Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Independence Day

His 10th birthday is looming on the horizon, beckoning me to confront the fact that I am indeed old enough to be his mother. I don’t know why the 10-year milestone is such a big deal for me, but it is. I feel like I’ve hit a landmark. I feel like by now, with 3 kids, I should know what I’m doing. Truth is, I don’t.

I spent all my life around kids. Babysitting turned into a career and I spent my teenage working years at the Y.M.C.A., in charge of kids. It didn’t end there; I was a nanny for the first two summers off from college.

So I should have a clue, right? Wrong.

For weeks, McRae has been bringing up the topic of riding his bike to our little downtown area without us.

For weeks, I’ve been casually dismissing this saying “we’ll see when the weather gets better”, and crossing my fingers behind my back that his interest in this will fade by then. All the while, watching the tv news tell the story of the Midwestern boy who was snatched and then found along with another missing boy, which only reaffirms my fear.

What is the big deal? The big deal is that he is my baby, and although we’ve navigated all the other rites of passage up to this point, I am just not ready. Thus is the tragedy of the first-born child, he will be forever paving the way for his siblings, breaking his parents in.

When I was his age, I was a seasoned pro at walking to our corner store. By myself. Without a crosswalk or passing a single police or fire station on the way. Without a cell phone or a long-winded lecture by my mother about not talking to strangers, walking (not riding) my bike across the street and only going there and back (no side trips to do a little off-road riding in the field, okay?). The only communication my mother and I had when I was off on these trips was the call of her police whistle to beckon me home. I have no doubt that she wasn’t nervously counting the minutes as they ticked away on her kitchen timer, estimating the time it would take me to get there and back. It was different back then.

Or was it?

I like to subscribe to the notion that it isn’t a different world, we just have different “stuff”.

We have technology that we didn’t have in the 70’s and 80’s which grants us access to information beyond our wildest dreams. This is good and bad because we are now more aware than ever before of the possibilities that exist when we send our children out into the world. We know and are reminded almost weekly of the pedophiles that try to snatch kids as they drive by in their vans. We know about the abductions of children from their homes or as they walk home from school. We know how many sex offenders live near us and how many are finding their mugs on the evening news because they “forgot” to register. We know a lot.

I am glad we live in the 21st century and have so much access to so many things, but I need to remind myself that it is still the same world. It is still a world full of good people, fresh air and fun experiences. It is still a world where a kid should be able to enjoy being a kid, without fear of the “known”. It is still a world where a kid (who shows that he’s old enough and ready) can ride his bike to the store without his parents because after all, it’s about time.

The weather was surprisingly warm and sunny during the day this past weekend, and I had a sinking feeling that the question of journeying out sans parents would be resurfacing. Sure enough Sunday morning McRae asked Brett if he could ride to the market on his bike, without us.

We had our speech perfected and our list of questions ready.

“What are you going to do at the market?”

“How are you going to ride your bike, no monkey business right?”

“What will you do if a stranger talks to you?”

“Where will you cross the street?”

“How will you cross the street?”

“You’ll call us when you get there, right?”

Armed with my cell phone and his brother, down the hill he rode (really a double whammy for us because we figured letting both boys go was safer than one, and Wyatt is our “safety boy” who, despite his mistakes at riding diagonal across the intersection, would keep his brother in check). We had to rely on the fact that they’ve done this thousands of times with us, and now it was time to see if they could handle it solo.

I glanced at the clock the minute they were out of my sight.

I pictured the entire trek in real time, so I would have a good idea of when they’d arrive downtown.

Time came and went and no call.

Brett came in from his Sunday rumblings in the garage (aka: organizing) saying, “Did they call yet? They should’ve called by now.”

“They’re just being extra safe.” I assured him.

Moments later the phone rang. They had arrived safely at the store. Five minutes later it rang again. They were on their way home, mission accomplished.

Bursting in the door with bags of goodies, the boys excitedly recalled every inch of the trip to the market. Past the police station, past the fire station, walking (not riding) their bikes across the street and parking them out of the way of the store entrance.

“Can we go again?” McRae asked.

“Next week, maybe.” I answered.

Until a few hours later while preparing dinner, I realized that I was out of green onions.

“Who wants to go to the store and get me some green onions?”

I am still afraid when they leave the safety of our home. I still imagine someone grabbing them and locking them away in a dungeon as they play with their friends at recess. I worry, worry, and worry all the time.

But we’ve given them the tools. We’ve had talk after talk about strangers. We’ve practiced riding our bikes to the market with them day after day. At some point, we have to trust that it is enough, they are ready and we need to be too. Because yes, there is bad stuff out there in the big world, there always has been and there probably always will be. But I am ready to let them go, just a little, and trust that the big bad wolf will not jump out of the bushes and ask them where they’re going. For if he does…

He will have one sassy little sister to contend with!

By the way, not a chance sweetie, not a chance.


Lisa said...

I can SO understand appreciate your feeling a little scared about letting him go... There ARE predators out there. Scares the SHIT out of me!

I think you did great mom!

Anonymous said...

you are a much braver woman then me.But, good job for letting the string out ....just a bit.


prrrof said...

I love this post...I too find it really hard to let our kids out of our sight, even in the yard. When ours are older, knowing when to say yes to these kinds of things will be so, so hard.

There's a really good book (I've forgotten the name, but I'll try to think of it) that talks about what parents should and shouldn't be afraid of--and you're probably right to take this very reasonable risk, and then figure out other places to be more hands-on.

It's so hard, this parenting thing, and one of the hardest parts is watching them become more independent...

Jill said...

It's so hard, isn't it? There is such a fine line between being safe and being irrational. I'm already stressing out about my youngest boy riding the school bus when he starts school next year. I suppose that falls on the irrational side of the line.

Christina_the_wench said...

I'm so proud of you, letting go a little.

Just think of the time when they are teenagers and you can't WAIT to get them out of your house. ;)

Oh, The Joys said...

Mine are so little so this sounds so HARD. (sob)

Pendullum said...

Mine turns ten near the end of the year... I think I am going to print this post out as a solace... a beakonof hope...
and have I told you lately that you are my heeeeerrrrroooo????

mom said...

Onions??? You sent them back for onions? No "Hey, Mom, can you pick up some onions on your way here for dinner tonight?"

But it IS a big step. And we are proud, too. Can't wait ( but know we must, a little), for them to ride the 1.7 miles to OUR house!

And yes, times were different for you & your bro', and for me. But I absolutely loved being able to ride to MY grandparents, and the Lake Erie (not Ohio) store, when I was a kid. Even if it WAS on my sister's hand-me-down big clunker of a bike!

I have no idea if my mom was nervous. But she DID initiate the tradition of using a whistle to call us all home.
Think I'll ask her about that, soon.

Left Coast Sister said...

Oh, sheesh. That is one milestone I'll be dreading!! I guess it;s one of those when you tell youself you've done all you can do, allow them to grow & hold your breath.

Left Coast Sister said...

I think the book prrrof is talking about is *Protecting the Gift*. A great read for any parent with safety on their minds...

jen said...

oh wow. talk about a huge rite of passage. and how wonderful, the way you handled it.

the letting go stuff...so not anywhere even near ready for it. but it's exciting to learn from others so i might be better prepared when the time comes.

Mamacita Tina said...

Ugh, I hate even thinking about this. I have a few years, but I know I will get gray hairs waiting by the phone to hear they made it safely. I love how you handled it though, really made them think it through before venturing out alone.

Lisa Fine Goldstein/Kelly Kelly said...

Ugh. I know. I know. BUt you did the right thing, and let them taste independence as safely as possible. I dread my turn in this situation, which will happen all too soon, I'm sure.


Queen of the Mayhem said...

What a great post! Being an oldest child, I can appreciate the plight of my daughter only too well! It is terribly difficult to find a balance between caution and letting go. I still cringe when my daughter wants to ride her bike on the sidewalk of our neighborhood. It is a scary world out there! However, like you , I know that I cannot isolate my children from everything and everyone. Have you seen an advertisement for the "Safe Side" video? It was made by John Walsh, the guy from America's Most Wanted. It is a really great video for kids talking about strangers. It has funny characters and cute songs. I have shown it to both of my children, as well as my students.

Also, thanks for your thoughtful comment on my blog. I know you are right. I did take steps to keep it a little more anonymous. Also, my husband googled my name, just to see how easily I could be found. He quit looking at the 6th page. I can tell you, my fourth graders would quit after the second. ( If it ever even occurred to them to check at all!) That made me feel slightly better.
I hate to hear that about the adoptions and fostering. It is sad that some people derive so much pleasure from causing trouble for others. Unfortunately, I think I may have met a few of these people in my day!

Jenny said...

I had a great comment ready and then I saw that last picture and the cuteness sqwooshed everything else out of my head.