Thursday, May 26, 2011


Freedom to Grow Up

Last week in Ottawa Sue Pike and I walked our collection of dogs - five in all - to the off leash area of Brewer Park which is beside the Rideau River. All five plunged in the water, rolled in the mud, collected last years’ burrs and socialized with other dogs and their owners. They had a wonderful time as did we for it was one of the few warm and sunny days we’ve had. I think it’s the freedom that intoxicated the dogs - freedom to be dogs.

As we walked beside the river I thought back to my Ottawa childhood when we had the kind of freedom today’s children can only dream about. I was eleven when we moved away so everything I remember happened before that.

On rainy or hot days in the summer we sat on porches and played cards or Monopoly with friends or read books in the coolest place in the house which sometimes was the basement as there was no air conditioning. In nice weather we ranged far and wide on our clunky bikes or on foot.

Carleton University didn’t exist nor did the extension of Bronson Avenue. The railway track was there and I remember accepting a childish dare and standing on the tiny platform clinging to the water barrel while a train thundered past.

We swam at a tiny beach on the Rideau river, we played endless exploration games amid the reeds and islands draped with grape vines. We biked to the library which used to be on Bank Street just north of Cameron Avenue. And during the school year we walked to Hopewell.

No nannies, no hovering parents, no warnings although we were forbidden to go near the water (as if any self respecting child would obey that order). No electronic devices to amuse us or tether us to the adults in our lives. We were expected to amuse ourselves and you wouldn’t risk saying you were bored or your mother would find you a job and usually it wasn’t anything you wanted to do. So you climbed trees or lay on the grass looking at the sky or read a book or joined friends.

Our instructions were to be home before dark. And that was it. We were given the freedom to grow up, to develop our own ideas of the world. To work out our relationships with other kids without an adult hovering over us and intervening.

It wasn’t all good. Bullies existed then as they do now. Friendships waxed and waned. We didn’t learn all the skills we might have. But it was a kid’s world that kids dealt with and childhoods like this probably were the norm for many of today’s writers. I wonder if today’s children, lacking this freedom will develop their imaginations and creativity.

I read that there has been a huge surge in young adult readers and I wonder if this means today’s teens are searching for the escape to an imaginary world that we found. I hope so.

Joan Boswell is a member of the Ladies Killing Circle and co-edited four of their short story anthologies: Fit toDie, Bone Dance, Boomers Go Bad and Going Out With a Bang. Her three mysteries, Cut Off His Tale, Cut to the Quick and Cut and Run were published in 2005, 2007 and 2007. In 2000 she won the $10,000 Toronto Star’s short story contest. Joan lives in Toronto with three flat-coated retrievers.


  1. So true, Joan! As well as crediting my mother for my creative independence, I blame her for my abysmal housekeeping. She always said you couldn't be creative if you had to clean up after yourself!

  2. Mine too is terrible for much the same reason. When I married the only thing I could make was prune upside down cake and there is a limited demand for this taste treat.

  3. I love this post, Joan. Something has really been lost.

  4. Good point, Joan. Growing up in North Toronto, we could go everywhere except the ravines. And we did. Something has been lost indeed.

  5. Takes me back to growing up in Montreal, we played with our dog & our friends all day in Murray Park, and the Police Lady(who knew all the dogs names)sent us home when it started getting dark, when we were expected at home. No one worried until then. Sad that those carefree days are gone.