I woke up this Sunday and I thought to myself: “My kids need to get OUT.” Not forever (bite your tongue), just for the afternoon. But our kids are still kind of young and we are a little new to the whole “let-the-kids-out-to-play-in-the-neighborhood” thing. Sure, we did it as kids, but the rules have changed… haven’t they? So… what exactly ARE the rules now?
We are lucky enough to live in a neighborhood where my kids know other kids. Most go to their school and, with our little homes all in a row, lined by wide-open sidewalks, it’s easy to get to one another.
Well, up until this year, my kids and the kids in the neighborhood haven’t reached out to one another very much. Why? Because the rules with young kids are that you don’t play with other kids unless the moms know each other and set up an official play-date. Unfortunately, my favorite moms have moved away. Then I went back to work and that’s been about that.
NOW, the kids are old enough to seek one another out WITHOUT the moms really knowing each other. Whoa. Of course, we track down phone numbers for one another but it’s not about the moms getting along, it’s about the kids finding their way in the world without us nipping at their heels, wiping their noses and asking them when they last peed.
This is a very brave new world for all of us.
So, off they went this morning.
My 6 year old plays with a boy across the street. His father is a paramedic turned police officer. And I’m not sure I’ve ever heard his mom swear. They are pretty much the nicest, most responsible people ever. Plus, my 6 year old isn’t a risk-taker. He knows his limits and might look both ways about 10 times (with one ear cupped, listening for a car’s engine in the distance) before he ventures across our little road. No sweat there.
The other, my 9 year old, is slightly more dangerous. You see, he’s gotten fairly sick of us on weekends. We limit (or, right now, 100% cut-off) his video game time (his fault). His brother holds his attention for shorter spans these days. And, my suggestions (“Why don’t you go read a book–how about those nice Percy Jackson books?!”) are rarely a good idea anymore. Cue 9 year old eye-roll. So, it’s time he ventures out more.
And, get this. His closest friend in his class lives about a block away. Score!
However, while dangerously desperate to flee our home, my son is also easily embarrassed. And, until recently, he was too mortified to make the social leap of walking down and knocking on his door and asking him to play.
He got over that only recently.
So, after wolfing down a Dunkin’ Donuts egg sandwich this morning, he threw on his shirt, opened the door and went out to play. I hollered after him, asking him to CALL ME if he was going to stay. And desperately throwing out a: DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS! He never looked back.
So, my husband and I spent about 3 hours at home today with no children… and no babysitter fees.
I got some things done. He went food shopping. I cleaned. I watched TLC. He watched football. But, mentally, I paced.
You see, when they are underfoot, they drive me bananas. But when they venture off and DON’T CALL, I feel verrry unsettled.
Of course, since he didn’t call us, my husband did a slow drive-by TWICE to make he sure was still in his friend’s backyard playing football. He was playing football the first time. And, the second, he was walking back from a local orange tree with a pack of kids. Perfect, right?
Yep. We know that logically. But my husband fretted, too. He of an era when “I played outside ALL day until I heard a dinner bell.” He worried and rationalized just as much as I did.
Because it’s not about what he did once. The rules HAVE changed.
The weirdos, the creepy guys who drive ice cream trucks, the kids that never get to where they were going, the possibility of so much horror… we picture every scenario. Well, we do until he marches back in the door, soaking wet, covered in grass and streaks of dirt, and demanding dinner… which is exactly what he did tonight.
I know, I know. SO WHAT. “Just wait until they start driving!” I hear many of you say. “Just wait until they go to college and you have NO idea where they are at any given moment!”
I had better get used to it. And I am. But it is a process. And I am trying to navigate this new set of rules. Because if I keep them indoors and out of trouble… I have become the dreaded helicopter mom. But if I let them out… what then? How long do I let them go? SHOULD I insist he calls home, no matter how embarrassing it is? Do I give a curfew? Do I set limits as to how far he can venture in the neighborhood? Do I really trust him… really? Do I call his friend’s mom’s house, even when she doesn’t seem too worried? Do I stalk him with my car the whole time he is out? I’m thinking yes to all of this.
I want to do this right. But it feels very panicky, fumbling and uncool so far. I feel like such a rookie.
Granted. That about sums up parenting, doesn’t it? We’re all rookies–panicky, fumbling and uncool.
So, now that they are home and bathed and about ready for bed, I shift my fretting from “Are they safe right now?” to “How will I keep them safe next time?” and “What else should (shouldn’t?) I be doing?”
It’s not easy to be this much of a basket-case. It takes a lot of over-thinking and hand-wringing to get to where I am. And panicking and fumbling and far too much uncoolness.
(Cue that 9 year old eye-roll one more time.)