The rare times Thea and her cousins are together, uninhibited and free from distractions, are filled with laughter and energy. Over Memorial Day weekend, the cousins flew kites, splashed in the Chesapeake Bay, built sand castles and landed their weight in fish from their great-grandfather's pier.
Nikole's family place in Deltaville has always been an important summer destination for our family, especially when were have an opportunity to share it with her brother's family, along with her father, and her grandfather and his wife, who live there year-round. We realized this last visit that we were at a magical moment -- looking up from lunch one afternoon, we adults realized that all three children were out playing on the beach and none of us were freaking out.
At home in the city, we find it challenging sometimes to allow our children the freedom to explore, to carve out their paths, to create their own adventures. "The Overprotected Kid," a recent story in The Atlantic talked about a childhood stripped of independence and risk. It sounded terrible! And it made me think about Thea, and my parenting, and the opportunities to give her more freedom as she slowly slides into her own childhood.
The story didn't just talk about a childhood without risk, though. It highlighted an amazing alternative in the United Kingdom called "adventure playgrounds". The Land is one such playground in Wales:
The Land is a playground that takes up nearly an acre at the far end of a quiet housing development in North Wales. It's only two years old but has no marks of newness and could just as well have been here for decades. The ground is muddy in spots and, at one end, slopes down steeply to a creek where a big, faded plastic boat that most people would have thrown away is wedged into the bank. The center of the playground is dominated by a high pile of tires that is growing ever smaller as a redheaded girl and her friend roll them down the hill and into the creek. "Why are you rolling tires into the water?" my son asks. "Because we are," the girl replies.
In Deltaville, the kids have a thousand feet of beach, a long private road of sand and oyster shells, and a long pier that stretches toward the Chesapeake Bay. This summer, they will roast marshmallows, catch and clean fish, learn to pick crabs, collect shells and colored sea glass and explore -- together outside, and alone in the pages of books curled on a bed, or swinging in the hammock.
They will run into the house for lunch, or a popsicle or to share a new treasure, before slipping just as quickly back into the sun, and the water. And the adults will smile at their joy, and their new sense of liberation, and we will all feel a little older, maybe sadder, but quietly thankful that we can give these young sparks a place to adventure.
For us adults, there will be sunsets on the pier, and sunrises on the beach, and over-warm and sandy children curled asleep in our beds late at night. We will watch them live into themselves more fully in this place with no constraints, and borrow their energy, innocence and laughter along the way. This is how we move through life.