Why did the boys cross the road?


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 I thought my husband would be off work this morning when I originally made the appointment.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.

Unstandardized testing

A notice I received about the upcoming standardized testing at my 8-year-old son, Levi’s, elementary school:

“To the parents of Levi Gettleman:
…your child qualifies to receive modifications and accommodations during the test, such as an alternative setting, extended time, and/or support with reading.”

It goes on to say that these “alterations” will be noted on your child’s report card and asks for a signature to accept the alternative testing accommodations.

I read the letter over a few times. Levi’s a handful, no doubt. He’s extremely bright, quite advanced verbally, and overly sensitive (no idea where that comes from). He also tends to run high on the anxiety scale. His fine motor skills are a little behind, so handwriting is grueling work for him and causes him untold frustration. I can see where he might need some extra help on an essay test. But I’m fairly certain that the Stanford 9 only requires kids to fill in those tiny, little ovals with a #2 pencil. I’m pretty sure he can handle that.

I shoot an e-mail off to the school “Instruction Specialist,” asking what type of modification Levi might require. I’m kind of confused as to why I wouldn’t want him tested in a regular classroom with the rest of his class.

In her response, she delicately alludes to Levi’s tendency to become agitated when he faces time deadlines and his urge to write all over his papers, desk and himself while he works. She explains that there is no writing on the test other than filling in the requisite ovals. If Levi takes the test in a more test-friendly environment, he’ll have scratch paper and no time limits.

I write back immediately thanking her for the information and unequivocally declining the special set-up. This seems like a no-brainer to me. But as I talk to other parents, I’m amazed at the cadre of responses I get. Most feel I should stack the deck in Levi’s favor by accepting the testing modifications and minimizing the stress. “If he was autistic,” says one friend, “ Or sight impaired, you wouldn’t hesitate to make his environment more appropriate.”

“That’s true,” I contend, “But he’s not. He’s a high-strung kid who’s got to learn how to take tests and deal with anxiety. The longer I put off that learning, the harder it’s going to be for him.”

This strikes me as another one of those weird over-protective child-rearing things we see so commonly in our generation of parents. We’re so afraid of having our kid’s suffer that we shield them from realities they need to experience in order to learn how to function in the world. We don’t let our babies learn self-soothing by crying themselves to sleep. We don’t keep score in T-ball. We allow our lives to center around our children’s needs. We only supply them with positive feedback for fear of damaging their tiny, fragile egos. Well, you know what? Babies who can’t go to sleep on their own, grow up to be people with sleep disorders. And some kids are better T-ball players than others, and their teams are gonna win every time. Losing sucks. But it happens. The truth is, sometimes life is unfair, and you’re not always the best, and if you don’t learn how to take a test when you’re in 2nd grade, you’re gonna struggle with test-taking for the rest of your life. So by being “kind” and offering my child a safer, more comfortable environment, you’re really hampering his ability to compete in tough, real-life situations. No thank you. My son is gonna need to face his own fears and anxieties and learn how to breathe through it, relax his mind and body, and focus on whatever task lies before him. I believe in him enough to let him learn those lessons.