Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Independence Day

*And to think, one year ago, all I was worried about was them riding their bikes to the store alone . . . . sigh. Sometimes a little perspective is a good thing.

Originally posted February, 2007.

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, yeah right) 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.

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.


The Mom said...

Super post, and so true! I have an almost 10 year old and she and my 7 year old wonder why they can't walk to school alone (everyday).

slouching mom said...

Oh, this hit home for me. I let Ben ride his bike to and from school this year. He totally rose to the challenge. He wore his helmet, he never forgot to lock up his bike at school, and he always, always got off the bike to cross the street.

But a fairly strong contingent of moms tsk-tsked me for my decision, suggesting that I was exposing him to too much risk.

I dunno. I think today's kids aren't given enough responsibility, aren't trusted enough. Sure, it's a leap of faith.

But how else will they grow up?

Lovely post.

List Mama said...

I remember walking a block away to a little corner grocery store to get milk for my mom when I was just 5 (we moved across town just before I was 6). Granted, I grew up in a town of 3,000 but now we're afraid to let our kids cross the street until their 8! It is always the, "What if. . .?"


Huckdoll said...

I really enjoyed this post :) I remember the first time my mom let me ride alone and I was THRILLED!! It was such a huge step for me, but I didn't realize until reading this what I big step it was for my mom.

Thanks for sharing. That was beautiful written.

Kristin said...

Last year we started letting the kids walk (we can't do bikes around here... the traffic is too nuts) to the liquor store... I followed them the first 3 times!

Sandy C. said...

Such a great post :) It really sparked memories of my own. I was never allowed outside to play alone until...well, almost well into my teens! I always thought they were way too overprotective. Kids need room to breathe...and grow :)

jen said...

oh babe, i'm so not ready for this yet. thankfully i've got some time.

Jen said...

I totally agree with this philosophy of parenting. I've heard it referred to as Free Range Parenting (the opposite of being a Helicopter Mom). Here is a website:


Although I agree with it. It will be hard to practice. I agree with you about the whole fear thing being somewhat irrationally caused by the media. That said, it is still hard not to worry. I commend you for having the courage to let go a little.