Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Free Range in Sarajevo

At the bottom of our street of steps is our neighborhood store. Almost every corner here in Sarajevo has a tiny store, usually only big enough for one or two people to stand inside. They're kind of like convenience markets, but instead of stocking beer and chips, they carry cleaning supplies, rice, yogurt, and fresh produce (OK, they have soda pop, too).

We buy small things here pretty regularly, and the proprietor sits outside the store on a milk crate whenever she's not ringing someone up, so we see her and greet her almost every time we go away from or come back to home.

Today while we cooked dinner, we sent Isaac and Eleanor down to buy lemons. By themselves. They were beside themselves with excitement. And they did just fine. Here they are (shot from our dining room window above the steps) returning, lemons and change in hand.

They were a little longer than they might have been because they had to wait while another little girl their age did her shopping. Alone, just like they were.

One of the things I love about Sarajevo is the independence children have. I very seldom see teenagers getting rides--they walk or ride public transit on their own. They go to and from school by themselves without any fuss. They are in town hanging out with friends without adult supervision. And elementary school aged children walk to school by themselves and run short errands for their parents.

When we have lived in Europe in the past, I have seen my children blossom under the freedom to go and do on their own. I try to encourage them to be self-reliant when we live in the United States (encourage them to walk or bike to school, church, and the library; to play out in our yard), but American culture pushes back hard. It's tough to do. Lenore Skenazy writes eloquently (and with great wit!) about the dangers to our children in the way our culture pushes us to deprive them of the opportunity to act independently. You can read her both in her book and on her blog.

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