Thursday, August 07, 2008

Stretching the Strings

Chris at Notes From the Trenches has a poll up about what age children should be allowed to go to a park on their own. Many of the comments say what I feel: it all depends. It depends on the child, it depends on the park, it depends on the neighborhood. In Alaska I happily let Child 1 walk to its friend's house several blocks away without a care in the world (Child was well educated on moose safety after all). Our tiny town was idyllic - no crime, no disturbing strangers lurking on corners, just the occasional large mammal browsing on the tops of ornamental trees.

In Virginia all three Children took themselves to school - about half a mile away, again without my shedding a single parental tear. They were together, and the worst they encountered were the nasty school bullies whom Child 1 dealt with summarily (proving that the cutting clever remark is far better than the sword if one is in grade school and surrounded by ones judgmental peers). In California they went to the beach or played in the forest on the cliff alone or in feral packs with their friends and I didn't stop them each time they went out the door to remind them that the Helpful Stranger Who Has Lost A Dog is really a vile abductor looking to snatch them away.

Maybe it was moving back to a city with a high crime rate, a city that makes me uncomfortable sometimes in broad daylight on a well traveled road. Maybe something broke when Kirk went missing from that Iraqi road, something that said the world is usually safe and people are generally nice.

I don't smother the Children. They are allowed out now and then, blinking in the sunlight, to breath the slightly smog-filled air. They use the public bus to get to work or school, they walk (okay, the Male Child walks) several miles to go to parks for practices or meetings. Generally, mostly, I'm fine with that.

The Male Child got up before me the other day and was already out the door by the time I got dressed. I assumed it had gone on an early morning run but when it wasn't back in an hour I took notice. An hour and a half after that I had sent three text messages, left a voice message and had started to poll its friends to see if they knew where it was. Half an hour later its sibling volunteered to walk over (in the heat) to the nearest parks to see if the Male had decided it was tired out and fallen asleep under a tree or something.

I didn't want to be that parent. I didn't want to be like my poor mother who paced the halls at night waiting for her careless, thoughtless daughter (yes, me) to straggle in an hour later with no excuse. Most particularly I don't want to be the parent who projects those fears on Children who should be confident and independent.

Of course the Male Child was fine. It had a meeting that morning for a school job it has taken on and decided to go directly to its team practice in the afternoon. It had turned off its phone during the meeting and didn't get my messages until after noon. It was a little aggrieved even, assuring me it had left a message with one of its siblings saying exactly where it was*. Panic - or at least rising concern - all for nothing.

I'm the mean mother among my Children's friends. They have a specific curfew and if they break it (particularly without warning) there are consequences. They are not allowed to have friends at the house if I am not there (okay, that's partly because I prefer my walls standing and my windows whole). They have to do their homework before they head to a friend's house or go to a movie. Added to that now are specific directions for telling someone where they are going, when they left, when they will be back and how to contact them. There are rules for my Children but I hope they are there as structure and not as restriction because I also believe in freedom.

Even when it's hard.

*In the Child's defense it appears it did "tell" its sibling. It sent two text messages (it claims). The first one didn't come through and the second said, "Oh! And a staff meeting too!" We have now clarified what constitutes a reasonable message which will not result in an infuriated mother.


Mujja said...

first! (oh sorry wrong blog....)

I agree with you... it is essential to let them go but so necessary to do so safely and under controlled conditions....from my dealings with both (very very)badly behaved and well behaved teenagers..boundaries are essential...every one feels better if they know the rules. The thing is to be on your guard and make sure that communication is two ways at all times. Tey will still try it on of course...but never under estimate the fact that they think that they are the first to come up with a "completly original trick to evade you" HA HA chance!

BUT OH THE WORRY!!!!!! it kills me...

Anonymous said...

In this modern age of text messaging, do people no longer use the old fashioned method of paper, pencil, magnet, refrigerator?

sprecacenere said...

I agree... it all "depends"... on so many dependable things. Even in the absence of voice mail and text messaging, there is always the trusted Post-It note (in so many pretty colors now - sorry, sidetracked; hate when that happens!) stuck religiously to a designated area and checked just as diligently BEFORE leaving the house. That said, however, ENFORCEMENT is always easier said than done!

Anonymous said...

you are also the cool mom who is funny and *ahem* does not force poor child two to eat too many vegetables.

emily said...

hmmm, my parents were really quite strict when i was growing up, i very rarely rode a bus on my own before i was sixteen, and not that often after it - my mum always said she would much rather pick me up (and my friends too if i was with them) and give us all lifts so that she didnt worry.

Leaving the house was generally an extensive round of bartering - it enhanced my diplomacy skills no end! They would want to know where i was going, who with, when i was leaving, when i would be back, how we were proposing to get there... etc.

It didnt particularly bother me, i tend to think its nice that my parents cared that sister on the other hand is a pain about it and grumbles continually about being "controlled" despite the fact that she is on a much longer leash than i was.

Of course when i went to uni, i went a bit crazy and was a bit silly on occasion, but i made it through ok... i guess the best gift you can give your children is the commonsense and knowledge to know what to do in problematic situations.

that said, im 24 and still occasionally get my wrists slapped for being a tad too impetuous! :)

sprecacenere said...

Anonymous (child 2?) - very nice use of all three homonyms "two, to, and too" in one, concise sentence! Really, it's these kinds of things that impress me. Oh, but I haven't had my coffee yet...

For Kirk said...

mujja - my poor Children. They are totally aware of the been-there-done-that, don't-even-try-it problem. Luckily they are pretty logical beasts and at least outwardly accept the need for boundaries

anonymous - oh, in my house we use 'em! It was simply a matter of pointing out that a last-minute, poorly thought out text message does NOT substitute for a hand-written note.

pam - fortunately our mis-communications are by and large through forgetfulness rather than purposeful neglect - far easier to forgive!

anonymous 2 - eat your peas!

emily - it's such a difficult job to find where to draw those lines. I was sheltered quite a bit but some of that was my own timidity and lack of initiative. Of course I married at 19 so didn't really have a chance to do that crash-and-burn approach to independence! I hope my kids will be eased into adulthood smoothly enough that the crash is more of a bumb and the burn is just a bit of heat!

Pam - Child 2 is quite superior in its homonym usage. But it STILL NEEDS TO EAT ITS PEAS!!

sprecacenere said...

Indeed, it IS easier - AND - far better to forgive! You are very wise. I, too, am wise and will thus stay out of the hideous business of the peas!

child 2 said...

my mother is cruel. she laughs at me as she forces the peas upon me. HEINOUS!!!!!

life ruiner.

sprecacenere said...

I hereby declare peas between you.

child2 said...

the one good thing about being forced to eat green balls of mealy disgustingness
you get to whine...a lot
you get to use such hilarious comments as "there, i pead"
or if someone bumps you as you walk with them, you can say "awww, you made me pea my pants!!"

For Kirk said...

Pam - snerk! Next we'll move on to whirled peas because one must spread the love.

Child 2 - oh the whining... the WHINING!

sprecacenere said...

Child 2 - YOU are hilarious and obviously so very hapPEA with your ability to tweak so superbly our native tongue! It apPEASes me so!

Megan - Color me there! Together we'll throw all caution to the wind and spread love covered whiny whirled peas wherever we go! We'll either inspire others who will also want a peas of our love or simply peas them off. Either way, I'm good!