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A Child's World of Adventuring Gets a Little Smaller

Watching the program “Sunday Morning,” as I’ve said before, is a weekend ritual in our family. We enjoy the thought-provoking nature of the programming, the artistry of much of the camera work and, as much as anything, the fact that it is something we always do. This week was a little different than most, however, as our household has been hit heavily by the some infectious bug that has turned three of the four people in our house into pasty-faced zombies. So, no coffee, no extensive breakfast while we watched the show. In fact, we all wore our pajamas all day and had great difficulty determining anything that sounded at all palatable to eat – until dinner when we all agreed that the peculiar combination of cheese quesadillas and tater tots would be edible without fear of consequences.
All illness aside, it was still an impressive show this morning, as expected, and left us with several thoughts to consider for the day in our quiet hours. The most profound consideration for me, however, was the idea that in the past 100 years, the amount of ground a child could safely cover in a day has diminished greatly – due to actual and imagined dangers.
One example was that a boy in the early part of the last century was once able to walk six miles to a location. His child, many years later at the same age, was only allowed to venture out on his own about a mile away. Today, children aren’t typically encouraged to go much beyond sight of their home or yards.
My husband and I thought of our own childhoods this morning and, indeed, we had been able to travel, alone, much further from home than we would allow our children to. We both grew up in very different settings: city versus country. I spent nearly every good day wandering in the fields, searching for artifacts, burying time capsules, climbing on rock piles, drawing and wandering in the woods about a half-mile from my rural home. Tony says he remembers walking a significant distance from his home near Wells Street in Fort Wayne and over to Franke Park, into the woods.
“I don’t remember being told where I couldn’t go, I just didn’t go any further than that,” he said. I don’t recall a verbalization of boundaries either. I suppose I kept in regular contact with my mother during the day and, so, there wasn’t much to worry about. She knew where to find me since each day’s adventure involved covering much of the same ground.
Today, we live in relative proximity to several other families whose children attend the same school as ours do. Still, I can’t imagine even a few years from now, allowing my children to walk alone to their friends’ homes. As easy as it is for me to chart a direct trail from our home to a friend’s home, I can’t help but think of plenty of scary ideas about the part of the trip, in the middle, where I couldn’t see them walking any longer. Strange, I had talked to someone several years ago that grew up in the same neighborhood where  I live today and he recounted how his daily adventures included meanderings much further than even I would consider making alone today – and I’m an adult.
How sad, really, that it is no longer thought of as safe to wander away from home, to spend a full afternoon engaged in adventures of your own. Think of the wonder our children are missing out on, the excitement they would have found on their own? Or the exercise they would be guaranteed? I really wish we could go back to the level of security, real or imagined, that children enjoyed even half a century ago. I’m grateful we live in a relatively safe community where it probably would be okay to allow children to travel freely on their own – I just wish I believed that enough to make it so.

Jennifer Zartman Romano

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