is socially imposed, since we parents today are supposed to know at all times precisely where our kids are located and when they last urinated, my stomach still twists because I don't know either.  

Chances are he's sunburned, hungry, sweaty, tired, dirty, and so full of joy he may burst. 

As he drove home from picking up our Friday night dinner of pizza, Bill tried to find Nick, driving along the usual streets on his way home, reporting upon arrival he didn't see a bike in front of any of the houses.

"Should we worry?" I say as I pull the plastic plates we use for pizza from the cupboard and move to open the steaming box. 

I pull a slice of pizza from the box, lift it to my mouth for a big bite, and I mumble I probably have the phone number of the mom of the kid with whom Nick left. I chew my pizza and search through old emails to find the roster for the soccer team I coached last fall. I dial the home number listed and sheepishly ask my friend Tami if she has seen my son lately. She explains he is with her sons and some friends playing flag football at the school a couple of blocks away from our house. 

I breathe a sigh of relief and whisper to Bill Nick's whereabouts. I thank Tami, as I mentally thank Tyler's mom and Koen's mom and Ryan's dad and Elijah's dad and the parents of the kids Nick is just starting to get to know. I wonder if they wonder about our parenting since our kid is at their houses far more often than their kids are at ours. 

At times I am convinced a Canby police cruiser is going to pull into our driveway and an officer will knock on the front door with a sheepish Nick in tow. She'll report he is too young to be riding his bike without supervision. She'll lecture me about proper parenting. 

For the most part, however, I feel good about our choice to let him roam. He is an adventurer, a joy-seeker, and I'm proud of his fearless approach to friendship. I won't stop at a friend's house without calling well in advance. I often talk myself out of asking if friends have time for me. It is far simpler to not ask and therefore to not face the possibility of rejection.

My nine-year-old is brave, bold, and actively asking life for all it has to offer. I want to be just like him someday.

And, he's home.

And, he's home.