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For a long while now I’ve been trying to get my head around the issue of children and freedom. Today a number of pieces fell together for me after I read this:

“Children’s lives have been evolving in a way that mirrors the lives of criminals in prison. They too have a roof over their heads, regular meals and entertainment provided for them, but they are not free to go out. Enforced detention and restrictions on how they spend their time are intended to seriously diminish the quality of their lives. But children are not criminals…”

Indeed they are not. This issue of how closely one supervises one’s children is so sticky and insidious. I feel like it’s the place where I most risk social censure, even among otherwise like-minded parents, and where I have to work the hardest to give my kids what they need – the freedom to explore, to experiment, to just do kid things.

It astonishes me how often people see my baby trying something out and stop her, often with a stern look at me, like I should have been there first to prevent her from tasting dirt or climbing a few stairs or whatever she is about. wins points for seeing her do something dangerous and standing *near* her to catch her if she falls, which she did not, but it’s rare to get that reaction.

I remember a rich, happy childhood of largely unsupervised play. When I was about Rio’s age I would leave my house in the morning, go out into the desert to play, and return home when I got hungry. My mother rarely knew exactly where I was or what I was doing, but she trusted me not to chase snakes or fall from trees or whatever other dangers I could have gotten into in the rural foothills outside Tucson.

It’s a lot harder to have that trust in an urban environment where there’s traffic and “strangers” and pollution, but I still hope for Rio to grow up with a sense of wild freedom. I think mine has occassionally gotten me into trouble but mostly served me well.

It really seems to me that the decrease in children’s freedom, the fact that I can’t just turn Rio loose on the street with her bicycle the way my sister was turned loose as a kindergartner without fear that someone will call the cops on me, this is not isolated to children. It’s part of the same erosion of freedom that means no more loose dogs running free in our neighborhoods, and barely any cats. It’s the same erosion of freedom that is costing us our civil liberties at the government level and has us all acclimated to being videotaped in any business we walk into.

We need our freedom, people. We need freedom to break the rules, no matter how old or young we are. I think the more we are trained to surveil and supervise those in our own charge, whether they be children or students or employees, the more we accept surveillance of our activities by those who we see as bigger than ourselves.

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We’re at the library reading a lot of otters, in which a lot of otters find some fallen stars and play with them. At one point they taste the stars.

“Have you ever tasted a star, Rio?”
“Yes.”
“What do they taste like?”
“Stars.”

Rio: I am drawing a fish. Does a fish have a mouth?
Me: yes.
Rio: Well, my fish does not have a mouth.

(Fool that I am, I thought “Ah-ha! A perfect moment for some “science” homeschooling!” )

Me: How will it eat?
Rio: My fish does not eat.
Me: How will it get energy?
Rio: My fish is dead.

Rio: When you are dead you do not need energy.
Me: Can the fish move around?
Rio: yes!
Me: When you’re dead but can still move around, that’s called ‘undead’.
Rio: My fish is undead! Undead fish!

So this morning I came downstairs after laying Serena down for her nap and Rio was sitting on the couch starting to watch the Dark Crystal. She asked me to watch it with her and I said, “Well, I was thinking this would be a great time to do something special together.”

Her face filled with awe and she said, “You mean homeschooling? Can this be a school day?”

Sure, kid.

We put together a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle, twice (file under: math). Then she said, “Can you teach me to write? Are you a mama-teacher?” I can’t recall when she last looked at me with such unadorned adoration. We got out a box of alphabet flashcards and started tracing the letters and numbers on paper.

A lot of conversation like this ensued:
“When I write a 9, I write it this way. Yours is backwards from mine.”
“Well, this is how I write a 9.” (emphasized by scrawling an entire row of backwards nines)
“People might have trouble reading it, if you keep writing it that way.”
“Well, this is how I do it.”
(I am not worried about this, because she starts off writing everything backwards and then adjusts to doing it the conventional way over time. Just a quirk.)

After writing, we cooked lunch together, with Rio measuring and stirring (math, science). Then we had a “piano lesson” featuring her original compositions (music) while we waited for our pasta to cook. After eating, we cleaned up and then played hair salon for an hour. Then she got her shoes on and we biked (exercise) over to a friend’s house for an afternoon playdate.

I think this whole homeschooling thing might actually completely rock. I’m sure not every day will be as easy as today was. But today made a great start.

Rio is home, yay!

Rio is home, complicated. She’s got some strong feelings about leaving the only home she’s ever known, as one might imagine she would. Also, she apparently fell through a time warp while traveling and came home with the body of a 4-year-old and the brain of a 20-year-old.

Yesterday she was crying on my lap after seeing me pack a box, and we had this conversation:
Rio: I am not excited about moving. I want to stay here.
Me: I hear that. I feel sad about leaving this house too. I love it, and I’ve had some great times here. But I also know there will be a lot of wonderful things at the new house. So I feel sad and excited and happy all at the same time.

I was fairly pleased with myself for that one, I have to say. But half an hour later:
Rio: Mama, I am not excited about moving. Everyone thought I was, but I am not. Not in my heart.
Me: I know. Do you remember what we talked about before?
Rio: You said you feel happy and sad at the same time, and that you are excited.
Me: That’s right.
Rio: Well, Mama, that is your life. But I have my own life that is different from your life. I am not excited about moving. That is my life.
Me: …

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A little bird told me…

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