Downstream from the fire hydrant

There’s a sentiment today that we deny our children the freedoms of play we once enjoyed, but I’m not sure things are that different for our kids…or that we’re that different from our parents.

The first boundary I remember is the red fire hydrant on Silo Mill Court. One or two houses up the cul-de-sac from us, it marked how far I was allowed to go on our street without permission. I still had to tell my parents I was going outside, but there was plenty of room to play downstream of the hydrant, the entire circular pavement the domain of my big wheel. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the hydrant also denoted the limits of what could be seen from the front window of my house. I did not go past it.

When I was seven, we moved to a new house, still on a cul-de-sac. There I was allowed to go anywhere on the street, but not in the big empty field that would later become a middle school.1 Limits were certainly tested, trust earned and lost, but as I got older, I was allowed more and more freedom. In time, I was allowed in The Field. Eventually, I was even allowed to drive an automobile.

There’s a sentiment today that we (parents) deny our children the freedoms of play we once enjoyed–that we over structuring our kids’ lives, that we don’t give them any chances to explore, and that we live in a “different world” from the one we grew up in.

The world is different, but I don’t know that it’s any more different than 1980 was from 1960, or 1960 was from 1940. Things are radically different, but also both positively and negatively the same. All parents want to do right by their kids. All parents worry, but not all parents get to worry equally. I have different worries as a father of daughters2 than I would as a father of sons. There are worries I’m privileged to not have based on my affluence: I don’t worry about the safety of my neighborhood. There are worries I don’t have based on my skin color: I don’t worry that my kids are at risk of being seen as threats to law enforcement.

Right now, our four-year-old is allowed in the backyard as long as she tells us and her seven-year-old sister is with her. The seven-year-old is allowed in the yard by herself as long as she tells us that’s where she’s going. The both are allowed to go–unaccompanied–to the neighbor’s house to play four houses down, if they ask (and are invited).3 As they get older, I’m sure we’ll give them more free reign around our neighborhood and then, some day, they can terrorize all of Northside.

Think about this: my seven-year-old would love an iPhone. She’s not going to get one for a long time, but she would love one. Basically, she’s begging to have a GPS tracker on her person at all times. My parents would have loved the piece of mind of Find My Friends when I was a teenager. Also, I imagine it would have given them greater ease extending my “allowed” range if they knew that they could reach me at anytime (and that I could reach them, as well).

I think about my worries in contingencies. What are the chances that both kids would get knocked unconscious in the backyard at the same time? Pretty low. What are the chances that the four-year-old is going to trip on the way to the neighbors and skin her knees? Non-zero, but I’ll pop my head out if I don’t receive a timely “arrival confirmation” text.  Worse stuff could still happen, but I don’t worry about those things.4

All of this is to say to myself, “Relax.” I worrying about the same things parents have worried about as long as there have been human parents to worry about human children. Sure the contexts are ever-changing, but I just want to balance the need to protect my children with wanting them to enjoy and experience this world, like countless parents before me. As long as there are still kids around, parents will always worry, and old men will yell at them to get of their lawns.

Photo by: CodyJung

  1. We just called it “The Field.” 
  2. I’ve started a podcast with two friends about being a father of daughters that I hope you’ll enjoy. You can find it here: Front to Back
  3. The parents do exchange texts to confirm receipt of the children. 
  4. Much. 
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Sam Davies

Sam Davies is the father of two daughters (ages five and eight) who lives in Northside Richmond. He and his wife Kat are trying their best to not raise sociopaths.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. I would imagine it’s also very hard to navigate the space between wanting to give kids freedom you know they can handle and learn from, and the knowledge that there are far too many busybodies out there who will report people for child endangerment for, heavens, letting a kid walk to her friend’s house. I want to raise my baby to be independent when she’s older, but the only way that happens is by allowing independence…which people may give flack for.

    In Japan, for example, it’s pretty darn safe from what I’ve read, and very, very young kids are encouraged to run errands for their parents — it’s like a rite of passage. But here, that same exact thing would bring down a CPS banhammer so fast. Which sucks. Different cultures, different norms, but I find it interesting that little kids in one place can be so much more independent than ours can (source: — and sure, Free Range Kids has its own outlook, but still).

    (FWIW I grew up being allowed to go about 1/2 mile to my bff’s house either by foot or bike, with the usual “call when you get there” rule. We were allowed to run wild in the woods, and were pretty much left to our own devices with the occasional check-in. It was marvelous.)

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