We live just around the corner from a park. It has trees, open spaces, nice play equipment, a paved path for walking. The girls have always loved to play there. Far, far more than I have liked sitting on a bench watching them play. We visited often, but it was never enough for Katherine and Rachel and weekends and summers were an endless series of begging to go to the park.
A couple of years ago, we started letting Kate go to the park on her own. She was a serious, dependable kid, but we had always had to push her toward independence. We figured that time at the park without adults might encourage her to solve problems on her own and help her form an identity as an indpendent, brave person. It worked. Katherine has gained confidence and uses the park as a place of entertainment and refuge. She walks the dog or runs or rides her bike there several times a week.
Last summer, after much pleading on both girls' part, we started letting Rachel accompany her. Rae was not remotely responsible enough to go on her own, but we figured that with Katherine there to watch (and more importantly, tattle) she would be fine. Rachel, of course, was delighted.
I had some misgivings about unsupervised park visits. The park is out of sight. It is out of hollering distance. My kids might witness things I'd rather they didn't see or hear. There are scary people out there. But then I reminded myself that I long ago decided to refuse to live in fear. And I remembered that some of the best parts of childhood happened when there were no adults around. And I contemplated lounging in my easy chair reading a book instead of sitting on a metal bench watching my kids go down the slide for the 7,000th time. So I smiled and waved goodbye and watched my girls skip around the corner.
I have been amused at other people's reactions to by girls' being at the park on their own. Often, well meaning adults are shocked that I allow such a thing. I usually remind them of what we did as 10 year olds and point out the the-best-parts-of-childhood-happen-when-adults-aren't-around thing. I've learned that all sorts of people look after my kids when I am not around. Friends have called to say they saw the girls on the playground. A stranger stopped at my garage sale yesterday and said she'd met my girls at the park. Last summer, I answered the door to find a man in a city employee uniform standing on the porch. "You have two girls?" he asked. I told him yes, the fear starting to rise in my chest. "I just saw them at the park. With a dog? I didn't know if you knew they were there." My fear vanished and I assured him that they had my permission to be there. I have no idea who that man was or how he knew where I lived, but I am grateful that he looks out for my daughters.
Today, we hit a new milestone in park independence. We let Rae ride her bike to the park with Kate. Rachel rides easily and well, but she is impulsive and oh so easily distracted and I don't trust her to ride in the street at all. Which means that unless Steve or I take her on a ride, she is confined to our small driveway. There aren't even sidewalks in our neighborhood for her to ride on. She has been begging to ride to the park for months and today we finally relented. The park is less then a block away and there is essentially no traffic on the way, so it is safer than any other ride in the area.
I went out to watch them helmet up and hop on their bikes.