I have lived in Boomer neighborhoods in cities and suburbs and I am always struck by the different ways people in the country raise children. In the New Jersey community where I raised my daughter, children's lives were shaped and bounded by fear – of strangers, of being alone, of being on the Internet, of loving their own music and culture, of occupying themselves, of sex, animals, ordinary grades, ordinary lives, many kinds of food, smoking, drugs, pregnancy, injury and disease. Every week my daughter was warned about a different part of life, and she and her friends, not surprisingly, often saw the world as a menacing place.
I was quite guilty of this over-parenting, trading intelligence on the fourth grade math teacher with my hysterical neighbors. Children were encouraged to take no risks, be driven to classes – soccer was treated like the Super Bowl – to never talk to anyone outside their circle of friends, and to never, ever, be alone. As I was afraid, so I and the other parents passed it on. We live in a culture of fear and warning.
Parents sought perfect lives for their children as people often seek perfect lives for animals and generally, fare no better. In the country, it is often different, by choice and necessity. I am struck by the way Ken Norman and his wife Eli raise Nikolene. She is encouraged to be with animals, talk to them, show affection. She always talks to me, and to Maria, always asks how we are doing, always tells us how she is doing. She is not afraid of us or guarded around us.
Nikolene is taught how to be careful around animals like donkeys – she stays away from their hind legs and knows how to give them cookies and treats. She loves to read books and tell stories. Nikolene has a great poise and entitlement about her. She is not cautious and shy, but open and confident. She rides horses and donkeys all the time. She hugs them and talks to them. Today, while Fanny was in great pain, Nikolene did something I have never seen a child from the city even think of doing – she kissed her on the nose.
She is her own person, makes her own choices. While we were busy with Fanny in the barn, she walked on the stone walls, hugged Red, picked flowers, sang a song in the pasture. How beautiful to see.
Fear is poison, I believe, for me, for anybody. We can see the world as full of menace and danger, or we can see the world as beautiful and beckoning and learn to make our own choices about it. I told Nikolene today that she had already done what I am just learning to do – not live in fear and struggle and warning. I appreciate the gifts her parents have given her.