When I was a kid in the ’70s I was out of the house for much of the day, tooling around town on my cruiser bike, hanging out at the beach in the summer, digging up rat bones in the sand dunes, or bringing home sand sharks to swim in my friend Patty’s bathtub (yes, we really did that).
In the winter we’d be out all day building snow forts, having epic snowball battles, and wouldn’t be seen by parents until dinner unless we needed to use the bathroom, eat something, or couldn’t feel our feet anymore.
If I wanted to go to the park, I jumped on my bike, rode over to so-and-so’s house, and off we went wherever our wheels would take us. I never had, nor felt I needed, a chaperone. And I don’t remember ever feeling neglected, although this freewheeling childhood experience wasn’t without its “creepy incidents” that made me scream bloody murder and run like hell.
Looking back, I shudder at the close calls and feel reallllly lucky not to have ended up on the evening news. It was the ’70s. Parenting was different then. Kids were different then. And yet, I survived.
My kids are growing up in a somewhat less freewheeling manner than me and I have to say, it bums me out. I wish for them the same sort of freedom I had when I was young, but struggle with how to unravel the tether that keeps them close and, in my mind, safe.
An intelligent friend whose insights I respect greatly recently shared this post from Mother Cusser on Facebook with the emphatic instruction to READ IT. It’s written in response to parents’ handwringing over Miley Cyrus’ gyrating displays on TV and the unfounded fears that Miley and her ilk will be the ruin of our children.
From the post:
STEP UP and teach them that good self-esteem comes from working hard, being independent, making smart decisions and being a graceful winner and a graceful loser.
YES. Exactly. Whoohoo, speak the truth, Mother Cusser, I say. And then I kept reading:
You who lives so fearfully that you would rather your child play 98767 hours of video games inside because you are convinced if he goes out to ride his bike (without you) that he will be: 1. Kidnapped 2. Hit by a car 3. Kidnapped after being hit by a car 4. Negatively influenced by Miley Cyrus and then kidnapped Guess what, folks? If you never let your child have an opportunity to make a decision he will have no self-esteem at all. Because he will not believe in himself enough to know the right thing to do.
Oh crap. According to Mother Cusser, it’s not Miley Cyrus who’s ruining our kids, It’s you. Well, it’s me. I’m ruining my kids. You’re ruining your own kids.
My kids should be allowed to roam more freely without my hovering to ensure their safety. I get this intellectually, but struggle with how to put it into practice. I do want my kids to develop the skills needed to avoid “creepy incidents” and get themselves home safely. Talking about it is one thing; putting the skills into practice is another. I need to find the line between carefree parent and psychotic vigilante. Is there some kind of happy medium?
One only needs to turn on the news to understand that some of the fears I have, basically the list Mother Cusser outlined above , are not unfounded. Except for #4 because there’s no way in hell my kids are listening/watching to anything involving Miley Cyrus. No one wants his or her child to be that child. To wonder for the rest of your life what you could have done, or repeat for infinity if only I had been there. That’s a hell I don’t ever want to visit.
Still, I could back off a bit. I could unclench my fists and let go, watch them run down the street with abandon off to the adventures that await them. And as difficult as it would be for me to stay rooted in my place and await their return, I could do it. I can do it. I will do it.
And instead of holding my breath and imagining all of the worst-possible scenarios that could befall them, I can choose to breathe deeply and exhale, imagining all of the wonderful memories they are storing away. And I can listen intently when they come back home to share their stories with me.
It might take me some time. But I promise to try.