With supervised points of entry that are only accessible by plane or ferry, the island would be correctly defined as a closed community. Even though we welcome hundreds of people a day to visit, there’s definitely a familial recognition amongst residents and a sense of security that comes along with that.
Something that parents of the island can take comfort in is the knowing that even if we’re not around to keep a watchful eye on our own children, there are plenty of other adults who wouldn’t hesitate to offer assistance, protection, care, or correction if it were necessary in our absence.
Many of these folks wouldn’t hesitate to speak to a
child if they felt they were behaving unsafe or inappropriate, whether that be climbing atop a building or using foul language on a sports pitch in the company of young children. If the adult observer didn’t mention it to the child directly, it’s likely that the parent would sensitively be informed later on.
The same goes for children who are behaving well; there’s an invisible veil of protection that comes with everyone knowing everyone. If a child was unaware of danger from a suspicious stranger or possible wrong decision, I haven’t a doubt that someone in the community would observe this and, without reservation, they would step in to ensure the child’s safety.
I’ve had conversations about this with both islanders and visitors more times than I could count, so when my two oldest boys (aged 8 and 9 years) asked to go to the park alone one day this summer, I agreed with only little consideration. The catch was they needed to make their own way home, nearly an hours walk, as I had to work and couldn’t collect them.
Later that evening while at work I was serving drinks to two island gentlemen. One of them mentioned that he had passed my boys walking home and offered them a lift to which they had declined. ‘Oh ya, I told them they had to walk, no taking lifts from anyone.’
His friend responded loudly saying I was wrong, this wasn’t America or even the mainland, implying that I was trying to shelter them from a harm that didn’t exist, that I didn’t trust my community. His response felt less criticizing and more so like genuine heartfelt concern. But I knew this wasn’t how I felt so I deflected his remarks by saying that I wanted to see how much the boys really wanted to go– would they be willing to walk home?
This was not entirely the truth though I didn’t yet realize it.
The conversation was over but still in my thoughts. Honestly, I knew darned well they would be willing to walk home, but it ended the chatter and gave me time to think. Why didn’t I want them to take a lift when I knew very well they would only get offers from other islanders? After all, the majority of visitors had taken the 5 pm ferry back to the mainland and the ones still here wouldn’t be driving anyway.
We’ve always encouraged our children to make decisions for themselves. Sometimes the choice are rigged, meaning a choice between two things where both are acceptable to us or, my favourite, choices where most are so undesirable that they would view our preferred one as best. We want them to learn to trust themselves and their own decision making abilities. Why would they trust their own instincts if we’re constantly making them do things the way we want or think is best, sending the message that their own thinking is inferior to ours and undermining their confidence? This is as hard as it sounds. They don’t always make the choices we want them to.
So that was it. I wasn’t trusting they would make a common sense choice when it came to accepting a lift. Of course they would. I’ve picked up other children walking and given them lifts home–my own children are just as sensible and have an internal radar that guides them too. They wouldn’t hop in with strangers. We’ve taught them that.
Relieved by this insight, Johnny and I talked to the children about it. Seems the boys had declined three lifts that day, one from a pony and trap that nearly killed them to say no to.
Next time I saw him, I thanked the man who challenged me that day at the bar. His words led me to a bit of soul searching which put me in my children’s shoes helping me realize how very capable they are. They’ve since been to the main village again and gratefully accepted offers home, sadly none from pony and trap though, but I’m thinking there’s a lesson in patience and timing there for them.
Rejoice in your freedom of choice!