I can't be the only kid who grew up wanting to be a member of the Swiss Family Robinson. Sleeping in your tree house? No homework? Come on! Best life ever! But a mysterious English-speaking kid who just walked out of a forest in Germany is making me think Disney may have romanticized the whole living off the grid thing a bit ... at least more than Disney usually does.
The teenage boy, who is known only as Ray, told police in Berlin that he'd been living in the woods with his dad for the past five years, ever since his mom, Doreen, died. He only emerged from the trees because his dad, Ryan, died, leaving him to fend for himself in the wild.
The good news is Ray seems to be fine -- physically at least. But he's now both an orphan and a stranger in a strange land with none of the skills he needs to fit into society. He's used to living in huts in the woods, not houses. He's spent five years wandering rather than staying in one place. He has no family to speak of. And he speaks very little of the German language, which has prompted not just an appeal around Germany for anyone who might have information about his past, but around the world.
Now police have dozens of questions about this mystery child, and I have some for parents who would think of running off into the woods with their kids. Instead of the "best life ever" of my kiddie fantasies, this sounds more like a good way to screw them up ... and how.
I don't mean to cast aspersions on Ryan. It sounds like the death of his wife did a number on him, and he very likely thought this was a way to protect his son. I can empathize. I remember sitting in my bedroom with my 1-month-old daughter in my arms as the London bombings of 2005 played out on the television. I wanted little more than to pack a diaper bag, drive to my husband's job to pick him up, and run ... far, far away, where the horrors of the world couldn't reach us. I wanted to protect her.
But fantasy never lives up to reality. Getting away sounds perfect. Actually doing it is a quagmire.
Even living off the grid requires a dependency on others when you're a kid. And it's irresponsible to think they won't one day tire of the tree house-hopping, no-homework lifestyle and want to join the real world -- or be forced to do so, as Ray was. Suddenly they need a whole new set of survival skills.
What do you make of this crazy story? Have you ever imagined running away with your kids to protect them?
Image via debabarata/Flickr