Why did the boys cross the road?
Long pause filled with uncertainty.
To get smoothies from A.J.s and scare the bejeezus out of their mother.
It may not be the funniest joke ever, but my two tiny, helpless, toddlers… okay, they’re not really tiny anymore, and technically they’re not helpless. I guess you could also argue that nearly 13 and 9 no longer designates them as toddlers. But they’re crossing a busy street and I’m not with them and this is freaking me out!
It’s summer vacation, camp is over, I have no help and I’m feeling like a dried up piece of sand paper. So I made an appointment for a manicure and pedicure. I thought my husband would be off work this morning when I originally made the appointment. But he had to work at the last minute. I didn’t want to cancel. Does that make me a monster? My heels are coarse and leathery, and my feet look like they’ve been through a Crayola blizzard with so many splotches of colors on my toenails because I’ve been layering over my last pedicure for a month. The salon I go to is across the street from AJs. So the boys convinced me that they could come along with me and venture off alone to get smoothies while I soaked peacefully in the pedicure tub. I gave them money and instructions, several times. “Be careful crossing the street!” I said. “It’s a busy street. And call me if you need me. Maybe text me once you get there. No, that’s silly. You don’t have to text me. Yes, text me.” Okay, seriously, they’re only going across the street. Motorists are cautious around here. I mean it’s a residential neighborhood. But there are a lot of elderly folks in this area. Maybe they wont notice two innocent little tykes, one toting a beloved stuffed polar bear, darting across a four lane freeway. Okay okay, it’s not exactly a freeway. But it gets really busy sometimes and it can be as treacherous as the 51 on a Friday afternoon.
Why is it so hard to let kids grow up? I know this is good for them. It teaches them responsibility. It allows them to learn independence. When I was 12, I used to peddle my bicycle 10 miles across town to the local Bunny Hutch to meet friends and enjoy the best french fries in town. What were my parents thinking? Did it scare my mom that I rode in the street? Did she just not think about it? Why does it freak me out so much?
Levi, my nearly 13 year old, went away to sleep-away camp for a full month this summer. He managed to brush his teeth without my constant reminders. He got dressed by himself and handled a litany of daily responsibilities without a single word from me or his dad. (Although I do confess to putting a few brief instructions into the loving letters I wrote on a daily basis.) But he probably ignored those.
I really don’t remember my parents being this over-protective. I don’t think it was that much of a safer world back then. I’ve even read numerous books and articles that insist there are not more child abductions or mass killings today than there were back in the day. It’s just the way the media covers them that makes them all seem so looming and prevalent. But parents’ levels of angst have sky-rocketed since the time of my childhood. It’s like we’re so scared of something happening that we don’t want to ever let our kids out of our sight.
I think it ultimately cripples both them and us. It keeps kids in a perpetual state of childishness. We protect them from anything that even hints at grown-up responsibility which keeps them completely void of the experiences they need to grow up and become responsible adults. In turn, their neediness and inexperience prevents us from letting go and keeps us stuck in perpetual parenting mode without any hope of escape or eventual freedom.
The funniest part of all this is that we’re only doing it because we love them so much. We just don’t want to see them hurt or watch them struggle or worse, possibly fail. But that’s really the only way to learn anything, isn’t it? To fall down. To make a mistake. To err. Without error, life poses no challenges, no opportunities for growth.
So take a deep breath. Love your kids. But let them cross the street by themselves once in a while. It’s really the only way to get from here to there anyway.