Thursday, September 17, 2009

he's been around the block...

Last Sunday, after much needling and nagging about how I never let him do anything, I gave Sam permission to skateboard around the block. Alone.

"Just around the block and nowhere else," I told him.

"Okay," He said. "Can I go now?"

"And stay on the sidewalk on the busy street."

"Why would I ride my skateboard on the street? I'm not stupid, Mom." And he rolled his eyes in that pre-tween way he's working to perfect.

And he's right. He's not stupid. He's actually a pretty conscientious kid. And at his age I was walking a mile on a busy street to the bus stop with my younger brother (and through sleet and snowstorms without shoes, blah, blah, blah). I remember once when my brother was younger than Sam, he got so angry at another kid after school (Or was it me? Selective memory serves me well) that he refused to get on the school bus and then walked the three plus miles home alone.

Nobody stopped him. Not the bus driver, the yard teacher, or any of the parents standing around.

As a parent, I shudder to think about that little kid walking home all that way by himself. Who knows what could've happened to him.

But the thing is, nothing happened. He'd felt confident enough to do it and he did. The biggest issue here was that it was a long walk for a small kid, but he wanted to do it, and that was really his own problem.

Last weekend, the New York Times posted an article about the anxieties parents these days have about letting their kids do things they did as children, like play outside the gated yard, walking to school on their own, or staying home alone. And while I was relieved to see that my paranoia and skittishness as a parent is the trendy thing these days (natch--we even get a lame term--helicoptor parents) it makes me sad that each small step toward independence is such a struggle for our kids. What's the point of having a skateboard if you have to ride it up and down the driveway and wait for your parents to take you to the playground? But events like the Jaycee Dugard case hit us all in our most tender nerves.

The article talks about a ten year old who, during his walk to school alone, was picked up by police who were called by a concerned neighbor. His mother had made an informed decision to let the boy walk alone because she wanted him to be able to develop the confidence and self-sufficiency to somehow grow into a full-functioning adult someday. And surely, a fourth or fifth grader, a kid only a year or so away from middle school, should be able to handle this task. But the deluge of media content about horrific events involving kids come at us all day long--news, radio, television, newspapers, blogs, tweets, and so on...

It's a struggle to let them get older and need us less. Sam's delight at making his way around the block alone seemed pathetic to me--for both of us. He has so little of that carefree ownership of his neighborhood that I did, and we have to think too hard to allow him small freedoms we took for granted.

After he left, I thought to myself that if he asked, I'd let him go around the block again. And when he came back, dawdling down the street as if he would take all day, I asked him how it went. He smiled and said it was nice to be alone.

But he didn't ask to go around again.

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