Briefly Disappearing Kids

Boo disappeared from my sight today. But it’s cool.

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Alone, outside.
Except for the photographer, of course.

We were out in front of the house during a rare break in the rain — this year, May is pretending it’s November. I was weeding and Boo scooted her pushbike up and down the block. (Or, if you believe her, from “the store” to “London.”)

Nothing distracts my daughter like an animal, and sure enough, she followed the neighbor cat from two houses away to a favorite perch on its porch — out of my sight.

We know the neighbors on whose porch Boo was now sitting. It’s a blind passage; no way out except back to the street. The neighbors had in fact just left, so I was sure (rationally) that no random homeless hiker maniac bandit was hiding in the door jamb. We even know the cat.

To summarize: Boo was in a safe place with no outlet, just 30 feet away from me, within earshot, hanging out with a cat. But she was essentially on the street, and certainly invisible to me.

So I let her stay there.

Oh, sure, I checked on her once, but not right away. And then she called me once to help her detangle the cat’s claw from her glove. But apart from that I let my three-year old girl stay by herself (on the street, did I mention?) for at least 20 minutes.

Don’t think I wasn’t crazy-anxious. I have never weeded so apprehensively — or inaccurately, since I was mostly staring at the walkway where Boo should reappear. And my imagination — of abductors sweeping down from the roof on invisible pterodactyls, for example — is fantastic at overcoming the simple fact that Boo was in no possible danger.

I’m not really sure, then, why I let her stay there, hidden, on her own, if I was so nervous. Were the weeds so important?

* * *

Back when I was teaching outdoor education, my groups would almost universally report that their favorite activity out of a half-week of hiking and playing games was the “solo hike,” and especially the nighttime one. Just like today, I would put kids into a safe setting — a familiar, flat stretch of trail with no offshoots — and let them walk it on their own, meeting a teacher at the end.

For that ten minutes or so, the kids were out of sight of all other people, just wandering in the outdoors. That never happens anymore for kids — or adults, for that matter. I can’t remember the last time I sat at the top of a hill and just let the wind wash over me. “Nature deficit disorder,” Richard Louv called it, and though I hate sloganeering I still have to admit that he’s right.

So I swallowed my nerves and let Boo’s lonely moment happen. And I’ll continue to let them happen, when I can, safely. I’ll let her wander past my comfort zone down the beach. She’ll be all the sharper because when we’re hiking I let her turn the next bend in the trail without me.

Just one bend, though, for now. Just one.