by Stefani on 26-February-2008

I can remember sucking in to squeeze through the fence at the end of the road, and whispering once through it, lest the spies tell the “evil king” that I was trespassing in his forest.

I remember riding our horses (okay, bikes with jump ropes tied ’round the handlebars) to the creek, and sticking our toes in the water while we made up rules for a game that never ended.

I remember running behind fence rows with my best friend Meeghan, spying on the neighbors through knotholes. We were certain that one day we’d land ourselves a good mystery. You know, stumble upon some robbers or overhear plans for a dangerous plot of some sort.

We kept copious notes on the goings on of our neighborhood, and left them in a cigar box under the Sycamore tree where we held our “Spy Club” meetings.

So you’ll understand, won’t you, when I say that I’d like to leave my children alone in the woods?

Wood Sprite

Not in the Hansel and Gretel sense. of course. It’s just that a whole lot of good stuff goes on in there when the adults aren’t looking on. Hierarchies are created, landmarks are named, histories are invented, plans unfold.

It is unfortunate though, that I don’t live in a place where I can trust my children to the trees without wondering who might be lurking behind them. So I go with them, into the woods, and I try to blend in.

On our walk a few days back, we found this fantastic place. It’s a circle made up of limbs, boulders, car parts and even an old barrel grill. In the center is a fire ring.


My guys investigated it thoroughly, of course, and claimed it as their own, without even so much as a thought that it might already have tenants.

They began to make plans for adding on “rooms” and bringing out “supplies” to their “base camp.”

I stayed back and pretended to be engrossed in some plant or another while they populated this new world.

It was just like seeing one of our all time favorite stories, Roxaboxen, come to life. (Seriously, this is one to buy, not just borrow. We read it LOTS, and it gets to me every single time).

Merry Men

When we came home from our walk we read the story again. Then, my inspired littles headed right out to our yard to drag around rocks and yard debris. They were founding fathers of their own settlement, barking orders at each other and declaring things like, “let’s pretend this is the road between our houses. Okay, but let’s make it a toll road, and you have to pay three of these berries to ride your motorcycle on it.”

You know how tiger cubs tumble around with each other, mock fighting, in preparation for when they are great hunters?

It’s like that, to watch kids play at creating the world. Cute and funny, but also tinged with the knowledge that they are playing out the roles they are destined for: becoming men, men who set up house, choose a trade, weigh in on their country’s laws, make decisions about how they will interact with their neighbors and spend their money.

When they create a world, apart from the one where Daddy and I reign, they are practicing at moving beyond us, standing without us, self-governing.

Amazing and apparently truly important stuff, this world they are building in my backyard. It looks to the near sighted tall people who reign indoors, to be nothing but a mess to clean, but to the citizenry of their as yet nameless colony, to them it is prophecy and possibility.

Jennifer February 26, 2008 at 8:05 am

I love Roxaboxen! It was one of my baby brother’s favorites for me to read to him when he was littler. I remember he chose it for a book report in kindergarten or 1st grade. It was interesting trying to describe the “main character” of Roxaboxen. I noticed he still has it in his bookcase when I was home for Christmas (he’s almost 12) and still reads it.

Sarah Jackson February 26, 2008 at 8:07 am

This is my favorite thing about being a parent – quietly listening on the sidelines while they create a whole world around them using only their imaginations and the tools at hand. Amazing stuff indeed.

Lori February 26, 2008 at 8:15 am

i grew up this way, too – running through the fields and woods, playing in a creek all day, filthy dirty and only coming in to gulp my lunch in 45 seconds.

every year the boys rebuild their fort in the woods behind the house, and it brings back so many memories of scavenging for things for our fort when i was a child – the joy of finding an abandoned wooden crate! using a line of rusty old cans (full of holes from shooting practice) to hold our treasures…

Crystal February 26, 2008 at 8:43 am

I am putting ‘Roxaboxen’ on our reading list right now. We are have been reading ‘Little House in the Big Woods’. I am a bit more into it than the kids. I have even been looking up a trip to Lake Pepin, WI for ‘education purposes’, of course. 😉

Maria February 26, 2008 at 8:49 am

You brought back a lot of memories of living outside the “adult” world and making worlds of my own as a child.
It’s true, what you say, about not wanting to leave the kids too alone….my parents just called me in for supper. Can’t do that anymore…but we can still let them be..

Great post.

Mariah February 26, 2008 at 9:41 am

Roxaboxen is book I often give to new parents. It is magical and lovely and just what I wanted for my littles.

Thanks for sharing.

Jade February 26, 2008 at 10:18 am

I have those same memories as a child… and the scars to prove it! Tom-boy at heart!

We have plans to make our own little fairy house in the trees this week.

Susan February 26, 2008 at 10:32 am

You’re right- Roxaboxen is a treasure. I also agree about wishing my kids could have the same outdoor experiences I did. We are going to move soon and my #1 wish is a big, fenced-in backyard. At least then it could be “their” domain but I’d know they were safe.
Have fun out in those woods!

Kate February 26, 2008 at 11:27 am

Oh those memories of wild childhood adventures are the greatest and now watching my little men as they busy themselves in similar ways is my all time favorite!!
We shall have to check out that book 🙂

molly February 26, 2008 at 11:35 am

Have you read Andrew Henry’s Meadow?

mountain mama February 26, 2008 at 5:14 pm

This is the very reason why we wanted to move to where we are now. 15 acres of land, mostly wooded for all of us to roam and explore. When money permits, we’d like to create a path all around the edge of the property so that the kids will know not to go beyond our property. A fence someday..

By the way, I just LOVED LOVED LOVED your grilled sandwiches with dipping sauce!! Just so happened, we came home late today from errands at the stores and I was not in the mood to cook a big meal, so mozzerella grilled sandwiches with sauce and olive oil spaghetti!! Everyone loved it!! Thanks so much for the idea!

molly February 26, 2008 at 6:02 pm

my husband and my dear friend both grew up in a rural setting, free to wander, roam, climb, dig, stay out all day long. i love to hear their stories, though i wish i had been there rather than trapped in a suburban grid. my kids don’t have nearly as much freedom as their dad had, but definitely more than i had, and they have free reign over the backyard. i too hang back and spy from a distance as they build forts with bricks and boards, dig trenches, make bridges, erect bad guy traps. not long ago our huge oak rounds waiting to be split became a pirate ship, complete with a plank. even our older cousin (almost 13) comes over to play make believe in our backyard. and while sometimes i think our backyard is a mess in serious need of a landscaper, i must remind myself that our backyard is the landscape of my children’s imagination.

kristin February 26, 2008 at 8:14 pm


i want to live there myself…this spot of yours looks amazing.

Valerie February 27, 2008 at 12:03 am

Ah, the good old days! When I was a kid, we left the house after breakfast and didn’t come home again until the street lights came on…we popped in to eat at whoever’s house we were closest to and when we were thirsty, we drank out of the hose.

My kids don’t know how to play outside – we don’t live in the best neighborhood and they are afraid to be outside unless my husband or I are out there with them.

I’m sad that my kids don’t have that same carefree childhood that I had. I thank God we’re moving soon – so maybe they can experience some of that freedom!

Great post…you have a wonderful way of describing things, and giving me something to stop and think about in the way I’m raising my kids.


molly February 27, 2008 at 6:18 am

thank you for the reminder of roxaboxen! I’d totally forgotten about it. I have so many books from my teaching days packed away in wisconsin because we couldn’t bring everything when we moved. We actually meant to bring all the kid books but accidentally left three boxes behind. But in a few short weeks, we’ll be reunited with our things and I think roxaboxen is in there somewhere!

I was thinking the other day, as I watched my girls play, shirtless, in the stream that they’d have a lot of fun with the blueyonder boys. Gosh, wouldn’t it be fun to see them all romping around together? I wonder if my girls could keep up? 🙂

great, great post. you have beautiful words inside you about the wonders of motherhood and raising children. they always inspire me. and i’m glad you share those words and thoughts with us.

nancy February 27, 2008 at 8:20 am

Roxaboxen is a favorite of ours and it gets to me too. I love all of Barbara Clooney’s books, great illustrations!
Everytime I read your words I just want to thank you for sharing. Just beautiful! The photos are great to.

nancy February 27, 2008 at 8:36 am

Oops, I meant to type Cooney, not the mother of George Clooney.

brit February 27, 2008 at 6:28 pm

they are practicing at moving beyond us, standing without us, self-governing. I hope that I always keep this idea close at hand because it is what I truly believe ‘playing is’ thanks for putting it so eloquently

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