My free-range parent mojo is MIA, friends, torpedoed by that 911 call last month. I'm just tired of fighting that battle.
A few weeks ago Stella and I were walking to the library together. There are road closures near our house, so we took an alternate route through an unfamiliar corner of campus. We were walking together along a low wall when she lost her balance and skinned her knee. There were tears and hugs and pats and bandaids, and she was still a little weepy when I said, "Look where we are, sweetie. Do you know how to get to the library from here?" Even while distressed -- even while bleeding -- she knew how to get oriented in an unfamiliar spot. She pointed unerringly, and then she picked herself up and started walking that way.
This, I think, is a skill worth having. And so it makes me sad that I don't actually plan for her to deploy her independent navigation skills this fall. She's doing a library program one afternoon each week, and a class at the downtown ballet studio on another day. She is absolutely capable -- 100% capable -- of getting herself there. But I am absolutely confident -- 100% confident -- that people will give her crap about it if she walks alone.
I'm tired of people giving my children crap.
I haven't even posted about all of it-- the times that Petely would ride his bike while I ran, and we'd agree on a meeting spot a half-mile away or so because he was faster than me, and when I got to the meeting spot there'd be hovering grownups asking if his mom knew where he was. YES, I know where my son is. YES, I have confidence in his ability to conduct himself appropriately in public for five whole minutes. And even though I've posted about a lot of it, I'm not sure how much of my anxiety comes through. I hate it that other parents feel free to tell my children their mother's decisions are "totally not okay." I hate it that my daughter's principal told her she shouldn't be walking to school. I hate it that my son's soccer coach drove him home repeatedly against my clearly expressed wishes and in spite of my signed waiver, saying, "I just can't let you do that, even if your mom says it's okay."
This week I have been prepping a lecture on cognitive development across childhood, and I've been thinking a lot about how kids' abilities emerge. For vast swaths of human history we have been aware that 7-year-olds can handle a measure of independence, that they are learning to get around in the world. It is strange and wrong for 21st-century America to decree that this capacity does not actually exist, and that any attempt to exercise it will place children in grave peril. From a historical perspective it is genuinely bizarre that otherwise sensible adults around the country are calling the police and CPS on children because they are spending modest amounts of time without direct adult supervision.
If you've ever studied cognitive development you've read about Piaget's recognition that children around the world learn to uncover hidden objects at about 8 months old. (We can argue about his interpretation of this observation, but the pattern is consistent.) It seems to me that our current cultural craziness is like shouting at an 8-month-old, "Noooooo! Do not pull back the blanket! There might be a snake! or a worm! or a centipede! or a revolutionist!" (<-E. Nesbit shoutout) These abilities unfurl in kids because they need to build on them. What do we gain by suppressing them, other than a false feeling of security and a smug sense of superiority?
So. I signed my daughter up for the after-school program at school, instead of giving her a house key and an assurance that her brothers will be home 15 minutes after she arrives. I am adding her activities to the long list of things that require my presence, even though they should not actually require my presence. My husband says, "Jamie, you're right and they're wrong and this is important." It's true; I believe it. Even so, I'm done. I'm not done forever with this battle, but I'm done for right now. Because I can teach a kid how to be a safe and courteous pedestrian, I can teach a kid how to be a confident and flexible navigator, and I can teach a kid how to handle most of the surprises that might arise on the short trip to the library. But I cannot figure out -- and believe me, I've been trying -- how to shield my kids from "helpful" adults whose default response to an unaccompanied child is to call 911.