Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Largely Unsupervised Childhood


I had a largely unsupervised childhood, and instead of bikes, for wheels, we had donkeys, then we had ponies, and later, when we were teenagers, we graduated to horses. When we were young, we weren't allowed take the donkeys across the highway, but that didn't curtail us—we found many backroads and firetrails to travel far and wide.

We found novel ways around the restrictions placed by my best friend Stephanie Stone's parents—who otherwise left us all alone. We played until dark, no one was ever watching us, or asking where we were going—as we rarely knew where we were going until we got there and back again. Oh but the adventures we had.

We used creek culverts as byways to cross the highway. That meant we had to leave the donks tied up as they couldn't fit into them. The one at Arroyo Road/Creek was spidery. Luckily they were daddylonglegs.

We'd take the fire lane past Dougie Jarret's places to Bellefuelle's (woodlady) and tie them up, then break the rules—crossing over at Tamal Road. We interpreted in shades of gray. We slant-rhymed parental negotiations with childish logic. Steph's parents said we couldn't take the donkeys across the highway—not ourselves.

Or we'd dink down to Yerian's Garage as it was technically on the same side of the road, so we weren't technically crossing the road. It was probably more dangerous than crossing the road as there was no shoulder. The lure? We could get a huge RC Cola for 15 cents—we'd hunt for coke bottles along the road (3 cents each), until we had enough to buy one.

By the time we were mounted on horseback, the world was our oyster—or it was about as far as we could ride there and back by nightfall. Only real rule: we couldn't bring the horses home wet. Even riding into nightfall wasn't a huge deterrent. However, missing dinner was.

Full moons, we'd ride up Mt. Barnabe—magical. Surreal. A few times we bit off more than we could chew. That buggy ride to Mt. Tam became epic trying to get home when the gates were locked on the Pine Ridge fireroad above the San Geronimo Ridge. We could lift the buggy over the fence, but searching for a portogee gate under a full moon, to squeeze Christian's horse, Brandy through, was a challenge. 

We played with fire too. Frozen orange juice can rockets powered with firecrackers, matchhead torpedoes. Roasting raw oatmeal, or corn-chips in a coffee can. We liked that burnt taste. We knew better than to light a fire in the barn—we were careful. We knew the consequences.

Not so, for my little brother whose match experiment resulted in a grassfire backside the house. Luckily my grannie was able to put it out before it raced up the hill—and there was enough water in the tank. He was very careful afterwards. 

Fort-making was another important unsupervised activity where we learned to repurpose found objects and recycle wood. Elaborate treeforts, hobo camps—we were always creating structures.

Christian Burkhart's treefort was like a real house with windows—and a telescope trained on the Stone's bedroom window. Hay forts were the best. They didn't require smuggling tools and stealing nails. We were engineers and doctors (um, think I'll leave that one unexplored), rocket pilots and architects.

We built the scaffolding of our playtime to the sky and back. For that freedom, I am ever grateful. For it sustains me even now. There was a wild freedom, limitless imagination, and daydreaming were our closest companions. 

I feel sorry for the kids of today who have every playtime minute structured. It creates a paucity of imagination.


This piece was inspired by The Atlantic feature article, The Overprotected Kid

1 comment:

micaela marsden said...

Talk about biting off more than you can chew, riding Brandy may have qualified! Somehow you obviously managed.

Wonderful bit of writing Maureen, and a great description of a childhood during the days when what might be called "benignly neglectful" parents seemed more the rule than the exception (though maybe it was just the people I knew!).