Perilous Play

Please do not do anything fun or exciting. Don’t you know that the world is scary, and you are incapable of navigating it on your own?

The Micromanagement

“Make sure both feet are always on the rope,” said one mom. Her hands had a death grip on his ankles as she literally placed her seven-year-old son’s feet for him as he climbed a net-like structure. A mild panic overtook his facial expression. He descended in terror. Mom suggested a swing instead, and he obeyed. Surely a fun day, full of awakening, for that kid. Inspiring that he found a way to move without ever lifting a foot. His confidence must have skyrocketed!

“Stop that! The hill is not a slide!” A fed-up dad literally spat those words out, so disgusted that his five-or-so-year old son slid down a small dirt slope, leading to sand, on his behind. The same dad expressed complete revulsion at the “soup,” a mixture of berries freshly plucked from nearby bushes and water from the fountain sullied by a bit of playground sand, that his daughter proudly produced in the bucket they’d brought. “Don’t get that on your hands! Don’t touch that!” I couldn’t help it. I rolled my eyes and I hope he noticed. Maybe he only sees his kids on weekends? They knew how to play. When he told them not to do something so basic and harmless, they had to good sense to act puzzled and ask, “Why?”

While it’s easy to focus on these killjoys, who allow their own anxiety to rule, there are many parents who understand the joy, learning and healthy sense of accomplishment that free play brings. I focus on them while we’re out. The way I did when my three-year-old daughter literally climbed over that seven-year-old’s head. And when she rolled down the hill, past the fearmongering father, in glee.

Happiness overtakes me when I hear the words, “I love you.” But when Stella says, “I did it!” I truly share her thrill.


  1. mandy · March 5, 2012

    Love it!!! And thanks for the reminder : )

  2. Olga · March 10, 2012

    funny, my parents were just reminiscing tonight how their childhood schoolyard games involved penknives (balancing them on your hand and then flipping them so they landed point-first in the dirt). ha ha! can you imagine what would happen today? here come the cops and the social workers and the EMTs. different times, my friend.

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