A Very Heartening Note!

Hi Readers! Remember this story — about the mom whose neighbors called the police because they saw her three children playing outside, unattended? That sort of epitomized my fears for our country: Busybodies AND the authorities meddling in normal  childhood, as if it’s too dangerous. This new note from the mom gives me great heart. Let’s hope it bodes well for 2011! — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: All week I have been wanting to write to you. Fortunately, this time, with good news!

It has been a year since you posted my story regarding the police telling me my kids are too young to play outside. Because of  this movement, my life has changed for the better! I am not longer scared letting my kids go out because so many people around the US wrote letters of support. It feels really nice to know there are people who are on my side!

In February, my husband lost his job. For economic reasons, we moved to Oregon — which turned out to be a blessing. To make a long story short, my husband found a job, we bought our first house AND our neighborhood is wonderful. Most of the kids here are Free-Range Kids, so my family finally fits in! It is nice seeing normal kids ride bikes, play basketball on the street, and play with each other.

Two months ago, the most awesome thing happened. My kids were playing outside with the neighbor kids, and my 7-year-old, Muhammad, came home. He was wearing a police badge sticker. He said, “Mom, a police officer gave this to me.” Of course I had a flashback. Then Muhammad continued, “He was really nice. He asked us what our names are and he gave us these stickers.”

I can’t tell you how happy I was. What a nice and smart police officer. Instead of him questioning my kids about why they were outside, he was having a nice conversation with them. Therefore, he was doing his job. I am guessing he was making friends with the neighborhood kids, so they know that if there is any danger, they’ll be comfortable talking to him. Isn’t that what a police officer is supposed to do?

Meantime, at school I have told a couple of teachers about Free-Range Kids and they agreed with some of the ideas! My son’s teacher said the school doesn’t do apple bobbing anymore because of “germs.” But she agreed the odds of someone getting sick is unlikely. Another teacher agreed with me that the media scares people thinking their kids are in danger, etc.

I look back at the last year, and I feel a sense of relief. My life is so much easier. Because I feel more comfortable being a “Free Range Mom,” my kids have matured so much. They have learned more social politics, and because they are outside more, they drive me less crazy. The whole family is happier!

Let’s hear it for defending Free-Range Parents! — Shaylene Haswarey

39 Responses to A Very Heartening Note!

  1. the Rebbetzin January 1, 2011 at 6:41 am #

    Well Baruch HaShem. Here’s to the state of Oregon! What a nice story with which to end 2010 and begin 2011!

    I have always felt luck to live in the neighborhood in which I do, and the stories on your blog help me not take it for granted! I’m glad this is one post I won’t shudder about :-)

    Happy Healthy 2011 to you and your family!

  2. benirleciel January 1, 2011 at 6:44 am #


    I actually think the odds of getting sick from apple-bobbing are pretty high, but what the hey, live a little.

  3. Vi | Loki the Shiba January 1, 2011 at 6:48 am #

    Hi! I remember when I was a kid, we met a police officer while playing in the neighborhood. He was very nice and showed up his radar gun and used it on a passing car. The car was going 29 mph. All of us kids were like, “Go get him! Give him a ticket.” He didn’t, but I’m sure he had a good laugh at us.

  4. kherbert January 1, 2011 at 7:44 am #

    The police where I teach come in and eat with the kids on occasion. The kids collect trading cards with the police officers pictures. It has paid off. One of the Moms told me she sent her son to get something in Walmart and told him to meet her in a different section. He got turned around (the walmart had just been remodeled. He saw one of the cops who visits our school. So he went to he officer and told him he couldn’t find where he was supposed to meet his Mom. The officer walked him to the correct section, and praised him for asking for help. Then told the Mom how polite the boys was.

  5. The Woman Formerly Known as Beautiful January 1, 2011 at 8:11 am #

    Hi Lenore — Just found you through Top 50 Mom Blogs and love your platform. I was raised in the late 60s and 70s and my brothers and I were NEVER INSIDE!! We had a field next to our house where we built forts and played war and just generally beat the crap out of each other and I remember that childhood as idyllic. I live right smack in the middle of LA so I don’t have the luxury of letting my 6 and 8 year old off the leash the way that I was. I am definitely one of those cautious parents who worries too much about stranger danger. But I think reading your blog might help settle my nerves. After all, these kids aren’t meant to be baby veal. Thanks for your work. Shannon

  6. Larry Harrison January 1, 2011 at 8:18 am #

    Now THAT’S a good story & one that is inspirational. They say the best revenge is living well, yet a side of me would love to hear that the police officers in the original story would get told an emphatic “there!” thrown back at them.

    The most thing though, is this: the parent is able to free-range, without harassment, as it should be. Good for her, too, that she felt emboldened even before this move. More people should respond as such.


  7. Anna B January 1, 2011 at 8:49 am #

    Shaylene–I would encourage you to let the police department and city council know how much you appreciate their approach. You know have to hear all kinds of crazy every day. I would encourage their sanity at every opportunity!

  8. Pugs January 1, 2011 at 8:51 am #

    Welcome to Oregon! It is a great place, but be sure to tell everyone it rains constantly here. We don’t want everyone moving here and turning it into the place they left.

    Free Range seems to be the norm around here. Last year a neighbor’s cousin was visiting from Chicago and she freaked when she saw a small boy, around 6 or 7 I’d guess, riding his bike on a hilly street by himself. I told her this was Oregon and kids were allowed to play without constant supervision. She kept going on and on about ‘what if’s’. Ugh.

  9. LauraL January 1, 2011 at 9:05 am #

    Yay for Oregon!! I hope you live near me. ;D

  10. gramomster January 1, 2011 at 9:18 am #

    Oh yay yay yay!!!

    I am expecting my new residence in the state of Montana to prove much the same. We shall see for sure next summer…

  11. Dot Khan January 1, 2011 at 9:20 am #

    Yesterday Lenore was concerned that printing Zero Tolerance stories was too similar to what the 24/7/365 (not counting leap year) news does. There is a huge difference since her good news follow up stories are not buried in the back of a newspaper. Positive stories are just as likely to be on the front page here as the examples that make us wonder if we are the only sane ones.
    With all of the doom and gloom stories in most media, too many people experience Unhappy News FEAR !

  12. Dave January 1, 2011 at 10:13 am #

    Good story. Nice way to start the New Year.

  13. bmj2k January 1, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    I don’t like apple bobbing, but that is just a phobia from when I saw Lucy freak out after touching dog lips in Merry Christmas Charlie Brown.

    As for the police officer, good for him!

  14. sue January 1, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    As Dot Khan said, we need more of these positive stories to balance out all of the scare stories in the US media. Unfortunately, it will probably take 100 positive stories to negate the effect of one fear-mongering story, but if you keep it up the message will start getting through to the non-Free Rangers out there.

    It’s also good to see the policeman doing his job getting to know the neighborhood kids. I agree that Shaylene should call her local precinct and let the officers know that they’re doing a great job. Most of us call to complain about something, so it’s a very nice surprise when someone calls to give a compliment.

    Happy New Year, Lenore. Keep up the good fight.

  15. Cheryl W January 2, 2011 at 1:14 am #

    Sometimes, leaving and finding a more healthy environment is the way to go. I am glad that this family is no longer living in fear and feeling like they can’t play.

    When I began homeschooling, some people felt that I was running away and not trying to fix the problems. But the fact is, sometimes the problem is so big, and would take so long to fix, that our kids won’t have the time to benefit from the results because they won’t be kids anymore.

  16. Dean January 2, 2011 at 2:07 am #

    A great story to start the new year.
    To the mom in LA, relax. I grew up in South Central. My folks sometimes didn’t see us all day from the time we were in the first grade, and we’re all still around to tell about it a half-century later. And, you know, the local gang is still in the neighborhood too.

  17. Claudia Conway January 2, 2011 at 3:54 am #

    Now that’s great community policing – getting to know kids so you can really help keep them safe. Not harrassing parents for making their own judgements.

  18. Staceyjw January 2, 2011 at 5:51 am #

    This story reminds me of something I think we should do: have a running post where everyone can note what neighborhoods are free range, and to what extent, and what ones are not. It would be easy to make a simple, objective point scale, maybe 0-100,with certain things adding or subtracting points (plus +10 for parks w kids, etc), plus a subjective 1-10 scale. For parental opinionm on how much they like living there.
    How do we do it?

  19. Jen Connelly January 2, 2011 at 6:08 am #

    Such a great story. We just moved from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest. We live in a small town across the river from Portland, OR. I was so nervous when we got here that we would be outcasts because of our free-range ways and really started to worry when I didn’t see a single kid outside the first week we were here except the little girl next door who wasn’t allowed out of her back yard.
    And then, slowly, the kids started appearing. After school started (a couple weeks after we moved in) I realized how many kids were just in a 1 block radius of our house. After that the kids were out constantly. Everyone is free-range here. All the kids from 1st grade up are outside running around with each other. My 4yo tags along with them (my older kids are 8, 9 and 10). The park is about a block away the access is across a street (down from ours) and through a path between two houses. On the other side of the park is a trailer park (pretty big one) and my son has a friend there. This friend said there was a sex offender in the trailer park. Out of curiosity I looked it up and supposedly 2 men living in one trailer are both registered sex offenders (didn’t say anything about children). What I thought was great was that this kid’s mom didn’t hide her son away. She showed him which trailer to stay away from and how to defend himself and he told my son who no knows to avoid this place and to avoid the men.
    I don’t even worry when my son goes over there (both boys are 9, by the way). The kids around here are all over the place. The older they are the more freedoms I see. I see middle school age kids out and about, young high school kids (14-15) walking to and from the stores in town without a second thought. My dd’s 11yo friend gets to walk the 1/2 mile or so to the local Bi-Mart to get stuff for her mom. She wanted my 10yo to go with her but, unfortunately, she was grounded at the time or I would have let her go. It would have been a perfect way to introduce her to walking outside of our little development so that in a year she can make the walk to the Bi-Mart. We feel so confident here that we’ve started letting the kids stay home alone while we run errands, including the 4yo. I trust my kids and know they will behave (other than stealing candy and ignoring our rule about no xbox and computer…sigh). A lot of the kids around here spend time alone (most have an older sibling, though, like 14 years old). But, like I said, we’re confident with our kids and the neighborhood. They know to go to a friend’s house if something happens.
    Unfortunately I still can’t discuss this online. Especially with stuff like this happening:
    On the mom’s site I’m someone posted his about a 5yo that died in a house fire while both parents were at work (leaving her with her 8yo and 11yo siblings for an hour). Now there is a huge cry on the site for the parents to be crucified and going on and on about leaving any kid (and their talking up until they are 16) alone for any period of time. Never mind that family lived near by and when trouble started the kids did what they should of, they ran for help from family and neighbors. From the sound of it the girl would have died whether the parents had been there or not because it happened so fast. But all they can see is that they were alone and that’s why she died because, of course, parents can prevent all bad things from happening if they are just diligent enough.

    About the only thing the news report did for me was remind me to discuss fire safety and exit strategy with my kids. Something we probably should have done months ago but I just didn’t think of it I will continue to leave my kids at home if need be and be confident that they will still be there when we return.

  20. Jules January 2, 2011 at 6:41 am #

    Hooray for starting the new year off with good news!!!

  21. pentamom January 2, 2011 at 9:20 am #

    “But the fact is, sometimes the problem is so big, and would take so long to fix, that our kids won’t have the time to benefit from the results because they won’t be kids anymore.”

    Bingo. My kids have one school career in which to get an education. If it takes five years to fix a problem, that’s nearly 1/3 of their school life enduring that problem — and that’s ONE problem that got fixed. If there are several problems, or if the people running the schools disagree with me that it IS a problem, it’s even worse.

    I don’t disagree with the idea that we should fix problems rather than run from them. It’s just that we wouldn’t put up with any other situation where the only shot we had at achieving something was messed up, when there were alternatives. We’d choose the alternative. The idea that it’s a *larger* responsibility of mine to fix the schools *than* to ensure that my kids’ only shot at an education is a good one never made any sense to me.

  22. pentamom January 2, 2011 at 9:22 am #

    Okay, so I didn’t learn any math myself! I was thinking 18 years of childhood, but it’s only 12-13 years of school, so five years is *more than* 1/3 of their school life — closer to half.

  23. Sandra from Australia January 2, 2011 at 10:07 am #

    I predict your children will be part of the leaders of their generation, in the jobs or the community, while the helicopter kids will be their followers.
    Happy Free-ranging.

    I do not know if you can sort out the few comments I have left here over the last year, but previously I told of my naturally free-ranged 19 yr-old daughter getting on a plane from hometown in Australia to London (13,000 miles, no email etc) with $200 in her pocket, and a 2 year working visa.

    Since then she got a nice English husband, been back home to do a degree with hubby in tow, set up a business, went back to England and now she is head honcho of a huge health concern in the UK. Similar stories for the other kids. They became the leaders, not the followers.

  24. Michelle Q January 2, 2011 at 10:32 am #

    What a nice story! We were just told, in a really bizarre, passive agressive way, that we should be ‘more nuturing’ to our twins (6.5 years) and play with them outside. We should also make sure they wear helmets when sledding down our small hill…
    I’m a teacher, so I see parents like this everyday but really didn’t want to live across from one!

  25. Marie January 2, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    For those talking about choosing home schooling due to school problems and being accused of running from the problem rather than trying to fix it, ditto!

    Took one of my kids out of public school and home schooled due to quality issues and people asked why I wasn’t trying to fix the problem. Know what? I think it helped the problem that I and many other parents chose to remove their kids. The neighborhood school is about to turn charter and a part of it is due to declining attendance, with an unusually high number of students having left between last school year and this one. Taking your child out of school IS doing something about it.

  26. Lisa January 2, 2011 at 11:43 am #

    I live in Oregon also – I agree that it seems to be more “free range” than other states. Kids in our neighborhood walk to school from around 1st or 2nd grade — even along busy streets. We live right across the street from our elementary school, so we are fortunate.

  27. Allison January 2, 2011 at 11:38 pm #

    @Staceyjw – you could look into making a “My Map” on google maps. I haven’t personally used this tool, but it allows people to work collaboratively and make notes on the map, so maybe it would be good for the project you’re describing.

  28. Library Diva January 3, 2011 at 9:51 am #

    Good idea, Anna B. It would help the police department’s morale too. I work at a community newspaper and field tons of complaints daily about why their kid’s honor roll was buried two pages after the honor rolls start, why such and such an event that happened in a different community wasn’t listed, etc. I live for the expressions of gratitude. Especially touching are the ones for things that weren’t even a big deal to me. The cops would appreciate hearing from the OP that she values the job they do.

  29. Mindy January 3, 2011 at 11:48 am #

    I too have been wanting to hear more about what people think about which types of neighborhoods, cities, states, provinces, etc. tend to be more free range. I live in Toronto, and my husband and I are looking to leave our rental and buy a house. It’s a very neighborhood-y city, but whether a neighborhood or a block is more or less free range seems to just be luck. But I have a feeling there might be a number of factors to keep in mind when we’re looking. I also have fantasies about living in the country somewhere, where I can just send my kids out to play in the woods, but I wonder if it’s really more free range in more rural places, or I’m just idealizing things?

  30. Cheryl W January 3, 2011 at 12:01 pm #

    Mindy, the rural places may depend on how close the neighbors are and if they can see your kids from the road. If you find a 4-H area (or equivalent) that may be helpful too, as the kids involved with that are expected to projects on their own for fair and such.

    A newer “community” in a rural area may have the same issues that the towns have because it is just transplanted townsfolk.

    Best bet in my opinion, beyond 4-H, is an area without covenants. In an area with covenants, they are expecting to be in each others faces due to having rules about where cars can be parked, height of grass, what color you can paint, if you can have a clothes line, what plants you can plant….all that stuff says to me “We are looking at you and your family, so stick to the line.” Places without covenants tend to be more laid back with attitude of “If you don’t bother me, I won’t bother you.” At the very least, places without covenants do not have any rules that can restrict you from doing legal things on your property (like letting your kids play around outside or after dark.

    Rural areas may be more understanding too because they know that if mom and dad have to fix a 1/2 mile of fencing, that the kids are probably not going to be right there with them the whole time.

  31. Mindy January 4, 2011 at 12:07 am #

    Thanks Cheryl, that’s really interesting. Does anyone have any other thoughts about what factors in an urban area point to a free range neighborhood? I’d love a whole post about this! For example, one factor I’ve noticed is density of families. If there are a lot of families on the same block with same age kids, then they often seem to know each other, which leads to more trust, and everyone relaxing more. Also, the more money in a neighborhood, the less free range it seems: many or most of the kids are enrolled in lots of activities which cuts down on the amount of time they’re outside doing unstructured things on their own.

  32. Uly January 4, 2011 at 2:43 am #

    Also, the more money in a neighborhood, the less free range it seems: many or most of the kids are enrolled in lots of activities which cuts down on the amount of time they’re outside doing unstructured things on their own.

    I’ve seen that myself, although I view it differently – the less money you have, the less likely it is that you can afford to pay a babysitter to shuttle your child around or buy a lot of expensive indoor toys for your child, and the more you’ll need to spend your at-home time doing chores instead of playing with your child.

  33. pentamom January 4, 2011 at 3:12 am #

    It’s probably both. Less affluence requires more freedom both because of lack of expensive, structured alternative activities, and lack of ability for parents to be joined to their kids at the hip.

    And then there’s a different thing entirely — the fact that police and social service agencies have more urgent things to do than chase people around for letting their ten year olds outside. That’s not to say they aren’t sometimes meddlesome anyway, but someone calling the police on a kid walking down the street in a moderately to very safe neighborhood is far less likely to get cooperation from the cops in an urban environment. And also, a more “free range culture” by virtue of the fact that urban areas never have an expectation of universal busing or all kids being driven to school — a large percentage of kids will always walk to school, so it makes little sense to anyone to claim that kids can’t be out on their own, out of parents’ sight, and functioning independently at least to that degree. From there, it “trickles down” into other areas.

  34. pentamom January 4, 2011 at 3:16 am #

    So I’ve never really thought about this, but one of the “factors” might be very close proximity to a school. If you live within three blocks of the school in an urban environment, for sure at least some of the kids are going to be walking independently, even from young ages. That in turn is going to create a climate where kids having at least SOME range is a given, and more likely that people will be comfortable with it being somewhat larger than that.

  35. Cheryl W January 4, 2011 at 11:40 am #

    More money, less free range? Not sure this is true. When I lived in a trailer park in Bozeman Montana (not far from the mall where the mom got in trouble for leaving her 13 year old with young son that is the subject of at least two other posts here in the last couple of years – not what I thought I would see coming from there,) I hardly ever saw any kids. I mostly saw my kids, and the kid next door, and the tweens who threw rocks through the windows of our bus we were converting to a camper.

    On the other hand, I know that in the neighborhood I lived in last, families with two incomes we never saw the kids either. They were the “keeping up with the Jones'” type, and the kids did tend to be off at camp all summer and during school breaks because they couldn’t stay home alone.

    Economically, the families that we saw that let kids play outside tended to be families where one parent worked full time, and the other was a stay at home parent (there were a couple dads) or the second adult only had to work part time. This was in a small town in CA that people termed as a 4-H town. Most of the parents got to know each other at the playground with their preschoolers. And yes, as the kids got older, the parents still came, but I know that the parents were there to socialize just as much as if not more than the kids. The kids pretty much chased each other around with pool noodle swords or shot at each other with sticks, or caste spells on the boys with wands or other such stuff. Parents sat at the tables and ignored the kids unless someone started crying, and even then we took our time getting there to see if they could solve it themselves.

    But then again, I know that some of the worst over protective parents are also the ones that stay home with the kids. So all in all, I would say it depends.

  36. Kathy January 4, 2011 at 11:51 am #

    Love this story. We live in Minneapolis, and last summer my 6 year old son and our neighbor boys, 7 and 9, were in the front yard playing star wars. My husband was on the front porch playing with his phone and saw a police car slow down in feint of our houses. Then he heard the loud speaker say: “Train hard young Jedis!” and he saw the police officers look at each other with huge smiles on their faces. The boys were thrilled and talked about it for days. The policemen may or may not have noticed my husband sitting on the porch (though I doubt it), but our children certainly didn’t and were only focused on their play and the contact they received from the cops. We parents even talked about it for days. I’m just glad my husband happened to be out there to see it for himself!

  37. Shaylene Haswarey January 11, 2011 at 1:14 pm #

    Lenore, Thank you so much for posting my story on New Year’s Eve! It totally made my day! I truly admire you for having the courage to stick up for us Free Range Parents!

    I also truly appreciate all the comments and support I got the last year. You all gave me the courage to stand up for the well being of my kids.

    If it wasn’t for you and your website, I probably would have kept the kids in the house. Again thanks for the courage.

    Finally, I forgot to mention on more thing. I finally feel like an old fashioned American mom. My kids play outside freely, plus they walk to the bus stop by themselves every morning and come home by themselves in the afternoon.

    I love my new free range lifestyle, and I don’t think I would have had the courage without you and everyone else who gave me the positive comments!

    If you ever come to Oregon, stop by. I’ll have my husband make some really good Indian food for you and your family!

  38. Shaylene Haswarey January 11, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    Lenore, Thank you so much for posting my story on New Year’s Eve! It totally made my day! I truly admire you for having the courage to stick up for us Free Range Parents!

    If it wasn’t for you and your website, I probably would have kept the kids in the house. Again thanks for the courage.

    Finally, I forgot to mention on more thing. I finally feel like an old fashioned American mom. My kids play outside freely, plus they walk to the bus stop by themselves every morning and come home by themselves in the afternoon.

    I love my new free range lifestyle, and I don’t think I would have had the courage without you and everyone else who gave me the positive comments!

    If you ever come to Oregon, stop by. I’ll have my husband make some really good Indian food for you and your family!

  39. Debbie October 11, 2011 at 10:58 am #

    My son got a severe eye infection from bobbing for apples in his class last year – yikes it was pretty gross!