Death and the Free-Ranger

Rachel Fracassa describes herself as a” long-time reader and Free-Range mom of four,” whose family is always “off creating new adventures.” Their latest project is The NightLight, which rates/recommends products for babies and parents.

WHAT FRIGHTENS MY FAMILY by Rachel Fracassa

Six filthy bare feet run along the gravel drive and hop over a leaf-littered creek to get to the pasture where their father is buried. It’s just a field, like any other along 7 highway, but under a little Swamp Oak is a rock – a rock with my daughter’s scrawl “DADDY.” And beneath that, a grave.

We don’t make much of fuss over this spot. The kids whirl about, they snatch the flowers budding atop the weeds and sprinkle the petals on each others’ heads. It’s not a sad place, nor is it a place of joy. It just is.

Tyler and I started our family in 2002. We were Free-Rangers from the get go, though we didn’t know it at first. As young parents, we were under constant scrutiny and our methods were often deemed foolhardy. Gwynneth, our first-born, was wild and unflinching. By the age of four, she was climbing over the sides of two-story slides to shimmy down the supporting poles “firefighter style.” Up and up she would go, and while we would lean back to give her a smile, other parents in the park would run beneath her and scowl in our direction. “That fall could kill her,” friends would say. I knew she was fine, I had watched her do it dozens of times. I had stood beneath her myself when she first began to test her limits. But even though I had faith in her abilities, the reactions of others would cause me to second guess myself. When I stumbled upon Free-Range Kids, I was beyond delighted. I had finally found proof that my antics had a greater purpose, that I wasn’t alone. And I wasn’t crazy. It was the boost in confidence that I needed and we never looked back.

It’s been 20 months since my husband was killed in a car accident on his way home from work. I know just how quickly one’s reality can change. I have seen the fragility of life first-hand. That knowledge haunts me as I see the potential for harm in every activity, knowing that I could not carry on if I lost another piece of my heart. I watch my son and daughter take their baby brothers off to the park on their own and my head fills with improbable yet unnerving possibilities.

But here’s the thing: death isn’t the scariest thing out there. Death has made me more frightened of not living than of dying. And that is what I want to give to my children – the strength and the permission to never hold back, to test their limits, to fail, and to get back up again. Because holding them back, keeping them from their potential on account of my own fear, that is a death, too. – R. F.

Something more frightening than death.

A mom’s fear.

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18 Responses to Death and the Free-Ranger

  1. Backroads May 28, 2014 at 1:17 pm #

    This strikes close to home. My husband’s family is free-range by nature–they run a ranch. One of my husband’s brother drowned as a toddler–one of those freak moments where he wandered out of sight just long enough. My in-laws still live with “what ifs”. Could they have been more careful? Sure, and they live with that. BUT there was no true negligence going on–just a horrible day where a few tiny things were out of place to create a tragedy.

    Now, while a few adjustments were made due to this tragedy, they had several more children who continued to live free-range lives.

    Bad things happen. There is no stopping that. Mindful free-range living does not prevent a freak accident or tragedy any more than any degree of helicopter parenting. No one is perfect–not parents, not drivers on the road.

    My heart goes out to this family who lost someone and I applaud them for still facing the world without undue fear.

    Yes, live as this woman has said. Death can come at any time.

  2. Powers May 28, 2014 at 1:26 pm #

    Not to monger fear, but slide support poles are not designed to support anything other than the slide itself. That particular activity could actually be legitimately dangerous.

  3. Gina May 28, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

    Wow. Just wow.

  4. Melissa May 28, 2014 at 1:34 pm #

    What a powerful story, thank you for sharing.

    I hear the mantra so often from my mother-in-law (most recently about letting my son walk to school by himself in first grade). My position is that the chance of something happening to him is SO incredibly slim, but the chances of it being a positive experience are overwhelming. Her response is always “But if something happened, you’d never forgive yourself.” Same with swimming in the lake, playing in the woods, riding his bike alone around the neighborhood, and countless other things. Implicit is the very thinly veiled “*I* will never forgive you.”

    It’s a fear that of course we harbour, but we can’t let that overrule our lives. Either live scared, timid, boring lives (and you still might get hit by a bus), or live exciting lives that are a bit dangerous.

  5. anonymous mom May 28, 2014 at 1:54 pm #

    @Melissa, isn’t “You’d never forgive yourself” or “I’d never forgive myself” a really weird reason for not allowing your child to do something, though? I have often thought about this. Because, honestly, that *is* the first place my thought goes: if something bad happened to my child because I let them do this, I’d spend the rest of my life feeling bad and guilty.

    But that’s such a strange, self-centered way to look at this, and I think it does show that so much of our concern for our children is really more about us. We’re less concerned about protecting our children from harm than protecting ourselves from guilt and pain.

  6. lollipoplover May 28, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

    “Death has made me more frightened of not living than of dying.”

    When faced with the horrible reality that no one is promised a long life, it is so much more enjoyable to let go. I fear my children being afraid most of all.
    Thank you for sharing your story.

  7. Melissa May 28, 2014 at 2:19 pm #

    @Anon. mom, EXACTLY! That’s what I keep trying to say (obviously not well, or she’s not listening). I usually same something “Well, that’s an acceptable risk for me.” which sounds so…cold. But I refuse to clip my kids’ wings with my own fears.

  8. Emily May 28, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

    Powers, what did you hope to add to the discussion? That not using every piece of playground equipment properly could be dangerous? Life is dangerous.

    This post isn’t about danger, its about how to go on when “the worst” happens.

  9. Sarah May 28, 2014 at 2:50 pm #

    Beautiful and encouraging note. Off topic, but is anyone else a country music fan? Every time I hear that Reba McEntire/ Kelly Clarkson duet I get that choked up feeling-
    Because of you
    I never stray too far from the sidewalk
    Because of you
    I learned to play on the safe side so I don’t get hurt
    Because of you
    I find it hard to trust not only me, but everyone around me
    Because of you
    I am afraid

  10. Papilio May 28, 2014 at 3:13 pm #

    @Powers: “Not to monger fear, but slide support poles are not designed to support anything other than the slide itself.”

    That would make the slide unusable…

    @Anonymous mom: Yes, exactly, it is self-centered. *I* am afraid, so *you* can’t have a life.

  11. J.T. Wenting May 28, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

    @Powers you are trying to instill fear where there is no need.
    Those poles are designed to keep the weight of the slide + several people on it (often a maximum weight of several hundred pounds of human).
    If they weren’t, the slide would collapse the moment a child climbed up the ladder to use it…

    Generations of children have used slide support posts to climb on, hang from, do gymnastics. Some have no doubt been hurt when they slipped, lost their grip, and fell.
    But I seriously doubt any has ever been hurt (given a decently designed and maintained device, of course) by the pole giving way.

  12. lollipoplover May 28, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

    The description of Gwynneth reminds me of my fearless 7 year-old daughter. I just watched a video of her from this weekend. She ziplined (had to climb a tree to get on the line) while her cousins and siblings pelted her with large balls a la Wipeout and then used her legs to knock down the giant lawn bowling pins. She crashed into a padded wall but was a bit off and hit the wooden lattice and crushed some flowers. When asked if she was OK, she said she felt bad for the flowers.
    She’s been jumping into the deep end since her early years and I don’t see her slowing down anytime soon.

  13. Sharon Davids May 28, 2014 at 4:21 pm #

    My 12 year old just discovered the zipline and loves it. Her major complaint is because she is light weight they have to tighten the ropes for her own safety. She loves the thrill of it but my husband’s family think I am trying to kill her.
    I even found a camp this summer that has a couple ziplining trips. They also don’t believe she can swim and that I should always be in the water in case she needs me. The worst injury she ever had a pool was running on the side of the pool and she survived and now knows not to run on the side of the pool.

  14. DirtyHooker May 28, 2014 at 10:33 pm #

    Speaking of testing limits: I see the very beginning of the need to be free-range with my 15-month-old daughter even now.

    When she is doing something potentially risky (climbing up the porch steps, etc.), she looks to see whether I am there. If I’m next to her, she will throw herself off the top step with reckless abandon, knowing that I will catch her. If I’m not there, say, I’m watching her from a distance, she will back down carefully. Making her to do these things on her own forces her to get a sense of her own limits.

  15. Michelle May 28, 2014 at 11:50 pm #

    I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety my entire life. From depression I have learned that everything ends, and I can get through anything. It might take 20 years, but I can get through.

    From anxiety, I have learned that fear doesn’t do you any good. Fear doesn’t stop bad things from happening. It doesn’t make the hard stuff easier to deal with. But it can take your life away from you when you’re not looking.

    Fear is an enemy to fight, and an obstacle to overcome. And, like I said, I’ve learned that I can get through anything.

  16. J.T. Wenting May 29, 2014 at 1:48 am #

    “Fear is an enemy to fight, and an obstacle to overcome. And, like I said, I’ve learned that I can get through anything.”

    Or as the Bene Geserit mantra goes in Frank Herbert’s Dune:
    “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

    There is a place for fear. But fear only what should be feared. Don’t fear for the sake of fearing, or you’re not alive.

  17. CrazyCatLady May 29, 2014 at 10:36 am #

    Ah yes, the toddler who fears nothing! My youngest was that way too. He climbed the slide that every other kid fell through (spiral staircase with unique attachment.) He danced near the edge until I went to the end of the tube slide and then he went down.

    The one thing he liked the most was the ladder to no where. It was a vertical ladder that went about 8 feet in the air. Before he was one, he LOVED to climb to the top of that thing, put his feet on the second to top rung, and wave. With both hands. Particularly if there were parents making a fuss about him doing it! I had to tell parents to PLEASE LEAVE HIM ALONE! If he didn’t have anyone to wave too, he would just hang on. Though I loved his sense of balance, and would still wave to him myself.

  18. Josie June 2, 2014 at 4:17 am #

    I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for your story.