Ask any randomly selected group of people what they think freedom means to them, and you will get a different answer from each one.
The meaning of freedom varies, depending on life experiences. And it is as elusive as the meaning of love. Both words remain inanimate until people, and their expectations and journeys breathe life into them.
For a baby, if it could collect its thoughts and articulate them, autonomy starts with rolling over and then crawling. Then the momentous victory of leaving the indignity of the rug behind, pushing up into a standing position and walking on wobbly legs.
Our son never did things by half measures. Nothing could contain our little Houdini, certainly not the playpen. He figured out how to pop the locks and proudly crawled out to explore the rest of his domain. But crawling was too slow for our little man. At seven months, he pulled up on the open door of the dishwasher and took off. Nothing deterred him, not even bumping his head on a low counter as he walked under it.
After he mastered walking, our lives became a series of adventures. Instead of climbing out of his crib on the relatively easy side, he performed his version of a swan dive over the tall end to escape the crib’s confines.
More often than not, we woke in the morning to find him by our bed. Either he told us, “I’m hungry” or proudly stood there with a fistful of lunch meat. “I found the baloney,” he would say with a grin. Even at that young age, the boy appreciated food.
Parents of adventurous children will probably agree that children are instrumental in honing the mother’s premonition-of-disaster skills. One morning, this mother awoke with a start, threw back the covers and ran to the kitchen. There was our bouncing baby boy standing on a stool next to the stove. Three of the burners were red. The child grinned, pointed to the stove, and said, “Hot.”
With each new skill, our intrepid explorer expanded his concept of freedom.
Teens tend to be a bit muddled when it comes to defining freedom. Some think driving a car is the ultimate freedom. Many chafe at the parental guidelines set for them and yearn for the freedom of life after graduation. They want to have an apartment, perhaps go off to college, preferably far from home, or join the workforce.
Little do they know they trade the more or less carefree freedom of childhood for even more restrictive rules of being an adult. By the time they see the light, they begin to look elsewhere for that fleeting thing called freedom.
Of course, if they are lucky, they will find a way to travel the world, meet new people, and enjoy, for a time, a sense of freedom. Some manage to prolong the dream, but others feel drawn to settle down into routine life.
This writer could hardly wait until her twenty-first birthday (the age of maturity back then). She was confident the parental dominance would magically disappear, and she would be an adult, free to embrace life and pursue her dreams.
When the much anticipated day arrived and moved through its allotted cycle, she echoed the words of an old Peggy Lee tune, “Is That All There Is?” Aside from the cake and presents, life was still the same.
Times change and the concept of freedom changes with it. You may believe in the sexual revolution or look upon a career as a means toward the goal of doing whatever you want, without consequences. There is always a catch.
Couples who opt for the freedom of a double income and no children lifestyle still answer to the source of the revenue. They will also consider their partner’s wishes in their decisions.
Empty-nesters discover the freedom of travel or hobbies. They can read or binge-watch until the crack of dawn. But in the end, freedom is but an illusion we would willingly change for something else. The trick is finding it.