Observations on a Sunday afternoon.
|Today the missus and I went for a walk in the park. A city ravine that has largely been left alone to its natural self, with trails and pathways meandering beside a brave little river tributary that winds its way upward away from the parent river (itself no great shakes) before emptying into the smallest of our Great Lakes, Lake Ontario.
The day was cold and clear, with a bright intensity of late afternoon sunshine, and a crispness in the air that promises some real winter ahead.
The walk itself was pleasant enough, and uneventful except for one particular thing of exceptional notice. Along the way, I encountered quite a few different groups of kids, out and about and on their own. The vast majority of them would have been somewhere in the designation of middle school age. 11 to 13, or thereabouts. Any younger than that, were invariably accompanied by what were probably older siblings.
When I see this sort of thing in my city, I am always pleasantly astonished. Largely because it seems to be so rare, nowadays. This was not always so. Certainly, when I was a kid, it was commonplace. Although I grew up in a city small enough to present as a rather large town (think of that lovely town featured in "It's a Wonderful Life) and started out my childhood rambling routines at the tender age of 4 - attitudes were different then, in many ways.
Of course I was a rambler. I read Mark Twain and Jack London, and no end of weird "Boys Own" annual books that washed up on North American shores from England divers' years ago. Loved it all. And was inspired to wander about for adventure. Adults referred to it as roaming, back then.
What struck me this afternoon was the contrast between two distinctly different scenarios. The kids who were out and about on their own. There was a certain kind of grace attached to the activity and movement. As if they were accustomed and fully confident in what they were doing. As if being out in the public domain was an entirely natural thing. As if they belonged there, and in that way, and they knew it, too.
Of course it brought back memories. It gladdened my heart - because I remember how necessary a thing this was to me, when I was their age. This is a thing I have absolutely no ambivalence about. It was the bedrock of my understanding of freedom all through my childhood.
Contrast all this with the kids who showed up at the park (just as we were leaving) who were accompanied by parental supervision. Instruction, scolding, crowd control, harping, running editorial commentary, and a constant invisible web thrown about the "flock." As a good sheep dog applies doing its job.
It reminded me of a particular thing: kids on leashes.
Just as we are now astonished at encountering a dog without a human, unleashed. The similarity is startling.
But should it be? A kid has a very particular way in being their natural self when they know they are out of the control of an elder. This is easy enough to spot, and to understand, especially if you knew this from the inside out, as a child yourself.
Compare this to commonplace attitudes now. A kid alone (or 'only' with other kids) is a kid in danger. Or a kid out of control. Which is truly - the natural way we have now come to think of unleashed dogs at large. Only in my childhood, at least half the dogs I ever encountered were unleashed. And half of those were unaccompanied by anyone. And they were not at risk. And they were not out of control.
The why of that should be obvious.
They had learned how to navigate the public domain in such a manner as to keep out of trouble, and not cause any. They had learned how, because they had a lot of practice.
They had learned how because they were allowed to learn.
I know this is a real contentious issue for a lot of people. I rest my case, step back, and leave it be.
But oh, one final little thing. None, not a one, of the kids I saw on their own today - were carrying or preoccupied by an electronic device. Imagine.