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All posts in 2012

Hi Readers — Believe it or not, this isn’t even a post about Sandy Hook. It’s about Tony Hawks and a photo he posted of himself skateboarding as he swung his 4-year-old daughter, who was not wearing a helmet.

I believe in helmets. I love them. I make my kids wear them. But I do not believe that seeing one Instagram pic of Tony with his un-helmeted daughter is a huge  problem (the way, for instance, ABC News does). In fact, to hope and pray for a day when every image we see in any medium is safety-tested, doctor-approved, drug-free, anti-bully, pro-vegan, un-retouched,  community-minded, well-balanced, FDA-approved, vitamin-rich, child-friendly, smoke-free, and culturally balanced, is to hope for a day when all we see are ads for grapefruit.

Although, come to think of it, people on some medicines can’t eat grapefruit. So maybe we’ll see ads for corn husk dolls.

Not sure that’s all I want to look at for the rest of my life. – L.

\ht tony hawk daughter tk 121219 wblog Tony Hawks Instagram Photo Raises Safety Questions

I’m guessing not a lot of us have 5000 square foot skate parks in our backyards anyway.


Hi Readers — I found myself nodding along with almost every word of this post, by Jennifer Murch, a homeschooling mom of four  on five acres near Harrisonburg, VA.  You can find more of her musings and lots of recipes at her blog, Mama’s Minutia. - L


I first started writing this post in my head while I was working in the kitchen with my little boy. He was painstakingly cutting out leftover gingerbread dough. He had flour smudges on his cheek and forehead. His nose was snuffly. His pants were falling down.

My little boy is six, the age of most of the children who were killed last week. When I realized this, several days after the fact (because I’m slow), all the air whooshed out of me like I had been kicked in the gut. Oh, the unspeakable, heart-wrenching agony those families are going through!

Shortly after this realization (and after letting myself have a good cry), I made a deliberate decision to stop thinking, reading, listening, or talking about the shooting.

I realized that I could spend hours mulling over the pain of those families. I could superimpose their reality over mine, imagining what it would feel like to go through such suffering. Inevitably, I’d start to hurt as though I actually might understand what they’re going through. I’d feel sad. I’d grow anxious, worried, and depressed. I know myself. This is how I respond.

The truth is, however, that I don’t understand their pain. I couldn’t possibly because it’s not my reality. Letting my mind play over the horrific happenings does me no good. It doesn’t do any good for my family, nor does it do any good for the grieving families.

See, I do not know those families. This does not mean I don’t care about them, because I do. As a human, I am connected to them. We share the same culture. We share the parent-child bond.

But honestly, how much can I really care about someone I’ve never met? For me, caring demands a hands-on response. It means dropping what I’m doing to meet someone where they’re at. When our friends’ son went missing, we dropped and went. When my girlfriend’s husband was dying, I dropped and went. When my children are crying, I drop and go. (Though sometimes I don’t. It depends on the kind of cry.)


There have been so many different responses as a result of this tragedy. Some people are weepy, others angry. Some people act like nothing has happened. Others are debating gun control and mental illness. There are people who feel like they can’t continue on with glorious everyday life in the face of such pain.

None of these reactions are wrong. We all have our own ways of processing. But in order to take care of myself, I have to draw a line somewhere. There are tragedies all over the world all the time. If I internalized them all, I’d be stuck in bed forever.

Perhaps this sounds selfish. Maybe narrow-minded or naive. But I think not. Some battles I am forced to fight, whether or not I want to. But I have a choice on others. Just as I am careful how we structure our days, what people we relate to, what movies we watch and books we read, I am also careful of what types of emotional/political/theological/etc. struggles I will allow myself to engage in.


The other day on a walk with my sister-in-law, we discussed the shooting. Which then got us talking about other horrors—Rwanda, North Korea, etc.

“Hearing about all that stuff is just too much,” she said. “I can’t wrap my brain around it. Sometimes I wonder if it does any good for me to even know about this stuff. We think it’s important to know but maybe it’s not.”

I wonder the same thing. What good does it do us, hearing about every kidnapping, shooting, robbery, and rape that happens the world over? Are we a more compassionate society than we were a hundred years ago? I doubt it. Perhaps we’re more savvy, sophisticated, street smart, educated, and globally aware, but I don’t think those characteristics ensure an increased level of compassion. In fact, they may even hinder it.


A couple days ago, my older son said, “People keep saying that you should always say good-bye when you leave because you never know when it will be your last good-bye.”

“Well, yes,” I said, suddenly exasperated. “You should say good-bye, but do it because it’s good manners and because people need to know you’re leaving, not because you’re afraid you won’t see them again. That’s kinda morbid.”


Because of the shootings, everyone is being advised to hold their babies extra tight. On several different occasions I’ve allowed myself to do this, to soak up their sweetness While thinking of the mothers who can no longer hold their own children.

But then I make myself stop because it somehow feels wrong to use someone elses grief to intensify my love for my children. I want to hold my babies simply because I love them.


It is not easy, even impossible sometimes, to turn the sadness off. On the other hand, sometimes the sadness gives us pause and helps us to become more thoughtful, more sensitive, more authentic. My genetic make-up is such that the sadness pulls me down into depression, a depression that is neither virtuous or necessary. – Jennifer Murch

Do we have to think, “This may be the last!” every time we say goodbye?

Readers — This is PRECISELY and I mean PRECISELY what I feared might happen, post Sandy. First of all, there is the way we are almost ENCOURAGED to believe that if some children are hurt, somewhere, sometime, now all children are in danger, everywhere, all the time. Second, there is the ease with which some folks in power are  ready to exchange age-old humanity for the  inhumanity of pseudo-safety. And finally: Ugh. Who wants to show up anyplace where the door is slammed in your face as if you are a psychopath till proven otherwise…by your access code? – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: We just got a Sandy Hook email from my daughter’s daycare the key part telling us:

One of the biggest concerns at this center (as stated by a parent) is, “how often parents ‘piggy back’ on the parent in front of them when coming in, thus bypassing the need to enter the security code”.

Please understand that in an effort to safeguard our children, no adult (parent or staff member) will hold the door for others. Each person must either use their access code or ring the bell to be admitted by a member of our staff. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause but the children’s safety is our greatest priority.”

Part of me wants to keep my daughter home now.

I have spent hours trying to concisely and clearly explain my dismay.  The redacted result I am about to send is as follows:

To the Director, Assistant Director and all the staff:

I am deeply saddened to see this letter.  While safety is important, this reaction (to a highly unlikely threat) does more harm than good.  It works against the educational goals at the center. Our greatest safety, comfort, resilience and foundation for growth come from community — community built and strengthened by our knowledge of one another, and our consistent willingness to care for and help one another. Community  is one of the main things I have loved about sending my daughter to your center.

Minor as the act of holding a door open for a parent right behind you (especially one with a baby in an infant carrier) may seem, it is a moment to care or be cared for.  It eases the hassles of parenthood and makes us feel welcome and connected.  Sometimes it starts us talking.  At the very least it gets us to take a good look at one another, allowing us to recognize which parents belong with which children.  It sets us up to be an extra set of eyes to protect those children.

To ask me to slam the door in the face of a parent I recognize breaks down that community.  And to what end?  The shooter at Sandy Hook faced a similar security system. He was not let in, he shot his way in.  Moreover, even when protecting military secrets I am not asked to shut the door on someone I know belongs in there.  I don’t believe [my daughter] knows about Sandy Hook.  But she will notice when doors start slamming in our face.  I don’t want her to build a distrust for familiar people, the very people she would do well to seek in an emergency.

Of course the door isn’t the only place people connect.  I get a sense of community when a teacher stops me on my way to the classroom to tell me what [my daughter] did on the playground.  It lets me know that even the teachers working upstairs know I am her mother. But now these instructions say these same teachers should close the door on me, on my daughter, and on other parents.  Why?

I am all too aware that life is fragile and has no guarantee. So, more than I want maximum security, I want my daughter to have community, connection, love, and joy all her life. –  Hawa

Stand back, you potential terrorist!

Hi Readers — My friend Nancy McDermott, a columnist at  Spiked-Online,  wrote this to me the other day. It was not apropos of the Sandy Hook shooting, just apropos  of being alive, being a parent, and being a realist, which means (believe it or not) being grateful. – L.

My son turned 10 the other day and got out of bed late on the night of his birthday and tearfully asked me what is the point of living if we’re just going to die in the end. (He’s a very old soul.) So I held him and told him because that is the miracle of people, because we know how it’s going to end but we still laugh and love one another and strive for the impossible anyway. We are part of the great thing that is humanity that goes on even when we are gone. We think these thoughts as other people before us have and as other people after us will. And that we don’t have to worry about it for a very long time in any case. That’s the best I could do short of reading him Crossing Brooklyn Ferry. I’m not sure whether that helped or if it was just the hug, but he shrugged and went back to bed. All the big questions and when you least expect them. – Nancy

A shout out to Walt, who was expecting us.

Hi Readers! Wondering what’s happening at your local schools, vis a vis more security. My older son’s high school is conducting a lockdown drill today, my younger son’s principal emailed home a comforting note but did not discuss any new procedures.  One reader wrote:

Dear Free-Range Kids: I’m wondering if anyone has contacted or is getting ready to contact their school/district about NOT implementing more security measures in light of Newtown?

Our elementary school has been handling things fairly well in my opinion, but in response to (apparently) repeated questions, the principal sent out a message this afternoon saying that the district in a meeting last month had “already identified concerns regarding our open campuses and is working on plans for fencing and gates to make our campuses more secure.”

Currently our campus cannot be locked down. The individual classrooms can be locked, but not the entire school grounds. A couple of the gates are merely openings in the fence, and they do not lock the students in for the duration of day. (A nearby school, perhaps 4 miles away, does this, so there is area precedent for implementing this kind of procedure.) I really want to know what others have said or what you might say if you were to contact the district urging them NOT to make our students into prisoners. Besides the fact that we don’t have the money to do it, it wouldn’t really help anything.

Lenore here again: I DO encourage schools not to become prisons, for so many reasons, mostly because they’re NOT prisons.  And for the record, Newtown DID have a buzzer-only admission policy, but the gunman shot his way in.

I remember the story about a child disciplined for holding the door open for his teacher, because no one was supposed to do that for anyone, even a teacher with her hands full. And this one, about a tiny day care center in a church, where all available funds were spent on a PIN number security system. Or this one, about an even more elaborate security system at a day care center called Lola’s Place: it uses “vascular recognition system” — eyeball reading — to keep strangers out. As I wrote then:

It’s not that I don’t want to see kids safe at preschool. It’s that if we all felt our kids needed this kind of protection, the world of childhood would be in virtual lockdown. Which is where it’s heading.

This view of the world — that kids are likely to be snatched out of pre-schools by criminal masterminds who laugh at a simply locked door — is (not to put too fine a point on it) paranoid-delusional-freakish. But as the article said, Lola’s Place is just the first pre-school to employ this system. The company is thinking about  New York, L.A. and D.C. next.

Then, perhaps, your town.

Then perhaps they’ll want to wire your house.

Then perhaps they’ll suggest you erect a nice, friendly,  fenced-in, razor wired, armed guard protected sandbox.

After all, “You can’t be too safe.”

Or can you? — Lenore


Hi Folks — I know everyone’s obviously tense at the moment, but here’s a  classic overreaction: When some boys were shooting a video of themselves acting out the body’s immune system using an umbrella, they were mistaken for psychopaths and the school went into lockdown. Kids hid and cried, parents careened to the school (and, thank God, didn’t run anyone over). Here’s the story.  - L.


Hi Readers — Here’s an issue I truly want help figuring out. I just got a comment on the post below this one (which was about why the Sandy Hook shooting feels so close)  from a reader very far away:

All the way over here in Australia, this pain is just as raw. The faces of these darling children beaming are out from the front page of today’s paper. The pain is gut wrenching….it’s in my heart, it’s in my head, and it’s in my womb. It does not make me fearful to send my children to school, but it is overwhelming. However, I do want to feel this pain, I do want to share it, but the coverage of these tragedies is always taken way too far. They are splashed constantly across our screens and paraded across our consciousness without respite.

Lenore here again: So, readers, my very real question is: Why DO we want to share the pain? And how is this actually sharing?

I ask not  because I am belittling the hurt. I feel it too, in the same organs. I’m just really trying to figure out what purpose sharing this ultimate pain (of certain parents,but not every parent in deep pain) serves. And also: Who are we sharing it with? I don’t think we’re sharing it with the actual parents, are we? Their situations and ours are so different. So are we sharing it with our fellow onlookers? What makes this feel like we are “doing” something — and what, in fact, ARE we doing?

I don’t mean to sound like a sociologist from Mars. I just think there’s something about this overwhelming feeling, even from half the world away, that may explain even more about our society than the fact we are sympathetic creatures.

Or maybe not. That’s why I’m asking. Thanks for any insights. – L