Following on from my frustrations about my eldest son not playing independently, I tried a little experiment. The idea was to encourage him to push the physical rather than verbal boundaries. I sent him, B and a friend off into the field next to our house; the challenge, to pick blackberries. I was not completely irresponsible. I took a magazine and sat outside where I could see them, Baby J bottom shuffling at my feet. Off they went round the perimeter, diving into the hedgerows, lifting up brambles. T called out that he was not getting scratched. I didn’t reply. They moved away out of earshot; after a long, noisy summer holiday, the silence was therapeutic.
I read a short article then looked up. I could not see them. I quashed my panic thinking “be rational”. There they were, camouflaged in a ditch. I watched three little bodies marching up the hill, B waving from the top. Then they disappeared from my view into a corner. I was relaxed; the worst that could happen would be a scratch from a barb. Before my reading and epiphany in the garden centre I would have called out to check they were still there, but I made myself give them some freedom.
They stayed behind that corner a long time. It started raining on my washing. It rained harder. I saw them racing across the top of the field in what looked like gleeful abandon rather than whining back home. I left my washing. They sheltered under the hedge; it was great. I think we all felt liberated.
They trudged home, deep in conversation, B trailing slightly, slowed up by tall thistles against his shorter legs. Baby J and I welcomed the adventurers home at the gate – I had to open it for B who can’t climb it. “We were working as a team” T called to me across the last of the field. They showed me what they’d picked – blackberries and some “blueberries”, which were actually sloes. T said B had eaten one so I had to deliver a lecture about not eating berries if you didn’t know exactly what they were – which in retrospect maybe I should have given before they departed. Was I irresponsible to have sent a 3 year old off into a field without an adult to pick in hedgerows?
But they all seemed invigorated by their run in the wind, talking about wanting to do it again when more berries were ripe. They had black stains around their mouths from eating blackberries; a clichéd sign of a wholesome childhood and I felt proud, like we’d all achieved. They mentioned that they’d wanted to go into the next field but didn’t as I wouldn’t have known where they’d be. I was impressed, this showed good common sense and a pleasing appreciation that it was important that I did know where they were. I said that next time, if they told me where they were going, they could go into other fields. They found this an exciting possibility. In conclusion, it seems to have been a good learning experiment for us all.