What It Feels Like to Finally Be Allowed to Walk to the Ice Cream Store at 12

Readers — There is something poignant, sweet, weird and wonderful about what you’re about to read. Remember it when friends say they can’t possibly go Free-Range because it’s too scary. – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Back in ’09 I read your book, and allowed my boys to walk to get ice-cream for the first time. About a 5-7 min. walk from our house.  Rob was 12, and Isaac would be 11 in a few months.

I had written you a few times back then. I had experienced a stranger abduction when my pastor’s daughter was abducted and murdered in an area pretty country and quiet. So letting go was huge for me.

Anyhow, my boys are 15 and 16 today, and this fall I put them in public school after homeschooling them exclusively their whole lives. We just finished their first quarter, and I finally got to read my son Rob’s personal narrative. The story he chose to write about was — the first time I let them go. I was gripped by how much I had scared my boys — apparently the older more than the younger. That this is what made the biggest impression on him in his life.

I thought I’d share it with you if you’re interested.

Deb Turner

My Turning Point, by Rob Turner

The summer’s breath filled the air as I stare down M. road, towards that busier street which I didn’t remember the name of.  Rather, I attempted to stare – there was an annoying amount of shrubbery blocking the view from our yard.  Normally this would be a blessing, because nobody really wants a better view of a busy road, except that the shrubbery also blocked the rest of M. leading up to it. In other words, I could never figure out whether a car was coming or not, except by sound. And the fact that you could usually hear cars either way, going up or down that busy street, did not help at all.  Of course, the reality was that I was being paranoid; it wasn’t especially difficult to differentiate the noise of a car on M. and on the other road. But it was hard not to be, given what I was about to do.

Normally, I would only even be thinking about crossing the road because I was going to get the mail, or… well, that was really about it.  I didn’t see the neighbors across the street — they threw snowballs at cars, so we weren’t allowed to be friends — and I didn’t get on any school buses, and I never walked anyplace at all – at least, not without some sort of parental supervision.  That last one, I guessed, was about to change.

For any other kid, this probably wouldn’t be a big deal.  But to me, well.  From a very young age I’d been taught about the danger of strangers, and how you should never walk alone, and how to escape the grip of a captor — probably too often for my own good. To be fair, it was mostly because the previous pastor of our church had had his daughter kidnapped, which kind of shook up basically everyone, but that had taken place either when I was an infant or yet to be born.  In any case, my mother had finally come to terms with the fact that it wasn’t exactly a regular occurrence, so she decided it was finally time to let my younger brother Isaac and I walk down to the C. Ice Cream Parlor by ourselves.

It was probably mostly because Isaac had been pushing for it for a while, but it was happening nonetheless.  I was still somewhat apprehensive, of course, but Isaac could be pretty convincing when he felt like it.  He managed to cross the road (still taking precautions, of course, but quite a bit faster) and, since he went through the trouble of assuring me that no cars were coming, I followed him.  From there, it was an easy walk, going down a paved hill and finally seeing the ever-so-busy street ahead.

It wasn’t actually that busy, I decided.  Just the busiest road that I encountered with any sort of regularity.  And then, of course, we’d have to cross it again to get to the ice cream parlor.  The long, rocky driveway ate away at my shoes as I walked to the familiar, and yet now so different, building. I’d been here before, of course, but never without my parents, or at least my older brother to watch me.  I could feel the protective bubble around my home stretching to accommodate me. I could feel it pressing against my skin as I took step after step past its boundaries, until I finally went through it. But I couldn’t back down now; I had to do this.  My mother had assured me that she had probably been wrong, and not literally every person was a kidnapper, so I would be fine.  I took five dollars out of my pocket and held onto them like they were precious gems, but once I realized I was doing this I loosened my hand, because I did not want to appear nervous. My brother asked for the money and I said, “No, I’ll do it.”

After figuring out exactly what ice-cream we would buy (chocolate peanut butter cup and moose tracks for me, mint chocolate chip and peanut butter cup for him), I faced down the ice-cream guy, and, albeit with a few “umms” and “uhhs,” I made my order.

The man seemed somewhat suspicious of us, like we were the ones out of place in this busy and somewhat terrifying land that was so close to our home.  When he asked how we got there, I told him we walked, and when he asked where we lived, I apprehensively said that we lived up the road. Being rather nervous (oh no, why did I tell him where we live, now he’s gonna kidnap us), I made my best effort to not participate in this questioning any longer, and when we got our ice-cream we circled over to the side of the place, where there were tables with umbrellas and a fair number of bees.

Of course, being completely terrified of bees, I wanted to just eat and walk home at the same time and be done with the whole thing. But they weren’t especially near us, so I just nervously edged away from any that flew within a ten foot radius of me.  So we ate our ice-cream (which was somewhat melty, but that only made the rich chocolate even more delicious), and threw away our messy napkins. Then we walked back home, retracing a few confusing steps, and when we got there our mom was sitting on the porch because she was so nervous. But we were fine.  Our dogs were rather exceptionally excited to see us, it seemed, like when we would come home from family camp, and we were somewhat excited as well, both due to the ‘ice-cream whenever we want now’ aspect and the somewhat increased freedom it gave us. We forgot about any sort of suspicious man entirely, which actually turned out fine.

In any case, the barrier of my home slipped over me once more, ever prepared to guard me from the dangers of the outside world, but it would only become easier to escape, each walk we took down to the ice cream parlor taking less and less resistance until it hardly seemed a bother at all.  But while I was inside it, there was nothing on Earth which could break through the impenetrable barrier. And I rather liked it that way. – Rob

It's hard to be brave after being held back.

It’s hard to be brave after being held back.

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15 Responses to What It Feels Like to Finally Be Allowed to Walk to the Ice Cream Store at 12

  1. Lin December 11, 2013 at 7:40 pm #

    That brought tears to my eyes. What a beautiful description of this first step towards independence. And it is what us parents are really here for. To support them on this journey. And it highlights another aspect of encouraging kids to explore the world. You have obviously created that safe home base that gives them the confidence to spread their wings. Kids may not need our constant protection but they do need that unconditional love and the knowledge that we will be there to protect when it is really needed.

  2. Reziac December 11, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

    When I read the boy’s descriptions of how the world seemed to him, just he and his brother out there by his scary lonesome, I was struck by how similar it sounded to how my near-blind friends perceive the world — as if it rushes at them, all noise and fury and suddenness, but when they can finally see it, it’s not so bad after all.

    I guess my point is… overly-protective parents are creating outright *disabilities* in their children, which those kids then have to make extra effort to overcome.

  3. anonymous this time December 11, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

    Whatever we project onto our children, they live, in some way or another.

    When we are unconscious as parents, when we imagine that all of our thoughts and beliefs are absolute truth, when we take our stories and judgements as gospel without stepping back and cultivating some self-awareness, our children suffer for it.

    I think self-awareness is one of the most precious gifts we can give our kids: cultivate it in yourself, and support them to be self-aware as well. As in, “I’m really scared about this… why is that? Am I telling myself something scary? Do I have some say in my own experience of this? Are the circumstances what scare me, or my interpretation of them, my thoughts about them?”

    My ex is unconscious and projects all of his stories onto the kids. It has limited them in some ways, but only temporarily. What I can see is that as they wake up and make their own decisions about what is happening around them, their dad’s words and views seem ever more paranoid and judgemental, and the distance between parent and child grows. Not such a great situation for entering adolescence.

    Oh well. At least they’ve got one parent who is willing to step back and look at things objectively once in a while…

  4. Kay December 12, 2013 at 1:36 am #

    Parents, take heed. Apparently I was overzealous in the enforcing of street smarts and the going over of scenarios over the years which has made my oldest paranoid. He was too afraid to take his brother to a park a bike ride away in case someone might snatch them. I’m trying to explain the likelihood and statistics to a pre-teen to try to get them out there. The youngest had the confidence wanted to go by himself but I didn’t feel comfortable with him not having a buddy. After all the arguing, they ended up not going that day. At least he did bike about a mile and half away to a friend’s house by himself and to the library a couple times without an adult. I don’t feel he’s where he should be for his age and I’m hoping to get him to do more when the weather is better. What continues to bother me is that this kind of stuff was just natural for kids back in the day and today everything is either over-thought or a struggle.

    The fear has been drilled to parents, too. I don’t recall my parents constantly warning me about kid snatchers, yet I still somehow knew to be careful of anything suspicious. It didn’t stop me from roaming the countryside on my bike, and going to the store to get candy, and having little adventures with friend(s), including abandoned farm structures. Sounds dangerous, doesn’t it? Sometimes I lament my children are not going to have the same childhood I had.

    I want my kids to go play in the woods. Maybe they can by themselves. They could have a better time with friends but their parents more than likely won’t let them. I know of one that won’t let their kids play in the woods connected to their back yard.

  5. Snow December 12, 2013 at 8:48 am #

    Your pastor’s daughter was murdered in a pretty country and quiet area? Was it in 1993? Did the daughter have the initials S.W? I’m asking only because if those things are true I think we’re from the same area.

  6. Deb December 12, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

    Snow, yes you are correct.

  7. Christine Hancock December 12, 2013 at 12:30 pm #


    Good heavens now I feel like beating my head against the wall and screaming!

    As a home school mom myself, I on the one hand want to hug another home school mom for doing a fantastic job teaching her son to write, but on the other hand want to slap her for the psychological damage she did to him. Good thing most kids, including her sons, are resilient. I hope she continues to let them develope be free range. Situational awareness is good, but that was way over the top. I hope they learn to be secure and independent adults.

    One of the reasons (there are many) why I homeschool is to give my children more opportunities to be free range. Learn to think independently and outside the box. Not be harangued or misunderstood because they are high energy kids that enjoy being outside and learning by experience. Of course I don’t want to dogma of “all strangers, especially men, are potentially violent, cannibalistic, trigger-happy psychopaths and perverts” (basically, that’s what they were fond of teaching me growing up).

    Rrgh. I can’t stand the line of thought that our children are dependant on adults for their safety and well being every minute of every day.

    Why? Why? Why would a home school parent teach such things? Isn’t one of the major points of homeschool to get away from such absurdity? I guess not for everyone; but thankfully not for this family anymore either.

    I wish them a swift recovery and good luck in school! I think this young man and his family have a bright future ahead of them.

  8. Christine Hancock December 12, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

    Please forgive me. I can not type coherently today. Tomorrow may be better.

  9. Amber December 12, 2013 at 2:08 pm #

    I love this story, and I am very impressed by his writing skills. I’m glad that you let him spread his wings a bit, even if it wasn’t until he was 12!

  10. Snow December 12, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    Small world, Deb. I remember the day she vanished, I was taking the back roads to the valley and got stopped at a road block that had been set up to look for her. It was a horrible thing, but as you realized, not a common occurrence. I don’t think there are many safer places than where you are. I am no longer there, I got tired of snow and left, but that’s another story. 😉 Congrats on letting your kids spread their wings!

  11. Snow December 12, 2013 at 3:39 pm #

    I just realized that my nickname is ‘Snow’ and I just said that I had gotten tired of snow and left. Hahaha. I actually got this nickname while I was still up there and having a fit about all the snow that just wouldn’t stop falling!

  12. Deb December 12, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    Snow, it was the most horrific situation, and I imagine there will be a part of me that has that has this “it could happen” thought lingering. But I don’t want that thought to paralyze us like it did at one time. I am just glad that Lenore’s book came along. It was a complete change of mindset, but so frightening to step out.

    And my boys are doing incredibly well today. I don’t imagine I could have handled sending them to public school if I hadn’t come across this book. Not that sending them to public school was the goal, but when it became an option worth considering to us, I didn’t have this huge fear obstacle to overcome. One of Rob’s teacher’s wrote this to me just the other day: “Robinson feels comfortable in himself and his foundation at home to make the immense leap that he made this year. That takes courage, confidence and support.” They are both excelling in school, and not socially afraid in the least. The younger son did have a more difficult time adjusting in the social setting, but public school is it’s own culture, and a culture to be learned if you haven’t been in it. One and a half quarters into the year, and they are doing great!

  13. Deb December 12, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

    And Snow, lol on the nickname. But when I leave, I think I’ll leave any thought of snow behind! If that ever happens. If it does, I have my eye on Roanoke VA!

    Amber, thank you – very kind.

  14. Papilio December 12, 2013 at 7:21 pm #

    “she decided it was finally time to let my younger brother Isaac and I [sic] walk down to the C. Ice Cream Parlor by ourselves. It was probably mostly because Isaac had been pushing for it for a while”

    And this was NOT written by one Morry K? 😛

    This whole story sounds so… alienating to me. As if the title should have been

    First Encounters with Human Kind
    Episode 1: Buying Icecream

    As if he had to cross an interstate and order the icecream in his 3rd language. As if he didn’t know the air outside his house also contains oxygen.
    The combination of this story and his age is just so weird.

    I’m glad Christine brings up the homeschooling aspect. It does kind of confirm my idea that homeschooling could very well isolate children from the real world, and that that isn’t a very healthy way to grow up. Of course there are ways around that, and I’m not claiming it’s bad, period (especially after reading about all the craziness in public schools). But with cases like this…. Hmm. Just, hmm. :/

  15. Deb December 12, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

    Papilio – it has nothing whatsoever to do with homeschooling. I am sure that there are plenty of overprotected public school children who are aware of the world, but not without an adult. You notice, the child says it is familiar, but different without an adult. It’s not as if they never did anything at all or breathed oxygen. “First Encounter with Human Kind” is not what this is about at all. There were plenty of encounters with human kind. It is about being concerned that strangers may harm you in some way if your parents or another adult is not supervising. I mean, isn’t that what Lenore’s book is really about? Not feeling like we can take our eyes off of our kids? It isn’t about locking them away in a closet and never letting them outside. Lots of homeschoolers give their kids plenty of independent opportunities, as do plenty of public schoolers. And there are homeschoolers who are overprotective, same as there are public schoolers who are over protective. Has nothing whatsoever to do with the topic. They are truly amazing kids today, and I like who we are – who they are. Without the experiences they have had, they would not be just exactly who they are today, and they are incredible people. Doing extremely well in the world without me watching over them every minute. I am so happy we homeschooled – there was so much that was great about it, and so much good they took with them. There is so much about them that is wonderful, that I feel is due to homeschooling them. AND I am so glad I put them in school this year. And I never thought I would say that. There is so much they are gaining from the experience. So much they are learning. They have some of the best teachers I have ever come across. Bottom line, they are pretty solid individuals, and they are doing very well. I have every confidence that they will be incredible adults with much to add to those around them. Despite that they weren’t allowed to walk down the road and around the corner for ice-cream by themselves until they were 10 and 12. It was something to be reckoned with and overcome, but it is not some god-awful thing that has ruined them.