"Mom," said Joe, "Mrs. Whatsit says it was totally not okay for you to drop me off at the chess tournament."
I said, "What?" (Because I'm articulate like that.)
Apparently parents were expected to stay on site for the entire NINE HOURS of the Saturday chess tournament -- an expectation that was news to me. I am wondering if this is a memo I missed at some earlier point in the eight years we've done chess club (we started going to our elementary school's chess club while we were still homeschooling), or if this is a recent and poorly publicized change. In either case, I am not a fan.
Point the first: I am raising kids who know how to occupy themselves quietly. Point the second: I check in regularly with them during chess tournaments, stopping by at intervals to make sure they are fed and happy and behaving; we complete our volunteer shifts as requested. Point the third: I have FIVE children and my Saturdays are packed. If I spend Saturday sitting at a chess tournament making sure that my children don't -- I don't even know -- pick up a rook too quickly and sprain their wrists? run shrieking from the competition room if they're unexpectedly checkmated? -- anyway, a Saturday spent hanging around at a chess tournament is a Saturday in which some important things can't get done.
(I just typed out a list of all the things I had to do last Saturday besides sitting on my butt at a chess tournament, but it was too long for anyone to bother reading so I deleted it. You're welcome.)
I grilled the boys about what precipitated this comment from Mrs. Whatsit. Had they caused any trouble? Ever, at any of this season's tournaments? Even a whisper of trouble? Had they ever declined to listen to an adult redirecting them? It wasn't anything like that, apparently; it's just this same old business about children "needing" more supervision than I am inclined to provide.
If you are new to this blog you might not know that this is a hot-button topic for me: I was investigated by CPS in 2008 over allegations that I failed to provide adequate supervision for Joe; a year or two later a neighbor reduced Pete to tears when she insisted that his mother shouldn't have allowed him to walk around the block. It's not that I expect other people to set the same kinds of boundaries that I do for their own kids. What gets me is the assumption that I must be wrong-- that it's "totally not okay" for a pair of reasonably well-behaved children to spend the day checking in intermittently with their parents. (Who, by the way, aren't even allowed in the competition room during the games. Joe tells me that the parents all pile up around the doors, squinting in through the narrow windows to catch glimpses of their kids.)
We had this conversation on the way to the ice rink, where Joe is doing Hockey 1. "Hockey 1" is actually "learn to skate": go forward slowly, go backward slowly, do some slow swizzles, do some gentle slalom action around some orange cones. I was astonished, and a little embarrassed, to discover that he was the only kid in his class without a helmet on. Now you guys, I am well aware of the hazards of pediatric brain injury, but I'm telling you: a kid in this class would have to fling himself bodily in front of the Zamboni before a helmet would be necessary.* What's next-- life vests in the bathtub?
I still feel awkward that he wasn't wearing a helmet.
It's like there's this race to see whose kids can be the most protected, which parents can be most cautious. The outcome of this race is not remotely interesting to me. I do not want to compete in the Most Overprotective challenge. And yet it's not easy to opt out.
The challenge I'm most interested in is the one where we're realistic about the risks that really affect the kids in our neighborhoods (e.g., many more serious brain injuries are caused by car travel than by slow and gentle ice skating) and where we work together to encourage resourcefulness and independence in our kids. I'm also a fan of that event where we acknowledge that there are all kinds of workable ways to raise kids, and that descriptors like "totally not okay" are more appropriate for behaviors like, say, putting out a cigarette on a kid's arm because he spilled his milk than for behaviors like dropping kids off at an event where you'd dropped them off for the past several years.
Even to myself I sound pretty defensive. I guess I do feel defensive. And frustrated -- if participating in chess tournaments means that a parent is out of action for an entire Saturday, then my kids won't be able to participate in chess tournaments. These weird and inflexible new norms mean that they will be missing out. And, given Joe's winning record on Saturday, so will his team.
*I know, I know: a kid could lose his balance while standing still and fall unexpectedly, striking his head on the ice, which is unyielding and also -- think of the children! -- cold. But the version of parenthood in which we see who has the most well-developed capacity for envisioning worst-case scenarios is not the version of parenthood I signed up for.