MAMA’S MUSINGS Personal freedom
When I was 9 years old, my family lived in suburban Philadelphia in a small development that consisted of two cul-de-sacs bordered by two busier roads and a barrier between the end of our street and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. One of my aunts and her family lived on the longer of the two streets. It was a different place and a different time. I had the freedom to roam the little neighborhood.
Now that my youngest son, James, is also 9 years old and I am facing surgery, I decided it was time to allow him small bits of freedom. We started with the Rose Garden Farmers Market, which we attend as a family, so my older son Erick was with us. James likes to pet dogs and knows to ask permission from the dogs’ owners first. So we let him roam the tiny area and pet dogs. He was always in our sight, though.
Still, I am very conscious that we now live in a different time and place. Since we also live on a busy street, I don’t allow James to walk it alone. But I have been hoping to find ways to allow him just a little personal freedom.
Then recently we attended and event at Donegan Elementary, where I was working on an assignment for the newspaper. The event took place during the school’s open house, and a whole large area behind the school was filled by tables, games and emergency vehicles. As we walked around, James saw a bouncy house on the far end of the area. The line was very long.
We waited together until it got close to when I had to go to the other end of the area to do interviews and take photos. James was adamant that he wanted to stay in line. Finally, I turned him around and pointed down the hill to the bright blue dunk tank. I told him to join me there after he was done on the bouncy house. I took a deep breath, and made my way to my assignment.
I did my job, and enjoyed it. But all the while, a small part of me worried that James would get lost. This was mildly mitigated by the presence of the police and firefighters at the end of the area. But James didn’t get lost. He did not wait at the dunk tank though. He went past it and found me instead.
I was wearing a red coat that helped him locate me. When he did find me, he asked if he could play on the playground by the bounce house. Another deep breath, and I agreed, telling him firmly to stay at the playground, and I would collect him.
It worked out. I finished doing interviews and made my way to the playground. Several kids were still there, most likely the children of teachers and volunteers, since the crowd had dispersed. I collected James. I praised him for finding me earlier.
I did find one flaw in the plan, though. I had not told him that the staff at the school all wore blue lanyards with the school name in white letters. So he was nervous to speak to anyone. Still, it was a good place to let him have that bit of freedom. He has shown more responsibility now that he is 9, and it was good to reward that.
This will be a work in progress, since time and experience have made me more cautious than I felt at James’ age. Again, I have to say I love Bethlehem. It is a good thing that there are places in the city where I can let him be a little more free.