“Mom, ever since we moved into this house it’s so strict and boring! We’re not allowed to climb, jump, drum, make any mess, go on adventures alone… You don’t trust me anymore! I had so much more freedom when we were camping.”
This lament came from my tall fearless 8 year old daughter, whose name roughly translates into “wild adventurous and beautiful spirit”. We had just moved in-doors after living on the land in a tii pii for 5 months. She and her two younger brothers have had a childhood full of fun and some freedoms that seem to be out of sync with the times.
As soon as the weather warms up we go outside where Mother Nature invites us into all her myriad landscapes and labrynths… And that’s when the Climbing begins! Oh, climbing hills moist and muddy takes great concentration, as do dry and crumbly cliff sides. Yes, no matter the terrain they love to climb, any season any time! At the park they go up the slide, on top off the jungle gym, picnic tables and benches. But mostly, they love to climb trees! My daughter has the ability to climb up to the top of high trees, and then she can go branch hopping, like a lemur, climbing down a completely different tree at the end of the grove. With my heart in my mouth I watch, praying silently that the branches support her. Calling out, “BE CAREFULL!” She ultimately is fine, always. She has fallen out before, but 9 times out of 10 she is victorious, and it has made her a better and smarter climber. Her brothers 6 and 3 are eager to follow, but due to age and skill they work at easier climbing trees. Its wonderful, and yet I am on the outside watching. I don’t climb trees anymore really. I’m not that brave. I admire from afar and live vicariously through my untamed off spring.
In 2013 I enrolled the children in the neighborhood public school for about 6 months. The first day, we were playing in the school yard and Iylah climbed a tree she was familiar with. I barely paid attention as I was too busy chasing my two year old around. Next thing you know, I heard some kids shouting and getting excited. A small crowd had gathered around the base of the tree to see the spectacle. “Look! There is a girl in the tree!” “She’s like a monkey.” She’s like a jungle girl. She doesn’t have any shoes on!” Meanwhile, Iylah froze shifting into camaflouged bird-mode. Then some parents got involved and next thing you know a big conversation opened up. I explained that she was accustomed to climbing trees, and that she was allowed to go bare foot. I was sure some well- meaning stickler for the rules would dig into us, but surprisingly no one did. Instead, the kids one by one started to try climbing the tree. With runners on it was tricky, and the shoes started to come off. “Please mom! Please can I try? Here give me a boost!” “Can I go bare foot too?”
The Mom’s began to reminisce about their childhoods ‘back home’ whether in rural Ontario, or across the ocean in warmer places, they all really related to this primal need and instinct. “What’s happened?” they wondered. “Why haven’t our children climbed these trees before?” It got us talking about the land and camping and farming and mud and dirt and risks and freedom. It was phenomenal! Meanwhile Iylah had become somewhat of a legend. She waited to climb down when the crowd had thinned out. We didn’t repeat this expedition, for we started to become unconsciously bogged down by the school yard rules and etiquette. No bare feet.(needles, drugs, glass, you know) No climbing up the slide. No junior kids on the senior playground. No playing on the field when its icey/snowy/muddy or wet. No playing in the playground during lunch break. And definately n No climbing trees!
In a climate where children are coddled with rules and line-ups, and funny taboos surrounding cleanliness and safety, (I’m personally not a fan of alcholized hand sanitizer), it is no wonder risks are vastly explored in video games, T.V. shows and movies. “Here kids watch/play this virtual adventure reality… go nuts! Knock yourself out!” As they sit and hypnotically beat up bad guys, pass incredible tests, and display great agility and fearlessness with their digitalized persona, yet in real life they can’t even climb the slide.
Where/when will these children get to sharpen and perfect their bodily prowess? It is like a caged bird or a horse trapped in a stable. Just like the animals, our kids have inherent super powers that need full expression in open space. Childhood is the time of life when we have the most inherent God given life-force energy. We start to lose that crazy kinetic energy as we age, and not only do we not feel inclined to do a cartwheel in the grass, we might not physically,mentally, or emotionally be able to!
Well- meaning adults do not want to see their young getting hurt, and this is totally understandable. They also seem to be big on societal rules. “Don’t touch that, that’s dirty.” “You dropped your biscuit. Eeewww, Throw it out, that’s dirty.” I digress. Just saying, God made dirt and dirt don’t hurt. And also, let’s be brave and free and see what our children’s potential may be! Just not near a busy car infested street that is. Find locations and destinations where exploration rules! Set the children free. Free-run children taste better!
Top three fears for my children: Foul-mouthed drunks, heavy traffic and pop-culture!
With trust, Elisha