“Don’t get off the train ’til Denver. . . .”

When I was 10 years old, my parents put me on a train with two other 10 year old boys – my friends Kurt and Steve.  We were headed for Denver. And a camp in Estes Park.  Skyline Ranch.  The  three of us were alone.  No adult supervision.  My father admonished “Son – don’t get off the train ’til Denver.”  He handed me a ten dollar bill for food.  And that was it. 

Once there, every day, I rode horses, shot BB guns, hiked, swam and shoveled sand. Yes – sand. After winning a junior rodeo, I was given the task with Marvin B. (also age 10) of rounding up the horses each morning.   We had to rise at 5:30 a.m., walk out past the corral, fence off a dirt road and walk into a high plains pasture of several hundred acres. There were cows, horses and a bull. “Flap your poncho at the bull if he charges you” was the advice given to us. So two 10 year old boys headed off alone.  On foot – into the high grass.  Looking for horses in the gray twilight of dawn.

The cows paid us little mind.  The bull mercifully stayed away (“it’s those punks“).  When the pack of horses would see us, they would cock their ears back (“danger”) then forward (“huh”?) then normal (“oh it’s them“) and begin galloping past us toward the corral. They knew we would feed them. So we hiked the mile or so back to the corral with a weather eye on the bull – who kept a weather eye on us. All the horses – Arab, Bubbles, Chief, Dakota, Eagle, Hi Boy, Indian and the others – would be standing at parade rest in the corral. Marvin and I would put 2 cups of oats in each feed bag and slip it over their ears. Then we’d lead them (“come on Bubbles“) to the fence, tether and saddle them.  No adults were ever around. 

Kids today have a tough time developing independence.  You don’t need to do it on a ranch – at dawn.  With a 900 pound bull giving you the evil eye.  But I believe there must be challenges for kids to face or they will have trouble as adults.  Today, we move in the direction of no grades (“oooh – it can damage ego“), no playing tag (“too rough“), no dodge ball (“too violent“), no pointing your finger like a gun (“eeek!”), safe spaces (you are nuts if you believe in safe spaces), teachers cannot raise their voice at or touch a child (“don’t you dare raise your voice to my little Dwarfus”), and of course no – often well-deserved – corporal punishment (see posts of 11/23/11 and 2/1/12).  It’s one thing to protect.  It’s another to insulate.  As I see it, insulating kids from challenge has negative consequence.  For everyone.     

Patrol Boys

When I was in 6th and 7th grade, I was a “patrol boy.”  I was given a white Sam Brown belt (a 3″ white belt with an angled strap from one hip to the opposite shoulder). And I was given power. I was the capo di tutti capi (or one of them) for Lincoln School in Mt. Prospect.  Donna was a patrol girl back in Rye, NY. 

I stood at the street corner. When kids wanted to cross the street,  I would thrust my arms out to the sides (“don’t go“).  When traffic slowed, I would step into the street and shove my arm into the air – stop! And cars would slow and stop.  It’s a patrol boy.  Kids would cross. I would step back and motion the drivers with an “as you were” wave.  6th grade.

Today, you see crossing guards who are older than dirt.   Some look old enough to be my grandfather (or grandmother).  Now that’s old.  Not as nimble as a patrol boy.  They wear iridescent vests, reflective hats, and they carry a monster “STOP” sign.  A few look like they’re geared up for a SWAT team.  I remember seeing one old guy wearing a helmet. 

I always wondered why the patrol boy era came to an end. Probably lawyers. And parents who worry about giving their child authority. Autonomy. Power.  Risk.  I frankly think it would be great if we could resume the patrol boy (and girl) era. Think about the sense of responsibility. Confidence. Growing up.  Yes – I know it’s a different time.  But it’s still the old protecting versus insulating children (see my offering of  11/21/13).   We want to give children wings.  And roots.   

Protecting versus Insulating Children

When I was 10 years old, my parents put me on a train – with 4 other 10 to 12 year old boys including my friend Kurt – headed for Denver, Colorado. We were going to a camp in Estes Park.  Skyline Ranch.  The  five of us were alone.  No adult supervision.  My father admonished “don’t get off the train ’til Denver.”  That was it. 

Once there, every day, I rode horses, shot BB guns, hiked, swam and shoveled sand. Yes – sand. After winning a junior rodeo, I was given the task with Marvin B. (also 10) of rounding up the horses each morning.   We had to rise at 5:30 a.m., walk out past the corral, fence off a dirt road and walk into a high plains pasture of several hundred acres. There were cows, horses and a bull. “Flap your poncho at the bull if he charges you” was our advice. So two 10 year old boys headed off alone on foot into the high grass, looking for horses in the gray mist of dawn.

The cows paid us little mind.  The bull mercifully stayed away (“it’s those punks“).  When the dozen or so horses would see us, they would cock their ears back (“danger”) then forward (“huh”?) then normal (“oh it’s them“) and begin galloping past us toward the corral. They knew we would feed them. So we hiked the mile or so back to the corral with a weather eye on the bull – who kept a weather eye on us. All the horses – Arab, Bubbles, Dakota, Eagle, Indian and the others – would be standing at parade rest in the corral. Marvin and I would put 2 cups of oats in each feed bag and slip it over their ears. Then we’d lead them (“come on Bubbles“) to the fence, tether and saddle them.  No adults were even around. 

It seems that kids today have a little tougher time developing independence.  You don’t need to do it on a ranch – at dawn.  With a 900 pound bull giving you the evil eye.  But I believe there have to be challenges for kids to face or they will have trouble as adults.  Today, we move in the direction of no grades (“oooh – it can damage ego“), helmets for everything, no playing tag (“too rough“), no dodge ball (“too violent“), no pointing your finger like a gun (“eeek!”), teachers cannot raise their voice at or touch a child (“don’t you dare raise your voice to my little Dwarfus”), and of course no – often deserved – corporal punishment (see posts of 11/23/11 and 2/1/12).  It’s one thing to protect.  It’s quite another to insulate.  As I see it, insulating kids from developing independence and resourcefulness has negative result in the long run.