Protesting Cows and the Playground Nanny-state

While we were in France we let the cows have most of the pasture to graze on, thinking it would be too much for my mom to move fences every day.  They loved it and gorged themselves.  But now that we’re back, we have to feed them hay while we wait for the grass to grow.

They are not happy about it at all.  They’re pissed.  When we arrive to do the chores, they’re all lined up at the top and they moo angrily at us.  It’s so loud everyone has to shout to each other over all the noise.  They don’t understand why they can’t go out and eat everything and turn it into a desert.  The calves are largely ignored now, although they do their fair share of mooing-in-protest.  I felt so bad for Sappho when Matilda ran in to be milked, and she was waiting for her mama by the gate.  Matilda didn’t even pause to look at her.  She ran right past into the milking area and started gobbling.  Sappho looked devistated.  Her mom cares more about barley and peanut hay.

When we were in the Copehagen airport, we discovered a great little playground.  It was on a second story, so it was quiet and not busy, and it was child-proof gated in.  The toys were all cute and imaginitive.  There were dolls, and a huge doll house, a train set and wooden kitchen, fooze ball for older children, little tricycles, an indoor slide.  There was even a station to listen to folk and fairytales.  It was so cute and sweet and made the 5-hour layover with three children so nice and peaceful.  It had a little sign that said the toys had to stay in the play area, and that was all.  It seemed to work, too.  All the same toys were there when we came back in two weeks.

There were other children we got to meet, and I started talking with an American couple who had been living in Norway for the past year.  I asked the mother what she prefered – Norway or the US.  She said she really wished she could stay in Norway, because it was so child-friendly.  She said they had really wonderful pre-schools for the children where they took them out in the forest and had them light fires and climb trees.  They encouraged the children to play rough and explore and fall down and jump over the fires.  This idea has kind of taken hold in my mind, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

No one could ever had a pre-school like that here.  Not only would it be shut down by the authorities, the parents would also freak out if their kid scraped a knee while climbing a tree, and everyone is so afraid of snakes and insects and nature.  The idea of kids making a fire strikes fear into most adult Americans’s hearts, even in a cubscout setting it is very controlled and the kids don’t really get to do much with it.  Outdoor education here is about walking along a nature trail and not touching anything.  All the parks are treated like outdoor museums – there’s not much of a chance for children to do anything except look.

I think the children here need Norway-style school more than anything else.  We have a long history in this country of exploiting the natural resources, without having connected to the land.  What better way to connect with nature than to play around in it?  Those are the memories that adults draw on when they remember a favorite tree, or how beautiful a creek was, or the little things they saw.  The children here play erratically, and therefore more dangerously.  Had they been able to fall out of trees when they were small and it was less dangerous, perhaps they would have a better sense of their physical selves and gravity.

I’m in the middle of planning home school for next year.  Last year I stayed home and ignored my children while I did this, but that was a hard summer.  They were so bored and got into all kinds of trouble.  This year I am trying to keep them busy.  Every day we go somewhere different – a new playground, the library, etc.  Perferably somewhere I can sit on a blanket in the shade and plan homeschool while they tire themselves out.

Clothilde is hard, because she is always doing something dangerous.  Usually I have to get up and spot her every few minutes, but now I am training her to play alone.  WIth the Norway schools in mind, I let her hang there for a minute before I go and get her down, just to be inconvenient so she will think twice about it next time.

And because I am just letting my children play (of course still keeping an eye out – if they are doing something really awful, I say something, but otherwise just letting them alone), I have realized that it is not the custom here in the US.

There is a culture of hovering over children in the playground.  Children even older than Clothilde can’t just climb up something, their mom has to have a running dialogue about it.  “Alright Addison, let me hold your hand.  Watch out for your foot.  Be careful.  Okay.  Here, hold on there.  Be careful.  Don’t go that way.  Okay, now slide down.  I’ll catch you.”

I’m sticking out from the crowd and being kind of judged on my blanket in the shade because I’m not hovering like you’re supposed to.  My crazy 2-year old is climbing up things with no hand-holding or dialogue!  and sliding face-first down the slide.

There have been some interesting situations I’ve overheard, like the father punishing his son because the kid didn’t want to play on the plastic play equiptment, he wanted to run through the trees.  NOT OKAY.  It’s amazing how early the training begins here to ignore any natural curiosity or inclination and to mindlessly follow authority.

There was another time when the playground was practically deserted, and my girls were climbing up a slide over and over again and sliding down.  They were having a blast, and it wasn’t like there were tons of other kids who wanted to slide down.  After awhile, two little boys wanted to also climb up the slide with them, and got shouted at and even slapped for that.  When the father started to yell at me about it (by yelling at his boys, “I don’t know why anyone would go up a slide!  They’re just crazy.  You have to wait for them.  Nobody’s supposed to climb like that.  No! Come here and hold your leg out!”) I packed all my stuff up to go and couldn’t help saying something about it.  It made me so angry.

“It’s time to go,” I said to the girls, loud enough for him to hear.  “You would think children could just play on a playground, but no, someone has to be shouting at them constantly.”

When we got back in the car, Mirin told me he hated it when I went on rants at people, which made me laugh.

It’s hard living here.  I hate seeing people hit their children in public, and I hate being judged for just letting my children play like children should.

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