19 May 2016

Willits, CA - Free-Range Parenting in a Factory Farm World

If you ever happen to be in Willits, CA, go to the KOA.  There is a pool, hot tub, wifi, and playground.  And also goats, rabbits, and emus.  The rabbits, including one I have cleverly dubbed 'Ole One Ear,' run free-range across the campground, nibbling the grass and the occasional trash bag.  This campground ("Kampground") also features a giant play jungle, like something you would see at Chuck E. Cheese.  The management has posted signage that specifies that a parent must supervise the children while they play, but may not actually enter the play structure.  I'm at a point where rather than finding this needlessly bossy, I am thankful for the explicit instruction.

I'm currently reading Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman - I found it at a used book store and bought it because I heard a good review on NPR a while back.  Plus I am always looking for a new parenting method - one that will be obviously superior to the other 23 parenting philosophies I have investigated so far, some unifying theory of parenting that can be applied in all situations.

My friend and mom-mentor Kate knows this is folly.  She recommends taking what works from each parenting philosophy; she calls this 'adding tools to the parenting tool box.'  Sometimes I feel like I am building a single-engine plane and I look in my toolbox and it's just jammed full of different types of tooth brushes.

So I picked up the book thinking mostly of Bear, but as usual with these sort of things it has just convinced me I'm doing Pax all wrong.  Did you know French babies eat only four times a day?  Pax eats four times an hour.

Anyway, the French would give Bear more space.  Heaven knows he must want it, given his penchant for running away.  So I try to give him little chores.  Here's two dollars, go over there and buy your own lollipop from the snack bar, walk to the playground that's 20 yards from our campsite, etc.  But the social norms tend more towards the helicopter parenting - people keep returning him to us.  "Have you lost a little boy?" And sometimes the more stern, "You need to stay with your child, he can't be alone in the store."  I have enough anxiety around letting him strike out on his own like this, I don't have the confidence to just tell people to stop interfering.  When the woman at the Goodwill told me I needed to stay with my child, I was mortified.

Me: Oh no, what did he do? Is he naked? Has he destroyed something? Did he threaten to kill someone?
Goodwill Employee: No, he was just counting the candles.  But he needs to be with an adult.
Me: (distracted by being impressed by his excellent behavior) So, wait, what's the problem?
GE: He needs to be with you. It's store policy.

In the book, Druckerman talks a lot about how anxious American parents are compared to French parents.  And I think this is why - it has to be us, the parents themselves (and often, the mother specifically, though this is another thought for another day). In France, the raising of children is seen as a communal project - and instead of me adopting a unique parenting philosophy and instilling it all on my own, I wish American society were just a bit more like the French.

I don't expect the Goodwill employee to change my kid's diaper or intervene in a tantrum.  Just tolerate him being there, and maybe remind him not to touch the glass candlesticks.

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