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.