I’ve been thinking some more about free range parenting particularly as it pertains to safety, or our society’s risk aversion. I think that the extent to which children can be left unsupervised is directly proportional to parents’ ability to count on their neighbors – writ large – to keep her children safe.
My suburban neighbourhood is surrounded by open fields and a small wooded area. Liesl and Kurt, who are responsible for walking Cocker Spaniel twice a day, would love to prowl the open fields but are not allowed… yet. Is this necessary? Probably not. The risk of meeting an ill-intentioned stranger is low but the stakes are high. And more importantly, if my children yelled, would anybody help them? I don’t think so and this is the most frightening thing.
In recent years, two women were murdered by random strangers in the Ottawa area. Ardeth Wood disappeared in August 2003 and Jennifer Teague in September 2005. Some reported the similarities of both cases but omitted an important one: in both cases a witness noticed something amiss, felt uncomfortable about it, figured it was a couple’s dispute and decided to mind their own business. A cyclist saw Ardeth Wood visibly upset being taken toward the forest by Chris Myers. A resident heard Jennifer Teague’s scream as she was abducted at knife’s point by Kevin Davis. Both decided not to get involved. Upsetting as it is, I always wondered if my nausea wasn’t caused by the knowledge that I might have done the same thing in similar circumstances: mind my own business.
My fear is not so much that my children will make unfortunate encounters on the bike paths circling my neighbourhood. But if they did, residents of fancy ravine lots wouldn’t hear them in their sealed, air-conditioned, oasis of splendor. I have lived here for two years and I know one neighbour. I joke that if burglars pulled in my driveway with a delivery truck, they could empty the entire content of my house and nobody would bat an eye. I can drag my kids kicking and screaming through an entire shopping mall without anyone asking if they are okay. “Good!” you tell me? What If I wasn’t their mom?