The Summer Holidays will begin here next weekend! I’ve got a house full of excited boys, who all have plans of their own and want to get out and DO stuff. Some of them have reached the age where they can head off to the beach or the park, or ride to the store for snacks, or go visiting friends nearby… and I am pretty terrified, I can tell you! My eldest son already rides to school and back, but the thought of them wandering without aim, perhaps from the park to a friend’s house to… who knows where? Yikes.
I’ve always raised the boys slightly ‘Free-Range’. We lived in a pretty safe area, with a huge backyard. I reminded them to keep an eye out for one another. And I always encouraged them to chat with strangers when we were out together, so that they could learn to tell the difference between ‘A Stranger’ and ‘Someone Who Acts Strangely’. When they were little, we discussed how some people are just bad and wrong, and it’s great to yell for help if you feel worried or scared. We looked at pictures of harmful animals, and said “Ooooh, I wouldn’t touch a scorpion, they sting!” I taught everyone to swim very young, in case they fell into a pond (which they did) and told them NEVER to swim without a grownup (which they didn’t, because my Rules are Few but Absolute). I let them run too fast and fall out of small trees, for an introduction into minor injuries. They learned to be careful as a result!
So, I’ve never been overly concerned about Summer Holiday Freedom… until now. We have left our safe, dead-end road, peaceful village in rural Trinidad, and now we live in an English seaside town. Everything is new and different here, and telling the strangers from the strange can be a challenge, even for me.
Kids often get into trouble when a family moves home. The stress and activity of moving can make parents less vigilant, new threats may not be noticed. We have settled in with little incident, but I feel that the holiday will test us. The boys are used to lots of freedom, especially on long holidays, and making them stay at home will be hard on everyone! I’m trying to think ahead, and find ways of helping everyone stay safe… short of wrapping them in bubble wrap and parking them in front of the TV. I’ve come up with a few panicky possibilities, and ideas to improve safety…
There’s a risk of bike accident: Wearing helmets at all times, and remembering that not all drivers are sober and alert may increase bike safety. I will keep lecturing road safety till the boys are sick of it.
There’s a risk of Bad People: In May, a couple of paedophiles were busted a few miles from here: I completely freaked out, of course. I am sure that the police didn’t get the whole gang and that remaining members will be more cunning and vile than they were before. I am planning a proper ‘Talk’, and arming myself with facts. My youngest son is eight, and will want to go where his brothers go. I am seriously considering not letting him, which will cause dire sorrow and desolation (Already he has begged me to let him go to the store alone, five blocks away, and I’ve said no. If he were not so small and skinny for his age, maybe…) Fortunately, he has little buddies nearby. I foresee many organized playdates in his summer.
There’s a risk with internet and videogames at friends’ houses: They may not be as safe and age-appropriate as I would like. Well, we have discussed this, and the boys know what I think. With the older boys I can only keep the conversation going. With my youngest, I can still choose his friends, and have a snoop at what the kids are up to while I have a cup of tea with their mums!
There’s a risk that boys will pig out on chocolate and ice lollies at the store before suppertime: My giving them a very healthy breakfast, providing healthy snacks and remembering that they will not die if they don’t eat a healthy supper will save me some stress here!
There’s a risk with drugs, weirdos and dangerous behaviour: Thanks to their free-range years and our talkative and open family, I feel reasonably confident that the boys will make good decisions. I think that the gradual freedom that they got, from playing outside to talking with strangers to riding to school alone, will help them to feel in control… much more than a child who has always been supervised, never taken a risk, never had to make a decision. And I will be sure to tell them that if something goes wrong, we can work it out together.
I’m planning on making the boys’ mornings busy! If we have a few hours at home with chores, a big breakfast, art and crafts, and some reading and summer unschooling (you gotta unlearn everything you learned at school, I always tell them, otherwise how will there be room for the new stuff in September?) and they are expected back home in time for supper… well then, that only gives them a couple of hours in which to get lost, be kidnapped, fall out of trees, eat junk food and be badly influenced. Sometimes, the boys’ friends like to come here, where they can bang on the drums and jump on the trampoline to their hearts’ content. I will stock up on yummy snacks, to lure them here!
I’ve got a great babysitter on standby, so that my husband and I can escape for some child-free romance time! I’m also planning on keeping up a reasonable bedtime and our bedtime stories, even for the older boys. A bedtime story is a safe, grounding thing, and we often talk about our days at story time. I’ll look for books with positive role models and happy endings, and keep asking them about their days till they have to tell me!
The alternative, it seems, is to keep the kids at home, and supervise their every moment. Of course, statistically, kids are more likely to be abused by a member of their family than by a stranger. And after a few weeks of non-stop 24-hour contact with three sons and a nephew, all between the ages of eight and twelve, I would fear for all our safeties! With a little thought and planning, I hope that our summer holiday will be happy, fun and free from major incidents.
by Nan Sheppard
Photo graciously provided by Plamen Stoev, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved