Children Running Free

We have nearly ended the last full day of the retreat. I have had my last session with each of my directees, and been humbled again at the privilege of being admitted to the lives of  strangers at such a deep, personal and vulnerable level. Tomorrow we will close, break bread and go.

I have not had the opportunity to learn much of the community which lives her. The ten families are housed in various parts of this sprawling complex, and it seems each of them has expanded to take as much living space as they need. They live a fair distance apart, far further than they would in most suburbs but I have seen small groups of them working companionably in the gardens and fields. In the central building is a chapel, which is where I have been meeting people. The fit out of the holy place - a row of guitars, a drum kit, a piano and a data projector - and the collection of elderly books at the back tell me that the theology is general purpose Kiwi Pentecostal. It would seem that the communal arrangements and organisation are not exactly rigid, and there is an overall aura of relaxed, congenial openness, but really, I know nothing of how the place is run. What I do notice is the children.

Little tribes of kids March purposefully past on their self assigned adventures. Their clothes are sensible and bear the marks of many previous expeditions. They laugh and talk and shriek but in a week I saw none of them quarrel.

I watch a group of about 6 boys aged from about 4 to about 8. They have bikes of various, appropriate sizes which they are taking turns at riding full tilt into a bush which absorbs the shock of them and, undamaged, deposits them on their backsides. They whoop with delight, pick themselves up and wait for their next turn.

I see a small boy carefully and patiently shepherding his little sister home for dinner. She wants to do something else and he is not big enough to carry her. So he coaxes, jokes, plays until she follows reluctantly, and then eagerly towards the waiting food.

Older boys drive past in a car they are not quite old enough to be licensed for. It has no number plates: a farm vehicle. They are off to take part in those activities which keep the community running and which are both work and play and constitute also an acknowledgement of their manhood.

A small bunch of girls and boys are engaged in their own Roxaboxen on a hilltop. They are marking out roads and there is some elaborate process going on involving sticks and pieces of brush.

I guess that at any given time there are a dozen pairs of eyes watching these kids, but they are free in the communal 150 acres, and beyond it, to do as they please under the bright Maniototo sun. They know where the creeks and trees and frogs and birds nests and lizards and caves and interesting old bits of machinery are to be found. They have dogs and pet lambs. They have a hundred places to explore and built forts. From time to time they are asked to do real, important work. They know where the fruit trees and the wild blackberries grow and when they must be home for meals They understand what may not be done and why. They are learning to look out for one another.

They are living a childhood not dissimilar to the one I had in Halfway Bush and, later, in the Hutt Valley as a child; and which few children in our cities are now privileged enough to enjoy. I watch them with nostalgia and envy.  Whatever else is happening in this community, I look at these kids and know there is some pretty decent parenting going on.