A Happy Holiday Story!

Hi etibetiibs
Readers — This just in! A lovely story. Be of good cheer — it’s happening! — Lenore

Dear Free-Range Kids: This happened to me the other day. I was talking to a co-worker about how, as a child, my parents would send me to spend my summers with family in America… alone. I was an “UM” (Unaccompanied Minor) on the flights, which meant that a steward(ess) would meet me at the gate, take me to the plane, and plunk me down on my seat. When the plane landed, s/he would get me and walk me to my parents. While I was technically unattended during the 8 hours or so of the flight, it’s not like I could go very far!

Well, my co-worker was mind-boggled. “I won’t even let my daughter walk to the corner shop by herself!” I asked him why not. He gave the usual waffling of,  “Well, you never know what could happen.” He talked about a couple cases of children who have been abducted. His examples were all from over a decade ago. So I told him about how the media works, how these things are so shocking that they are drilled into our consciousness because everyone talks about them, but that in actual fact they are very rare.

“But what if it happens to MY daughter? That something is rare is poor comfort for a grieving parent.” So I told him about confidence, about how letting kids take care of themselves a bit and do ‘grown-up things’ like walking to the corner shop prepares them far better for dealing with possible nasty situations. After all, I said, you don’t want to dump a sheltered girl at college!

He seemed unconvinced. He was stuck on the “what if.” But the great news is that a couple weeks later, he came into work beaming with pride and told us all about how he was running short on time that morning and desperately needed something from the corner store. So he gave his daughter money and let her go ahead while he finished getting ready. She bought what he needed (candy canes, as it so happens) and waited for him outside. When he finished getting ready, he drove by the corner store, picked her up, and off they went.

All he talked about for the next week or so was how grown-up his daughter was, and how proud of herself she was for accomplishing her little errand. Finally, a happy ending!

40 Responses to A Happy Holiday Story!

  1. Teacher Tom December 27, 2009 at 11:39 pm #

    On Christmas eve several of us were talking around the dinner table talking. I mentioned that my 13-year-old had been shopping downtown Seattle on her own. My mother-in-law freaked out. I calmly explained how rarely children are abducted/hurt by strangers, etc. and she replied angrily, “Well, I’m still worried about that one-half of one-percent!”

    My cousin then quietly talked about how her son has been roaming the neighborhood on his bike for years. The MIL ground her teeth.

    A family friend talked about how her kids take the bus on their own, which just about gave my MIL a heart attack.

    The poor woman is over 70 and gets most of her news from the TV. She was once such a bold, brave woman and it was sad to see what our popular media has done to her.

    For her health, I don’t think tell her that my daughter has been shopping on her own for years. =)

  2. Jack December 28, 2009 at 12:24 am #

    I remember when I lived in the Tampa/Clearwater area for 3 years (91-99) how the local TV news programs were constantly running promos to scare the seniors into being afraid of everything. It was disgusting and shameful. These “news” programs say the same falsehoods over and over again that their viewers end up believing all of the lies.

  3. pentamom December 28, 2009 at 12:42 am #

    Teacher Tom, I know I’m just beating the old horse, but I wonder how she would have reacted if you would have pulled a look of deep concern on your face and asked her how many miles per year she traveled by car? If she appeared surprised or confused, you could tell her how much higher her chances were of being killed that way than by any of the things your kids were doing, and that you really wanted her to stop traveling by car anywhere, ever, because that small percentage of automobile deaths would be small comfort to you if happened to her.

  4. Uly December 28, 2009 at 1:01 am #

    Pentamom, his mother-in-law is clearly already a deeply frightened and unhappy woman. And it was Christmas. There’s a time and a place for snark, and a time and a place for gently leading people back to sanity.

    As for the post itself, that’s great news 🙂

  5. bequirox December 28, 2009 at 2:07 am #

    Wonderful job! My husband got me your book for Christmas (Turns out if you say, “You know that website, ‘Free-Range Kids’?” enough times, a husband gets the hint.) and I finished reading it last night. Of course it’s mostly stuff I’ve read on this site, but it’s nice to have all my statistics in one place, plus the websites where you got them and everything. I’m so excited to get other people reading it! Merry Christmas!

  6. Stassja December 28, 2009 at 3:24 am #

    Great story! Like the author, I flew alot unaccompanied as a child, starting when I was age 7. I went to visit my grandmother. When I was ten I flew further, to visit my best friend that had moved cross country. When I was 14 I went to Japan for 8 weeks as an exchange student, and thanks to public transit enjoyed SO much freedom over there. I would leave for “school” (a three week language immersion program) in the mornings, and then after school wander around Tokyo with my similarly aged friends, sometimes until 8-9pm. With a very bare understanding of the language, I did get lost a few times, but my host mother had prepared me by writing the names of my home station in my notebook so I could ask metro employees for directions. It was truly and utterly life-changing for me, and very empowering to not have a grown up hovering over me or knowing where I would be every moment of the day. I didn’t even have a cell phone most days (this being nearly ten years ago, gosh) and even if I did, it was difficult for my host family and I to communicate as well on the phone as we did in person.

    I hope to give my kids a similar experience. 🙂

  7. Jen Connelly December 28, 2009 at 4:03 am #

    Although I’ve never flown on my own me and my brother did take the train from Chicago up to Grand Rapids, MI when I was about 12 and he was 10. Our aunt had died and my mom was already up there. My dad worked for Amtrak most of our lives so riding trains was a normal thing for us but it was our first “solo” trip. My dad let us board in the yard (like we did often back then…some 20+ years ago) and we talked to the conductor and watched as they pushed the train into the station. We had a blast and my mom and another aunt were waiting to pick us up in Grand Rapids.

    When I was 12 I was riding my bike to the mall 2 miles from my house and spending the day window shopping. Sometimes with my 10yo brother but mostly alone. Sometimes we’d walk or take the bus but I liked riding my bike. By the time I was 14 I was taking public transportation home from my high school (which was 8+ miles away and took 45-60 minutes to get home from with traffic).

    At 16 I was taking the L downtown and spending the day just wandering around. I explored all over the city when I was in my teens and I was almost always alone.

    Oh, and not to mention the day long trips to Six Flags. Just me, my brother and our friends when were like 14 and 12 (and our friends were between 14-9). No parents, just us and an amusement park and $20 each for food and games.

    All those things would probably get me arrested for child endangerment if I let my children do them.

    I often wonder how things work for school trips now. When I was in 10th grade our orchestra went to Nashville for several days. We were set free at the Opryland Hotel to explore for an hour and then we were off to Opryland itself where we spent the whole day. There were only a handful of chaperons for the 70+ girls on the trip. Our only rules were that we stick together (no singles out and about) and to check in at certain times (no cell phones back then). We were 14-18 years old. When I was in 12th grade we went to St. Louis and went to Six Flags.
    Heck, when I was in 8th grade (14) our whole class went to Six Flags for the day. Again, the only rule was we had to be in pairs (at least) and check in at the fountain every few hours.
    I wonder if they even let kids go on these trips any more because, you know, you never know what might happen.

  8. AirborneVet December 28, 2009 at 4:23 am #

    I honestly don’t know how some parents do it. How can they be with their kids 24/7 and not go insane? My son is 3 and caonstantly asks me to play with him even if there are other kids areound such as on the playground. I keep telling him he needs to go and ask them to play. Some days he does that very well, but lately all he wants for a companion is me. It’s driving me insane!

  9. WendyW December 28, 2009 at 5:23 am #

    I started flying cross country on a yearly basis with my older sister when we were 8 & 10. At 14 & 16 we flew to Japan (where my father was stationed) for the summer, and I came back alone. In those years, we learned to deal with canceled flights, flying stand-by, and missed connections. We NEVER had anything catastrophic happen. We DID gain a lot of confidence and learn that even when things don’t go as planned, they usually work themselves out with a minimum of fuss. I know adults who are not capable of handling such situations at 40yo.

    My Senior year of HS, our class trip was a week in Washington DC. Our lodgings were a by-the-week apartment building in a not so great part of town. We were allowed to walk- in groups- to do whatever shopping and fast food we could find in our free time. During the day when we were in the city, we were given periods of free time to find our way anywhere our hearts desired on the buses and taxis. And all the money to pay for it was raised by the class, the parents provided nothing but pocket money. I can’t even imagine such a trip taking place now.

  10. Unplanned Cooking December 28, 2009 at 9:15 am #

    This is such a great blog. I try to give my children freedom, but I always have that knot of anxiety in my chest. But when I read your blog I swallow it and let them live their life.

  11. Olivia O. December 28, 2009 at 10:43 am #

    The other day I had my first test of my free-rangeness. My older son (who just turned four today!!) wanted to go outside and play in the snow, and the younger one seemed like he wanted to also. So I got the older one all dressed in his snow gear, then turned to put snow pants on the younger one, who then threw a fit and yelled “NO SNOWPANTS!!” over and over. So there I was – one kid dressed and ready to go out and play, the other one clearly not willing to get dressed without a huge fight. I figured I had three choices: 1) make the older one stay inside 2) force the younger one into snow gear (which is no easy task) and make him go outside or 3) let my older son go outside and play by himself. So I let him go. And other than having to stick my head out the door once to remind him he had to stay in the backyard where I could see him (rather than in front of the house near the street) he did great! He even managed to get our tenant to play in the backyard with him for a while. He felt so good about himself, and I didn’t have to fight with either of them.

  12. Gail December 28, 2009 at 11:13 am #

    @Unplanned Cooking – It’s okay to be anxious. I think that’s one of the big misunderstandings people have about free-rangers: they think we’re heartless and unconcerned about our precious children. I listen to and read the same news reports as everyone else (well, I try to limit them but I still hear the stories) and I breathe the same neurotic societal air as everyone else. It’s just that I choose to ignore those anxieties when the situation calls for it.

    I recently allowed my children – 4 and 8 – to play at the park on their own. I gave the older one my cell phone and strict instructions to come home in half an hour and to call me if there was any trouble or if the younger one wouldn’t listen when he said they had to leave. Then I went home, one street over and two houses in, and paced for the entire time! Naturally, he lost track of the time so I called to remind him to come home. He had a bit of trouble getting his little brother to come with him but couldn’t get the cell phone to work (forgot he had to press “talk”) so he wound up managing on his own. Moral of the story: our kids are capable of so much more than we want to believe and it’s okay to be anxious about each new step so long as we don’t let them see it. This assumes, of course, that one has done the ground work of teaching them safety, responsibility and problem solving.

  13. Steve December 28, 2009 at 12:13 pm #

    I am glad to hear that there is another free range parent is born :D. He finally got past his security blank “what ifs” and he and his daughter blossom. I’m sorry for those who had such abductions but this person is right in the fact they are rare.

  14. Stephanie December 28, 2009 at 12:29 pm #

    What a great story. Just goes to show that sometimes you just need to share the information and give it a little time to sink in.

  15. Denise December 28, 2009 at 12:32 pm #

    I can’t count the people who have gasped at my bold move – to let my 6 year old travel from Palm Springs, CA to Chicago on Jan 3 as an UM, Unaccompanied Minor. The airline didn’t blink,nor did my overprotective neighbor mom who used to be a flight attendant (I think I may have converted her to free range!)

    The worst things that could happen are 1) The plane crashes – which I could not prevent if I were with him, right? and 2) He tries the emergency exit and sets off some dreadful alarm that scares the life out of 200 passengers.

    Truly, I worry more for the person sitting next to him, of whom he will ask repeatedly, how long till we get there? and, why are your eyes blue and mine are brown?

  16. Denise December 28, 2009 at 12:33 pm #

    contact me

  17. Amy December 28, 2009 at 12:39 pm #

    My 8 and 10 year old children flew as unaccompanied minors to Europe. We put them on a direct flight in L.A. and their grandparents picked them up when they got off in Zurich (where the grandparents live).

    Many of my friends said with a mixture of admiration and disbelief that I was “so brave.” But I couldn’t imagine how they could get into trouble at 20,000 feet. And they spent a wonderful summer in Switzerland with their grandparents.

  18. Eika December 28, 2009 at 12:47 pm #

    Jen Connelly, I just want to say some of those school trips are alive and well. My mom was my high school band director (I graduated in ’08) and, my Junior year, we went to New York. Had a few sightseeing tours, saw a broadway show, got a tour of Juliard, but two or three times of the four days we were there we were set loose for three or four hours. In Times Square, in Central Park, wherever. We just had to check back in time, and stay with a buddy.

    When I was in eighth grade, both parents chaperoned another trip Mom ran (and sister was in the band then) so I got dragged along to. It was four days in Disney World as their band for the day. I was roped into banner carrier, but didn’t care at all. And, again, let loose in a giant amusement park for three to four hours at a time, with the only rule being to stay with a buddy. Pure awesomeness.

    I’m not sure if the principal and vice principal knows she does this. I think it’s more of a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell, no problems, it’s okay’ situation. But as long as it works…

  19. Emily December 28, 2009 at 5:43 pm #

    When I was 12 my brother and I flew as UMs to New Zealand to stay with my dad’s family. My parents went on holiday to Bali. It was really exciting and I felt very grown up looking after my brother, who was nine. Plus, we got to sit in first class for the last hour of the trip!

  20. Chelly December 28, 2009 at 6:36 pm #

    I used to fly to visit my grandparents alone every summer from age 9 to 14. I never even had the steward around to “board” me or take me off. I would just walk in when my number sequence was called with the other 10/20 people and always got the closest seat to the door as I could so I could unboard quickly.

    My oldest went to Linguafest this year. He is 14. It is a program set up for military students who take a foreign language class while living overseas. 2nd year students get to spend a week in a hotel with no adults. They attend classes and work shops on and off through out the day, and are turned loose during their free time. They get to roam wherever they way, the village, the hotel, etc. They just have to be back in by curfew, which was 11pm. The program is normally for high school students, but if you have a middle school student that happens to be taking HS classes, they can attend also. Which is what my son is doing. He even got to roam a rather big Christmas Market with just his friends. They didn’t have anyone watching over them.

    Of course, I have noticed most Germans are rather Free-Ranged, so a bunch of kids roaming around without a guardian doesn’t break national news. Just surprised that the military schools would adopt that for the program. very happy they did too.

  21. Vi December 28, 2009 at 9:56 pm #

    I flew a few times as an unaccompanied minor by myself and also a couple times with my younger sister. Some of our fondest memories of sister bonding occurred on that trip when it was just the two of us. The relevant question isn’t what might have happened because we flew as minors, but rather what might we have missed out on if we didn’t.

  22. jim December 29, 2009 at 12:17 am #

    Great point about the effect TV has on seniors. I have a very dear neighbor – my “adopted black grandmother” – who first rescued my much-loved semi-large street mutt, and that evolved into a joint custody arrangement when he got to be a bit much for an 80 year old lady with a bad hip who has had a stroke, but he still spends about 40 daylight hours a week on the sofa with her watching TV. Almost every morning when we walk in she has already had an hour or so of “Good Morning America” and local news and is already in a panic over planes falling from the sky, gunmen running wild in the streets, children getting kidnapped, or whatever the daily once-every-five-minute-rotation story of the day is. I try explaining to her that in a city of 4 million+ like Houston there is going to be a shooting, a robbery, or a fire pretty much every day but crime rates are way down from 20 years ago and the chance of it happening to YOU are one in 4 million. Since she gets national and local stories confused, make that one in 250 million. No luck – They Are Out To Get Me; It Says So On TV!

  23. pentamom December 29, 2009 at 1:47 am #

    Uly, yes I know. I really didn’t mean that someone actually SHOULD talk to his mother in law that way on Christmas. I was just having fun with the logic. But I realize it came across that way, sorry!

  24. gramomster December 29, 2009 at 2:09 am #

    My first flight was at 5. I never flew anywhere with my adults. I’m 43. All of my flights have been either as an UM or as a mom. I flew every year from 5-12 to visit some relative or another over the summer, and multiple times the year I was 16. There are an awful lot of kids out there who fly once or twice a month to their other parent, and have no trouble whatsoever.
    A good friend of mine, who is very very free range, goes to Germany pretty much every year with her kids. Their dad is German, and they go visit family there. One year, she came home first, and the kids were going to come home with their dad. He ended up staying, and the girls, about 15 and 6 at the time, came home from Germany on their own. They thought absolutely nothing of it. Totally fine. Cancelled flight, rerouted in Amsterdam… no problem whatsoever. Never even called a parent. Just told them the story when they got home. Perfectly competent.

  25. Brian December 29, 2009 at 2:35 am #

    I once was on a flight with a 6 year old UM from Port Elizabeth South Africa to Jo’burg. It’s only an hour or so, but the kid was wired on all the candy that his helpful grandmother had packed for him in his carry on.

    I was lucky, I got off the plane in Jo’burg, but the kid stayed on for the flight to London (another 12 or so hours). I really pittied the next passenger, who was going to have to deal with the little guy. Constant questions, reaching over and playing with my laptop ( he left a booger on my track pad!), climbing under my legs so he could get to the aisle.

    That said, he was never unsafe, just really annoying. And, truth be told, cute.

  26. Bonni December 29, 2009 at 3:14 am #

    I remember flying across the country as a 12-year-old being “chaperoned” by my grandmother. Little did the adults around us realize that I was truly her “chaperone.” Grandma had only flown once or twice before, had dimensia, was recovering from a series of surgeries that required me to give her medicine and keep her stationary when she wanted to move around, was one of those gullible people who freaks out at every story on TV — “Oprah said it, it must always be true” — or worse — “I saw it on Montel, it must always be true.” Without any disrespect meant toward her, she was useless as a traveling companion.

    I had a bad reaction to cabin pressurization and was in severe pain for two-thirds of the trip, but managed our two tight connections, a flight change in Charlotte, all of Grandma’s medical needs, and myself just fine. It was a super-liberating experience, and was proud to have earned the trust my parents gave to me for that trip.

  27. Rae December 29, 2009 at 3:49 am #

    I started travelling as a UM at 61/2 to travel between divorced parents (NJ to MO).

    As for school trips, my son is in HS marching band and they make several trips to competitions each year. They stay in pairs/groups, but are often set loose in malls, etc. with VERY high expectations of behaviour appropriately representing the school and the band and instructions to be back at the bus or hotel at an appointed time. Since they run on “band time”, (with few exceptions – of course there are exceptions) they are back 10-15 min early.

    My son also accompanied tour groups to Germany/Austria/Switzerland (age 13) and Italy (age 15). I could tell such a change in him when he got back from his trip at 13. Heck, I could hear it in his voice with his first phone call home!. He lost his passport when he was in Italy but he was with a good tour company – fortunately their last couple of days were in Rome so there was an American Embassy handy – so learned what needed to do in that situation, which is something I’m glad he knows for future travels.

  28. Delia December 29, 2009 at 4:23 am #

    My daughter had a friend overnight last week. The friend commented to my daughter how ‘grown up’ it felt to be able to walk home from school with her instead of having to be with a parent like she usually does. It was neat seeing a 10 year old get excited about having the freedom to just have fun with a friend without being constantly monitored.

  29. Christina December 29, 2009 at 5:02 am #

    I started flying as an UM at age 5. The only mishap that ever occurred was on a flight from Denver to Dallas. My aunt got me to the airport late, so I missed my flight and had to hop on a flight to El Paso and transfer there to a flight for Dallas. No big deal, I had been flying alone and with my younger brother for several years at this point (I was about 10 at the time). Normally, I would just walk to the gate for the connecting flight on my own, but this time a flight attendant insisted I wait to be walked to the gate. I still don’t know why I listened to her, but I was a generally good kid so I did as I was asked. And soooo, I missed my connecting flight. I called my parents collect to tell them about the screw-up and then called them again when I had a new flight number. Which is funny, because the airline was concerned changing planes would be too hard for me, but left it to me to contact my parents when things went awry. Hmm. I ended up playing video games with some of the pilots while I waited. My parents thought the whole thing was fairly funny, until we discovered the airline had lost my luggage. THAT ticked them off.

  30. Dee Hall December 29, 2009 at 5:25 am #

    “When I was in 12th grade we went to St. Louis and went to Six Flags.”

    Jen! And when we were in St. Louis, they left me behind in St. Louis with my parents’ permission . . . to visit a university campus.

  31. Anna December 29, 2009 at 12:12 pm #

    Parents are alos complaining a lot that they don’t have free time but when I was a child my mom had enough free time. Ok, she didn’t go out partying but she went to the store or could read a book at home/ watch TV because I was outside playing with my friends. But nowadays parents don’t want to have their child outside without supervision so they are basically following their child around the entire day! I believe it is one of the reasons children are not playing outside as much anymore.

  32. Newbuffalomom December 29, 2009 at 6:14 pm #

    Thought you might enjoy this straight from Disney.

    Persons under the age of 7 must be accompanied by an adult when attending the Magic Kingdom® Park, Epcot®, Disney’s Hollywood Studios™ or Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park. If your ticket includes admission to Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park or Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park, please note that persons under the age of 10 must be accompanied by an adult.

    Sounds reasonable to me. 🙂

  33. arduinnae December 30, 2009 at 1:16 pm #

    Great to see so many fellow UM alumni! Most people I talk to have never heard of UMs at all.

    I think my best experience as an UM was my 13th birthday. My mother and I had moved to the UK, while my father stayed stayed on the continent. So every other Friday, I would fly across across the channel and then fly back on the Sunday. On one of those flights, it was my 13th birthday.

    As I boarded the plane and the stewardess looked over my passport, she noticed that it was my birthday. She wished me a happy one and seated me. After take off, she came by with two other members of the crew, bringing my an extra desert, a little toy plane, and a SwissAir post card signed by the whole crew! Then they took me up to the front and let me meet the captain and see the inside of the cockpit. The best part of the whole experience was making my father absolutely jealous after I landed!

  34. Helen December 30, 2009 at 5:19 pm #

    If a worried parent is looking for a low risk way to let their child take on a bit of travel responsibility UM air travel would be the way to do it. There’s a bit more of a thrill to traveling so far, but airline passengers are well tracked (comparatively) and contained so there’s actually less risk of things going wrong.

    It’s really nice to hear how a parent is seeing his child blossom with a bit of responsibility. What a great Christmas present for father and daughter!

  35. cookiemonsta January 11, 2010 at 10:17 pm #

    My five year old just got back from her first UM trip from Sydney Australia to NZ. My older two have done theirs as well, first time for each of them was when they too turned five (minimum age requirement for international travel). They’ve shot over a few times now and love it. Their friends and ours are all in awe when they hear the stories, and my kids love being independent and having their own little lives.

  36. Freddy Geant January 24, 2010 at 7:18 am #

    I’ve personally dealt with panic anxiety problems my whole life. It started when I was just a teenager and I’ve had to cope with them since then. I found a solution that has helped me get them done once and for all. I will tell you that it wasn’t quick or easy, but after a while I was able to finally get rid of them. I’m no longer dealing with them and its like I’ve started a new life not having panic attacks. I also saw a Dr. Oz special a few days ago, sometimes it isn’t a panic attack that is the root of the problem, I’d also recommend talking to your doctor. Best of luck!

  37. saba July 15, 2011 at 11:12 pm #

    I loved this story and i loved reading it too. This story was the only thing I wanted for my summer vacation home work iam so happy that I found it =). I also learned some new things from here i enjoyed it alot.thx FreeRangeKids.

  38. Ashley July 15, 2011 at 11:19 pm #

    Well I love summer vacation but its kinda hard when u have to do home work!!. but, its kinda cool doin home work cuz u also have to do some art and I love art its my favorite but maths is a little hard though any way never mind but I still love this amazing website and it helps me alot thnx FreeRangeKids

  39. Ruthie June 30, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    My 5 year old will be visiting her grandparents on a cross country flight as a UM. I came here for support and was so excited to see a few posts of others starting so young. It really helped me as I am feeling quite alone in a society of very protective mothers. My five year old is very excited and has a swagger about going by herself.


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