After my brother passed away (well even before then), my mother became extremely protective (an understatement). This was the 70s back when parents who grew up in the 50s-60s still remembered what it was like to run around a small town without parental supervision as very young kids. But times were different, Manson and Dahmer were well known serial killers plus Adam Walsh was kidnapped and killed in 1981.
So my mom was extremely protective. Dad was protective too, but I think he remembered what it was like to have freedom as a kid to make decisions and learn what the consequences to those decisions would be. When my parents moved into their second house (the first I remember), they put up a privacy fence. This fence was funny because if the wind blew just right, sections would fall down. When it was built they didn’t use treated lumber, so it just came right back down. I think in the time that we lived there that my dad actually put up two fences. The first fence was all at once and the second fence in sections as they fell down. 🙂
When I finally learned to ride my bike at five, my mom would only let me go to the end of the third house to the right and to the end of our neighbors to the left. The reason I couldn’t go far to the left was our neighbors had a really tall hedge that my mom couldn’t see over. If she couldn’t see me, then I couldn’t go there.
Btw, the guy in the third house really didn’t like us kids. He hated kids riding in his yard. I was ok because my father was the same way only he had a kid (and I told my friends to not ride in our grass), so the guy never had any ill will towards me because I wouldn’t ride in his yard or anyone else’s. But I do remember my friends telling me that they got yelled at by him.
Once I was in elementary school and had friends in the neighborhood, this was a pain. Nobody wants to play with you if you can’t go very far. I mean what’s the fun in riding on the sidewalk between 5 houses? Not much.
Around age nine, my reach extended to riding on the sidewalk to the end of our street. This was about 3-4 houses more to the right. I still couldn’t go past the hedge to the left. This opened me up a tad and at least I could use my imagination to go further. My friends still lived in another area of our neighborhood.
At age 11, I was allowed to ride in the street. I still had the same reach, but now it was extended to the other side of the street. I used to log a lot of hours just simply riding up and down the street looking for someone outside to play with. The problem was that most of my friends could go further than I could and went to play on other streets.
Around this time, my mom started working some Saturdays. It wasn’t all the time and she only worked a half day, but those were the greatest days of my life. 🙂 One would think that a child would miss their mom on that day, but my dad made things fun for me. 🙂 Dad was the more relaxed parent in case you can’t tell.
The first Saturday mom worked, my dad and I were eating breakfast when mom left. Dad looked at me and asked if I could keep a secret. I replied with yes thinking that he and I were going to go buy or build something for mom. He told me that a half hour after mom left; I could go outside and ride my bike. I said ok, but I was a little let down…I mean I do that all the time and I was kind of thinking that this was going to be special.
He continued and said that I could go anywhere in the neighborhood I wanted as long as I didn’t cross or go near the busy road that was the entrance to our neighborhood. My jaw dropped at this! I mean, I could go over to Eddie, Jesse, and Melissa’s house! A miracle was happening right in our kitchen. 🙂
He finished with asking if I was wearing my watch. Of course I had my Big Bird watch on and dad made sure that the battery was still functioning and that it was currently set to the correct time. He told me that mom was due home around 12:30 pm and to be safe that needed to be back home by 11:30 am an hour before she was due home. He asked if I could do this, and I said yes.
Dad finished with “It is real important that you are home by 11:30 am or we will both be in trouble. You cannot tell your mother now or ever. This has to be a secret because if she ever finds out, we will both be in more trouble that you know can happen. Have fun and be safe! I will be here if you need me. You have to finish your breakfast first and then you can go.”
I think dad knew that I wouldn’t be back until 11:30 am, so he wanted me to be nice and full before heading out. I snarfed down breakfast at a pace that was very unladylike. I put my plate in the sink and ran to put on my tennis shoes. With a “Thanks Dad”, I headed out on my adventure.
My first stop (and I would formally like to apologize to Jesse’s parents for showing up at 8 am on a Saturday) was Jesse’s house. I rode as fast as I could to her house because I knew she’d be surprised to see me. She knew I wasn’t allowed out of my area. I knocked on the door and asked if she could come out to play. I think her mom was shocked to see me and that shocked expression it wasn’t just the time of day I was there, but that I was there at all. Her mom said something about Jesse watching cartoons and asked if I wanted to come in. I told her that I would pass because I only had until 11:30 am to ride my bike around the neighborhood. My mom didn’t talk to her much, so I figured I was pretty safe. Plus I think most of the mom’s around the neighborhood were just happy to see me get some freedom. They wouldn’t rat me out.
The next thing I knew as I was riding away I heard my name being called. Jesse heard what I told her mom and went to get dressed and put her shoes on in record time. After chatting about this new liberty I was given while riding, I asked if she wanted to ride over to Eddie’s house to see if he could play as well.
Jesse knew exactly where he lived and we headed over there. Once again a mom was surprised to see me at her door and called Eddie to see if he wanted to play. He did and so our group was now three. We all three wanted Melissa to play as well, so over to her house we went. Now going to Melissa’s house was interesting because she lived close to the road that I was not allowed to cross. I was a tad nervous, but I knew we wouldn’t cross it and she wasn’t on the corner, so I went along.
Melissa being a really good friend, of course came out to play. Her mom was the one I was most worried about because our mom’s talked more frequently. I was asked about being over there, and I said that my dad said it was ok and that mom wasn’t home. I asked her to not tell my mom or dad and I would be in trouble. She smiled and said that she was very happy to see me and that she would keep our secret. She told us all to be safe, smart, and to have fun.
We rode all over the neighborhood. We had bike races and stopped to chat with various friends along the way. We all wound up over at Eddie’s house playing some game outside. Time flew by and the next thing I knew it was 11:00 am. I told everyone that I wanted to ride some more before going home as I only had a half hour. I thanked them all for being great friends and making my Saturday the best I had ever had. Jesse and Melissa joined me on my final ride. Melissa had to head home as well, and Jesse was getting hungry for lunch as she didn’t get any breakfast because of how early I was at her house. So, we rode over there first. Then I rode with Melissa to her house. I circled back around and still had five minutes, so I went down a cul-de-sac behind our house before going home. I was in the driveway right at 11:30 am.
I went inside to let dad know that I was home. Dad told me that he was happy that I was home on time because mom got off a little early and was on her way. 🙂 He told me to remember it is a secret and to not tell her. Plus he said that since I was responsible with my time and as long as mom doesn’t find out that I could do this again, the next time my mom worked on Saturday. Dad then said that I should head out and ride my bike because that is what I would be doing normally on a Saturday morning. I headed back outside to ride in my limited area. It was way different riding there after having all that freedom.
I soon saw mom’s car come down the street. So I did what I always did, I headed home to say hi. Mom gave me a hug and asked if I had fun with dad this morning. I told that I did and that he let me ride my bike all morning. She simply assumed it was in the designated area. 😉 I never elaborated on it. I was honest, I did ride my bike. Dad said that same thing that I just rode my bike all morning.
I had a blast that morning and I thank my dad for allowing me to ride my bike around the neighborhood. I remember asking mom week to week if she had to work on Saturday. If she said yes, I said “Awww, that’s too bad.” Inside I was excited as could be that mom had to work. And so it went while we lived in that house. If mom had to work on Saturday, I had freedom for a few hours. I think dad planned to not have any errands on those Saturday mornings, so that I could have a little freedom.
I know that no one ratted dad and I out. None of my friends or their parents said a word to my mom. I know this because one evening when I was in my 30s and was home visiting, dad and I came clean.
We were at dinner and were reminiscing about the days gone by. Without thinking first, I asked dad if he remembered those Saturdays when mom worked. He said, “The ones where I let you ride around the neighborhood?” I think both of us thought we would be in the clear at this point. I was 30 for Pete’s sake.
Mom asked what we meant by that with a very wary voice. We came clean and explained everything. As we were detailing my exploits, mom’s eyes got darker and darker as she became madder and madder. She turned and looked at dad and said “I can’t believe you let her do that. She could have been kidnapped or worse. How could you do that?” Dad and I said we were sorry for deceiving her, but I told her that I was happy that dad let me ride around the block and trusted me to be safe.
With that, mom was done with dinner and ready to leave. In fact she walked out ahead of us. We were upset that she was mad, but grinning from ear to ear that she never found out. I figured one of the other mom’s would eventually say something offhandedly not remembering it was a secret.
Mom has never forgiven us for that and I doubt that she ever will. She did say that she was happy that nothing happened to me and dropped the subject. I am happy she knows though. I think in today’s world that there are a lot of parents who are just like my mom which is why I am telling this story. Should they be? I don’t know, but I think the media adds a lot to perceptions about today’s world; just like the media did back in 1981 when Adam Walsh was kidnapped.
So, for those very protective parents, I suggest (unless you truly live in a bad neighborhood…we didn’t) that you let your kids have a few hours to ride around the block. If they are responsible, let them do it every now and then. It teaches them responsibility and gives them a feeling of independence plus it is a way to show your kids that you trust them. If they don’t follow the rules, don’t let them do it again for awhile. This will help teach them that there are consequences to their actions.
I know I will always cherish those days and I remember them fondly. 🙂 Thanks Dad!