When I was a child, I would spend many weekends out in the valley with my second family. They were lazy days, filled with acorns and honeysuckle and blue-bellied alligator lizards. Amidst the tall golden grass and towering bamboo stalks, we played and ran and soaked up the sun. When it rained – and it always rained – we would huddle inside forts and behind couches, or we would dash out of the house and dance in the rain. Sometimes we would ride bikes up the hill to the hospice community, dodging around vehicles and speeding around corners. We would sit under the old oak tree or climb its gnarled branches until our skin was covered in tiny cuts. The trampoline was our space as the sun set, where we watched the stars as they twinkled to life in the darkening sky.
We ruled that little plot of land in the valley – it was our kingdom. We knew every piece of dirt and blade of grass and leaf and bug. We made friends with the spiders and the snakes, and we learned to walk barefoot as silently as the deer. We were wild, with spider webs and twigs in our hair, mud on our clothes, and dust on our skin.
The house always smelled of family – that dusty, well-lived in scent that older houses usually have – and home-cooked food. Pancakes, ten different types of cereal, orange juice; grilled cheese, tomato soup, peanut butter and jelly; hamburgers and hot-dogs, potato salad, chips and salsa – we feasted every night. We watched television on channels that were washed with static and we wrestled and tickled each other until we were all laughing hysterically.
We whispered spells under blankets and held midnight rituals without the adults knowing. We sneaked out to see the meteor showers and to dance in the night time rain. We fell asleep in each other’s arms, a pile of children raised as siblings for as long as we knew, bound by a simple thread that connected our hearts. We teased each other, but we were always there if anyone else tried to poke fun – we were best friends and we were each other’s enemies, all at the same time.
As we grew older, our adventures changed – new people came into our lives, and my visits to that valley paradise became less frequent. Our mothers broke their commitment to one another, and I was kept far from the magic of my childhood kingdom. I forgot the sound of my sisters and brothers, their laughter, the feel of their arms, their energy that mingled with mine as we explored our corner of life.
Our adventures became legends, myths from a time long passed, and soon I forgot the land and the feel of the ground under my bare feet. Now, so many years after we ruled over our kingdom, I am reminded of those stories. I see us in my own children, their wild curiosity, their need to run free and explore without hindrance. Their want for freedom, for vast expanses of uncharted territory – their feet long to be bare, to pick out the strong and the weak branches of an old oak tree, to feel the awe of seeing the night sky unfold over them in all of its glory.
In this modern world, where is the freedom for children to explore, to run wild through the trees and the grass? They deserve to rule over their own kingdoms, just as I was able to rule over mine. They should be allowed to feel the magic of the earth beneath their feet, to honour the spirit that lives within us all in the most natural of ways. We have taken the children out of the wild, and in doing so, we have taken the wild out of our children.