Friday, October 27, 2017

Not So Innocent Fun

I was being a tourist, sauntering along Laugavegur, the main shopping street of downtown Reykjavik, Iceland. As I paused in front of a shop window, I noticed a pair of boys I judged to be around eight-years-old. They stood out to me first and foremost because they were apparently unescorted by an adult, a sight I rarely see in the US, even in smaller towns, and while Reykjavik isn't a huge city, it's still a place full of traffic and strangers and other urban "dangers."

These boys (not the same as those in this story) had paused to giggle at a sign that read, "Go ahead and breastfeed. We like both babies and bodies."

I was also struck by the fact that they were being sneaky, keeping to a wall, knees bent, up on their toes as if trying to stay quietly out of sight, perhaps creeping up on someone they planned to startle. They were alive and alert, focused, not paying any mind to the American tourist who was watching them. As they came out into the open they slowed and crouched even more. Then with a quick synchronized motion, they tossed what looked to be small pebbles through the doorway of a shop entrance that stood open at the top of a short flight a stairs. Then they ran. They bolted toward an alleyway, scrambled over a high fence, and they were gone, probably giggling together with red faced excitement. I waited for someone to emerge from the shop to scold them, but apparently their naughtiness was noticed only by me.

These are not the only unsupervised children I've seen in Reykjavik. Indeed it's quite common to spy groups of girls and boys out and about in the world, a sight that takes me back to my own childhood. Most of them were not attempting to get into trouble, of course, but that's definitely always a possibility when there are no stern grown-ups around to stop them with their scolding: that's always one of the possibilities of freedom.

I've been there myself, running away, leaping fences, ducking around corners, hiding, giggling in the face of the danger of escape. Without going into my own particular offenses, I can tell you that I would not be who I am today without those moments of "crime" committed simply for the thrill of avoiding punishment. And I didn't always avoid punishment of either the natural or unnatural variety.

It's in the nature of childhood to experiment with danger, be it heights or speed or being lost. We are designed to test our boundaries including social ones, and that requires being out from under the watchful eye of adults.

I felt a thrill at witnessing these impish boys having their not so innocent fun. It carried me back to those vital times that I recall with the sharp clarity that accompanies having done something that affected you deeply. I lament that American children are missing out on this type of danger play even as I know they are still doing it whenever and wherever they find a crack in parental surveillance. And even if a parent somehow manages to keep their child under lock and key, I know that when the day finally comes that they are free, they will play catch up, often in ways far more dangerous than tossing stones through shop doorways.

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