We recently returned from a week at the Outer Banks in North Carolina. My girls mixed seamlessly with 5 boy-children, 2 they'd never met before, 3 of whom have been friends since their birth. We joined two other families (one new to us) at a large house, right on the beach.
In so many ways, my girls' lives are different from mine at their ages. I grew up in a semi-rural neighborhood, outside a small town. Maybe as a function of being the 5th in a family of 6 kids, I had immense freedom to wander and explore natural areas around our home and to ride my bike as far as my legs held out. I had to be home by dark, and occasionally there were disputes as to the definition of "dark", but that's about it.
We vacationed every summer at my grandmother's cottage on a little lake in Michigan. Often we were joined by cousins, aunts and uncles. We swam, row-boated, climbed trees and played twilight games of "ghost in the graveyard" in a pack of children that included a variety of ages and genders. It didn't take us long to figure out who the mean and creepy kids (and adults) were and how to steer clear of them. There were two rules: no swimming alone and be home by dark.
This past week, I saw my kids do what I had always done: play without the involvement of adults as agenda-setters, mediators or coaches. They were offered food each morning, then they tumbled off like a loud pack of puppies to the pool, the beach and back again. They figured out their own ways to play "billiards" at the pool table and found the Uno and Monopoly games on their own. Every now and then a referee was required to separate squabbling siblings or assist in getting a kite aloft, but largely we adults left them to their own devices while we enjoyed blissful relaxation. Surely if I had seen the boys in the process of burying A up to her face in sand ("We turned her into a manatee!"), I would have put a stop to it, but she enjoyed it more than they did!
Despite what Nancy Grace and other fear-mongers would have us believe, there were no abductions, molestations or other catastrophes. They emerged with nothing more than a few flip-flop induced blisters and some sunburn, but that's it; well, except for the memories these children will have from their week at the beach, where they got to do pretty much what they wanted, when they wanted, how they wanted.