Growing Up with 
Free-Range Childhood

For several reasons, I have never had children of my own. Sometimes, that omission leaves a hole in my heart.

But as longtime readers of this publication know, I was fortunate that my young neighbor Sam Stableford adopted me as his “Carbondale grandma” almost as soon as I moved into my house. Because I began coaching figure-skating classes, I soon met a host of local kids aged from about four to 14, including the advanced skaters I call the “Divas”. This past spring, Anakeesta Ironwood, a young person in my church, chose me to be her coming-of-age mentor. (There’s a photo of the talented Anakeesta with her equally-talented mom, Asha Ironwood, in this month’s Around Town section.) I’m honored that these young people have chosen to have relationships with me.

Our valley has so much to offer locally-grown youngsters! Not only does it contain good schools and cultural pursuits ranging from extracurricular dance, music, photography and art classes, it also offers a wealth of year-round sports activities. Right now, the valley’s youngsters are out hiking, biking, rafting, climbing, swimming, horseback riding and skateboarding at numerous local terrain parks.

Last winter, after boarding a Roaring Fork Transit Authority (RFTA) bus on the way to Aspen to ski, I noticed six boys, all about 14, clustered around the front of the bus. All were kitted up with snow gear and snowboards. By eavesdropping on their conversation, I gathered that their parents had told them, in so many words, “You’re driving us nuts. Get on the bus with your buddies and go boarding. Here’s your RFTA pass and lunch money. Come home as soon as the lifts close.”

What a rare privilege those boys were enjoying! These days, “free-range childhoods” like those my brother and I enjoyed have almost disappeared. Parents do worry, but our valley is safe enough that many local youngsters are still allowed to “go outside and play.” Not all local parents schedule and chauffeur their kids to “play dates.”

I confess that it worried me plenty when Sam told me about falling into the Crystal River. I still remember falling into the Platte as a child; had I not been scooped out by a fly fisherman in wading boots, I might not be writing this letter!

But making mistakes is part of growing up. Hopefully, there will be kindly adults nearby to lend a helping hand when the young ones fall—and it’s nice when parents don’t have to shoulder the whole load.

It really does take a village, and in many ways, we have several here in the Roaring Fork Valley. That’s a blessing, because nothing that’s locally grown is more important than our children.