Saturday, April 4, 2015

Why I let my kids play outside, and why you should probably mind your own damn business

Since we've moved into housing at APTS, we've been the subject of intense scrutiny over our parenting, among other things. In January, we had CPS called on us. The accusation: leaving our sleeping 2-yr-old in our duplex (neighboring duplex friends knew we were leaving shortly and were watching out) while we went to a friend's engagement party for maybe 20 minutes. CPS was gracious and didn't come out or interview us, and for that I think we were extremely lucky. I talked to a friend at my work who used to be a CPS worker and she said she never had a case where they did not go to the home of the family. We still do not know who called CPS on us, though it had to have been someone in our community. It feels like an incredible violation of the tight-knit community that APTS is striving to create and prides itself on, which was one of the reasons we even chose to move here.

Then, it seems like the shit is all hitting the fan this week. First, my neighbor came over and asked me to dress Tallulah. Yes, my toddler was playing naked in the mud. She was wearing a light-blue dress that I did not want to get stained, so I stripped her down. He was uncomfortable his older boys (they are 5 and 8) were out there playing around a naked little girl. I complied, because I like these neighbors, a lot. I did not want to create a rift, as we are friends and our kids are friends. But it really bothered me nonetheless. It bothers me that my daughter, practically still in diapers, is being body shamed and policed. That we had to comply with certain societal standards regarding her clothing to make boys less uncomfortable (if they were even uncomfortable at all, I suspect they weren't). I know it's different, but I can only imagine this is the first of a lifetime of situations where Tallulah will be told her body needs to conform to some silly standard in order to not make others uncomfortable. And it just reminded me how ridiculously messed up our conservative perceptions of sex and nudity are in this country. In Germany, no one cares. At the public pool, tons of kids are running around in their birthday suits. In the locker rooms, there are openly, unashamed naked people everywhere. At the saunas, men/women/teens all walk around completely naked, and it's totally natural.

A second neighbor approached T. Kay last night about the same issue. Tallulah was sunning herself after a bath, and then wandered to their yard to pet a dog that lives next door. Again, it made the adults uncomfortable because "our neighborhood isn't as safe as you think." I was at work, but I would have loved to respond: "oh, are you a pedophile?" I'm just NOT SCARED OF STRANGERS. People are good, y'all! Sure, some suck. But most young girls are more likely to be molested by their dads, or grandpas, or older brothers than a randomly wandering stranger who happens across their tiny naked bodies laying out on a towel on their lawn. I'm not going to change our kids comfort with their bodies and comfort with being naked just to satisfy some Puritanical ideas that apparently prevail at what is supposed to be a super-progressive, ultraliberal seminary. The same neighbor also expressed his concern that our kids are unsupervised too often outside. Now, these kids are 5 and 3. Atticus is fully capable of being outside alone. I fully trust in his judgment and his ability to stay within his boundaries safely. He needs me to trust that, for his own confidence and development. Kids these days are not given enough outside time, let alone unsupervised outside time. There is so much evidence from child psychologists that unstructured outdoors play has so many benefits for children, that I'm not willing to sacrifice their well-being for the comfort of those around us.

Same goes for my 3-yr-old. I'm much more watchful of her outside, but she's never really given me a reason to not trust her awareness of her abilities or boundaries either. And 9 times out of 10, they are playing in the front yard, and I'm sitting at the open window listening to everything that's happening. I can see how a person walking by might think they are completely alone and unsupervised, but a simple knock at the door would show that they aren't, that I (or T. Kay) are completely conscious of everything going on and are doing it quite deliberately. Sure, sometimes, I'm making lunch and they wander further and I have to yell their names and look for them a bit longer. But who doesn't have memories of being at the end of the street and having their parent scream for them from the front porch?

We are short-changing our kids, Americans are. A large majority... they are shuttled to school in a car. They get one ultra-supervised 30-minute recess, if they are lucky. They are then picked up in a car, driven to other supervised activities or go home to watch TV or play video games. A study found that most American children get outside for just 4-7 minutes a day. This is ludicrous. Kids belong outside. Adults too, for that matter. I love lounging in our lawn chair and reading a book. See, I'm supervising! But all too often, I have to clean/cook/write blogposts so I'm inside doing those things instead. My sister made a good point: we just aren't used to seeing kids outside these days in our country. Most go to daycare or school or organized sports/rec activities. They are sequestered away from the everyday public spaces or in suburbs, and so seeing them in the city around a college campus is jarring. But that doesn't mean it's abnormal or wrong. It's just different.

Unfortunately, it does not seem like we'll be able to continue to let our kids play outside without repercussions. Our director of maintenance also emailed us this week with "concerns" about our children's safety. They told us that they shouldn't be outside alone, and there have been instances of Tallulah being in the parking lot below the school (I have no recollections of catching her there, ever, so she must have high-tailed it back before I checked on her). They cited one instance where the kids were inside of a room and T. Kay was literally standing in the hallway right outside "on the phone" (he doesn't recall this phone call, nor was it in his list of previous calls but they have VIDEO EVIDENCE). But even if he was, the kids can't be right inside a room with an open door to the hallway where he is standing?? They cited the problem with a homeless person recently coming inside the building to shower. I'm supposed to be scared this person will hurt my children? He/she was probably just dirty and needed a shower since we can't seem to operate facilities or provide enough services to help people who are without these on their own. That they would actively come in a building and hurt my children? Hardly. To suggest so baffles me. And moreover, are we supposed to be constantly within arms' reach? What are these ridiculous standards, and who are they really protecting?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I'm pretty sure Allison and Ethan were outside "unsupervised" by five and three. It wasn't a big deal because every other kid in the neighborhood was, too. Cars usually drove slowly because they knew kids would be playing in the street. Now there are no children outside and cars fly down that hill.

  3. Wow. Good luck dealing with these issues. I agree it's a shame Americans have weirdness about harmless kid nudity - there were straight-up 10-year-olds playing naked in the water area at Playmobil Land in Nuremberg. It's also a shame we don't give responsible parents credit for knowing what their kids can handle.