I once was a ‘free-range’ kid growing up

Published 4:47 pm Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Mitch Albom is a writer and columnist for the Detroit Free Press. He recently wrote this, “thank the Lord I didn’t grow up today. I’d be visiting my parents in a jail cell.”

He wasn’t writing about parents who were negligent or abusive but responding to a report he had heard on television news about a Maryland couple that had gotten into trouble with the authorities because they had allowed their two children, ages 10 and 6, to walk to a local park, play there, and then walk home. All by themselves!

The offending parents are believers in the benefits of allowing their children a little time when they aren’t looking over their shoulders. It wasn’t too long ago that children were, not only allowed to play outside without adult supervision, but were actually commanded to do so.

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“Go outside!” the harried mother spoke forcefully to her children. “And don’t come back inside until I call you.”

“Where will we go? What will we do?” asked the children.

“I don’t care!” Momma said, not really meaning that literally. “Just go outside and play.”

I don’t believe I ever had to be told to go outside. I may have been called to come inside because it was getting dark, but being commanded to go outside? No. I was a “free-range” kid.

“Free-range” kids? What’s that all about? It comes from the phrase “free-range” chickens.

Most of the chickens that are raised these days spend their lives in long houses, all cooped up and force-fed for the purpose of growing big and profitable.

But, it’s becoming popular, nowadays, for there to be such thing as “free-range” chickens. The best way I can describe the phenomenon is to say that it wasn’t unusual, many decades ago, for there to be chickens in the yard.

Those were chickens that simply roamed around freely and pecked at the worms in the ground for their food. Every now and then a farmer might throw a little shelled corn at the chickens; especially if the preacher was going to eat with them that month.

So what has chickens in the yard got to do with kids these days? Not much, except for the description of kids who are able to have a free and unsupervised moment or two. I don’t remember too many farmers keeping an eye on a yard chicken.

I’m thankful that I can call myself a “free-range” kid. Both of my parents worked and there were many hours to entertain myself and there were no Gameboys, cell phones, or Cable television channels aimed at baby-sitting me.

I was a “home, home on the range” sort of kid. I roamed freely the woods as a 1950’s Davy Crockett or rode a stick-horse and thought of myself as Roy Rogers. I fought World War II again and always won. I played baseball by throwing a rubber ball against a brick chimney.

I had a cane pole and dug my own bait. Just go out to the barnyard and turn over a piece of tin or an old, rotting board and the red wigglers would be right on top of the moist ground. Huckleberry Finn, that would be me, would be gone, and no one would know where, until sundown.

Times have changed, but human nature hasn’t. I believe that childhood is still the most innocent and exciting time of life and freedom is most important. I’m all for free-range and safe kids!