After I wrote a column about letting my nine-year-old ride the subway alone — and got torn limb from limb in the media — I started my blog, Free-Range Kids. That is officially when the Free-Range movement began.
But really it began at a bungalow colony when the 9-year-old was just 3, and his brother (now a college student) was 5.
The bungalow colony we go to is called Rosmarins Cottages. It's in the Catskills—barely. Really, it's a 10-minute drive from Woodbury Commons, in Monroe. It takes a little over an hour to get there from Manhattan and boasts 100 vintage cabins that could be considered shockingly basic or charmingly retro, depending on what part of Brooklyn you're from: Formica tables, linoleum floors, tiny bathrooms. (Though, lately, some have been renovated.)
My husband and I grew up in the Midwest where there aren't any bungalow colonies, so when our friends Carol and Artie invited us out to theirs, we didn't know what to expect at all.
What we found was the land that time forgot.
The bungalows sit on a gigantic shared lawn — cars can't drive through — and kids were running around all over the place. These included our friends' kids and, in mere moments, ours, too. Some were hammering a skateboard ramp. Others were lounging on the tree swing. A bunch disappeared into someone's bungalow and emerged with ice cream sandwiches. It was all very easy.
For me, I mean. I didn't have to watch my kids that hard, because everyone was watching them.
Unlike the city, where we supervised the kids closely at playgrounds and playdates, this was freeing — for the kids and us.
As my friend Carol explained, the only big-time obligation is: If the gang lands at your bungalow at lunch time, you have to feed them all. That sounded doable.
And so it has proved to be. We rented a two-bedroom bungalow for the next summer and have been there ever since. (Bonus: You can store your stuff there over the winter.) Even when the kids were very young, they'd say, "Bye, mom! I'm going to Johnny's bungalow," and off they'd go. It didn't seem radical to let a three- or four-year-old go a few houses down to look for his buddy by himself. It seemed normal. It is normal. It's only our crazy, danger-obsessed society that has made parenting into a fear fest.
The rest of the bungalow colony experience was totally up my alley, too. Lots of potlucks. A swimming pool where you don't have to look good. (The lounge chairs sure don't.) A beautiful lake and tennis courts (that I ignore, because I'd rather sit on the porch and nap). Read, I mean! Read books!
I do start out reading.
Lately my husband has set up an outdoor movie theater (i.e, great big sheet) in front of our bungalow. He screens cartoons and, later at night, stuff like Hitchcock. He even makes popcorn. A couple of summers ago, a nine-year-old boy stayed up to watch "The Imitation Game" with the adults. I think he felt very grown-up.
I hope so. That's really what we all remember most about childhood — the things we did on our own that made us feel "big." So I'm not sure if I was already Free-Range and that's why the bungalows appealed to me. Or if the bungalow colony made me Free-Range.
Either way, I'm grateful.
***This article was first published on June 26, 2015
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