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Caught between freedom and safety

I sometimes wonder if I am a more protective parent to my son, Silas, than my parents were to me when I was growing up. Actually, I don't have to wonder a lot about that, I know that I am. The real issue that I muse on is whether or not I am more protective in an appropriate way, in a way that goes along with the changing times that we live in, or whether I am more protective in a kind of obsessive, crazy and sheltering way.

I remember as a kid, me, my best friend and my little sister would go for long walks around the neighborhood, with no particular destination in mind. We called it exploring. Our greatest adventure, probably at the age of seven or eight, was to walk up the very steepest part of Morton Street. I seem to remember eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the top.

In all our exploring and adventures I don't remember ever having a close encounter with being hit by a car, being talked to by a stranger or accidently walking through a patch of poison oak. Were we careful, or just lucky? Now, my son is eight and I still worry about him if he doesn't hold my hand while crossing the street. I think I looked both ways when I was a kid, but I don't remember it. Are drivers just as careful today about watching out for kids as they were 20 years ago?

As a kid, my friend and sister and I would go down to the neighborhood school in the afternoons and play on the playground. My friend's parents lived right across the street, but they certainly didn't sit on their front porch with a pair of binoculars watching our every turn down the slide and across the monkey bars. Now, as an adult, I live across the street from a different school. I rarely, if ever, see children playing there without an adult now. Kids play on the slides, ride their bikes and practice their little league pitching skills all under the eye of a parent sitting on the nearest bench.

As the mark of a hall of honor member of the worrying club, I sometimes worry that I worry too much. Then other times I worry that I worry too little. My son, Silas, needs to stretch his wings, succeed at doing things on his own to build his confidence in himself as well as fail at things to see that he's capable or recovering. This mindset works great when it comes to having him help me crack the eggs into the brownie mix; it's more terrifying when he asks if it's okay to walk alone to his grandparents' house.

I don't know if the world is actually a much scarier and more dangerous place today than it was 20 years ago. Maybe now I just have constant news reports blaring at me from the TV, live and in color, of all the dangers of the world. But even in Ashland, a picturesque hamlet of families and retired couples, we've had our own instances of fear. More than a year after the murder of David Grubbs I'm still afraid to let Silas walk on the bike path — heck, I'm a little afraid when I walk on the bike path.

Hopefully Silas can gain his sense of adventure and self confidence from the exploring that we do together. Making brownies is an adventure, traipsing around the dried-up banks of Emigrant Lake is an adventure. Maybe the adventure and independence of walking alone to his grandparents' house is something that can wait a few more years.

Zoe Abel is working on her own sense of self confidence and adventure. You can contact her at dailyzoe@gmail.com.