Today while surfing the Internet I encountered a link to an interesting little article about an owl, named Flaco, that “escaped” from NYC’s Central Park Zoo, which also discussed the way children are raised today. (Flaco’s story follows essay.)
This made me think of how different my childhood was from that of today’s youngsters.
Like almost all the kids at that time I started kindergarten in the fall of 1948, when I was five years old. On the first school day my mother walked me to school, which was five blocks or about 6/10 of a mile from my house, in order to show me the way. I assume she also was there to walk me home at the end of the day, but I don’t recall. (Actually I barely recall any of this, but my mother often told this story.) On the second day I told her I didn’t want her to walk with me, I was a big boy and could do it by myself. So, off I went.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I learned later that she followed me to see if I could get there by myself. Well, I did, and continued to do so for the next 13 years. Today if parents let their five year old child walk to school alone they would probably be arrested for child endangerment.
When I was six I got a bicycle and learned to ride it in just a few days. (And that was before training wheels were available.) Since I wasn’t allowed to cross or ride on the street, I would ride around the block on the sidewalk while improving my riding skills. I quickly got bored with that and would sneak off to other parts of town without my parents knowledge. Imagine that happening today.
I was a very independent child, and I was given a lot of freedom. I certainly wouldn’t call it parental neglect, but today that’s what it would be called. Actually my parents didn’t take much interest in what I did, and I never volunteered much information about how I spent my free time. To this day I rarely tell anyone much about how I amuse myself.
It would be really difficult for me if I were growing up in today’s world. I cherish the freedom and independence I had. Of course there were difficult learning experiences which probably would have been avoided with adult supervision, but the lessons learned in the school of hard knocks are not soon forgotten. Although I never peed on an electric fence, I did a lot of other stupid things that I quickly regretted. Today’s kids don’t have the same educational opportunities. Just like Flaco, children need to be allowed the freedom to explore their world and learn to make their own way. Too much help and protection is a real handicap for them. Kids haven’t changed significantly in the last 75 years, but the way they’re raised certainly has.
Meet Flaco, the Free-Range Kid who happens to be an owl. In just two weeks, he has learned to hunt and survive. There’s a lesson there.
Flaco, a 13-year-old Eurasian eagle-owl, has spent almost his entire life in the Central Park Zoo, where he was pampered, loved, and enriched. Earlier this year, on the night of February 2, someone (not me) cut a hole in his wire mesh cage. Flaco was free.
His helicopter parents—er, zookeepers—desperately tried to make him come home. They baited traps. They played Eurasian eagle-owl sounds. They did everything but promise him a trip to Disneyland. The work seemed essential, because the authorities didn’t believe their beloved bird could survive without adult supervision.
While at first he could only make it about four blocks before tuckering out, soon observers saw him flying further and further afield.
And while there was great concern that he wouldn’t know the first thing about how to catch his own food, just days into his freedom he was coughing up tangles of rodent fur and bones—the parts that owls can’t digest. This meant he was successfully hunting.
It turns out all that Flaco needed to prove himself was an opening—literally. And now he’s a Free-Range Bird, beloved by his city.
Is there a lesson for the rest of us? I spend my days trying to convince zookeepers—er, parents, teachers, counselors, and coaches—that 24/7 supervision of children is unhealthy for them. Love and attention are important ingredients for kids, but constant hovering over them can stunt their growth.
We all know this from our own childhoods: We learned by climbing trees, getting lost, solving problems, and making friends.
Kids possess all sorts of skills, but they require unsupervised, unstructured time to discover them. Free time in childhood is not a luxury. It’s not wasted. It’s not fallow. It’s crucial for child development.
On February 16, the zoo stopped trying to catch Flaco. In just two weeks, he had learned how to battle the elements and dazzle New York City. He stunned those who loved him dearly but had underestimated him all those years.
If we want our kids to dazzle us with their abilities and ebullience, we, too, have to remember they come pre-programmed to explore and figure things out. Our job is to love them, hug them, open the cage, and watch them soar.
In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth and populated the Earth with broccoli, cauliflower and spinach, green and yellow and red vegetables of all kinds, so Man and Woman would live long and healthy lives.
1. Then using God’s great gifts, Satan created Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream and Krispy Creme Donuts. And Satan said, “You want chocolate with that?” And Man said, “Yes!” and Woman said, “and as long as you’re at it, add some sprinkles.” And they gained 10 pounds. And Satan smiled.
2. And God created the healthful yogurt that Woman might keep the figure that Man found so fair. And Satan brought forth white flour from the wheat, and sugar from the cane and combined them. And Woman went from size 6 to size 14.
3. So God said, “Try my fresh green salad.” And Satan presented Thousand-Island Dressing, buttery croutons and garlic toast on the side. And Man and Woman unfastened their belts following the repast.
4. God then said, “I have sent you heart healthy vegetables and olive oil in which to cook them.” And Satan brought forth deep fried fish and chicken-fried steak so big it needed its own platter. And Man gained more weight and his cholesterol went through the roof God then created a light, fluffy white cake, named it “Angel Food Cake “and said, “It is good.” Satan then created chocolate cake and named it “Devil’s-food.”
5. God then brought forth running shoes so that His children might lose those extra pounds. And Satan gave cable TV with a remote control so Man would not have to toil changing the channels. And Man and Woman laughed and cried before the flickering blue light and gained pounds.
6. Then God brought forth the potato, naturally low in fat and brimming with nutrition. And Satan peeled off the healthful skin and sliced the starchy center into chips and deep-fried them. And Man gained pounds.
7. God then gave lean beef so that Man might consume fewer calories and still satisfy his appetite. And Satan created McDonald’s and its 99-cent double cheeseburger. Then said, “You want fries with that?” And Man replied, “Yes! And super-size them!” And Satan said, “It is good.” And Man went into cardiac arrest.
8. God sighed and created quadruple bypass surgery.
9. Then Satan created Cuts to the Health Care System.
A young Law student, having failed his Law exam, goes up to his crusty old professor, who is renowned for his razor-sharp legal mind.
Student: “Sir, do you really understand everything about this subject?”
Professor: “Actually, I probably do. Otherwise I wouldn’t be a professor, would I?”
Student: “OK. So I’d like to ask you a question. If you can give me the correct answer, I will accept my marks as they are. If you can’t give me the correct answer, however, you’ll have to give me an “A”.
Professor: “Hmmmm, alright. So what’s the question?”
Student: “What is legal but not logical, logical but not legal, and neither logical nor legal?
The professor wracks his famous brain, but just can’t crack the answer. Finally he gives up and changes the student’s failing mark into an “A” as agreed, and the student goes away, very pleased.
The professor continues to wrack his brain over the question all afternoon, but still can’t get the answer. So finally he calls in a group of his brightest students and tells them he has a really, really tough question to answer: “What is legal but not logical, logical but not legal, and neither logical nor legal?
To the professor’s surprise (and embarrassment), all the students immediately raise their hands.
“All right” says the professor and asks his favorite student to answer “It’s quite easy, sir” says the student “You see:
You are 75 years old and married to a 30 year old woman, which is legal, but not logical.
Your wife has a 22 year old lover, which is logical, but not legal.
And your wife’s lover failed his exam but you’ve just given him an “A”, which is neither legal, nor logical.”
Explanation: This was a sky to show the kids. Early this month the two brightest planets in the night sky, Jupiter and Venus, appeared to converge. At their closest, the two planets were separated by only about the angular width of the full moon. The spectacle occurred just after sunset and was seen and photographed all across planet Earth. The displayed image was taken near to the time of closest approach from Wiltingen, Germany, and features the astrophotographer, spouse, and their two children. Of course, Venus remains much closer to both the Sun and the Earth than Jupiter — the apparent closeness between the planets in the sky of Earth was only angular. Jupiter and Venus have passed and now appear increasingly far apart. Similar planetary convergence opportunities will eventually arise. In a few months, for example, Mars and Venus will appear to congregate just as the Sun sets.