Monday, August 13, 2012

Go Outside and Play!

I've just been reading a bunch of articles, posts, responses, etcetera on line about whether or not kids should be allowed to play outside unsupervised.  There are a LOT of people who think its an outrage and even neglectful to do so.  What drives me nuts is, in all that I read, nowhere is a discussion of circumstances.  How old are said kids? How responsible are they?  Are they playing next to a busy street where gunfire abounds?  Do their parents check on them every once in a while?  Can they go in the house if they need to?
There seems to be a whole lot of paranoia out there about abduction.  One mom actually said she was wouldn't let her kids play in the fenced-in BACKyard alone, because sexual predators might be observing her kids' play schedule and planning to snatch them.  Really?
I know child abduction happens.  It is every parent's worst nightmare.  But how often does it really happen?  Hardly ever, actually.  And it is responsible to teach children how to deal with a stranger who asks them to get in a car or tries to force or coerce them into it.  My tag line with Jack is, "Don't go off with strangers," or with anyone actually, without telling me.  We've also had the conversation that, if someone tries to force him to go with them, he's to kick and scream and fight like hell.  That being said, I don't anticipate he'll actually need any of that advice.  If I thought there were a good chance he would, we'd move.
My current outside play policy is this:  Jack is four and a half.  He can play outside in the backyard by himself as long as he wants.  He usually comes running in screaming at the top of his lungs ten minutes after I've gone in because of a wasp, though.  Only recently, I've allowed him to play in the front yard by himself, as long as I am downstairs and can check on him frequently, and with the reminder that he stay in our yard.  I think it makes him nervous after too long, though, because he's never out there for more than ten or fifteen minutes.  Gage is, of course, not allowed outside by himself, as he is eighteen months old and has a fondness for picking up bugs, even wasps, and I wouldn't put it past him to taste one, either.
That being said, if another parents didn't allow their four year old outside by him/herself, I'd respect that.  Jack is a cautious kid.  He's not going to run into the street or forget he's not supposed to leave the yard.  He also not going to stay out there very long without me.  In this particular situation, his cautious, sometimes fearful nature can actually be a virtue.  Every child is different and is ready to handle responsibilities at different times. I think it's vital we let kids have some independence so they can grow up feeling competent and confident in their abilities, and also that we trust other parents to know their own kids and what they can handle.  So my question to you is this (yes, I really want an answer via comment):  Do you let your kids play in the front yard unsupervised?  And/or at what age do you think you'd let them, if ever?  What do you think of other parents who let their kids play outside unsupervised?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

"To Be Early Is To Be On Time..."

"To be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, and to be late is to be sorry, dead, toast."  That was the motto of my high school marching band, drilled into every incoming sophomore's brain during summer practice.  I actually added the "dead, toast" part my senior year, for emphasis.  (And because, as a senior, I was quite full of myself.)  This motto spoke to my inner core from the beginning.  It is how I was raised and how I have always lived my life.  When I was a kid, sometimes we'd go to my dad's parents' house for an afternoon family gathering of swimming and eating hotdogs.  It sounds relaxing, but it always began with my dad sitting in the car in the garage, honking and yelling, "Let's go, let's go!"  You see, when Dad said we were leaving at 2:30, he meant we should be backing out of the driveway at 2:29, and not a minute later.  Why we had to be so exactly on time for an afternoon of swimming, I don't know.  No, I do know.  My dad, raised by his parents, had timeliness ingrained in him.  He couldn't help but get agitated when he perceived we might be less than on time.  So, by the time I reached high school, the "To early is to be on time..." adage was in fact already old news with me.
My genetic timeliness worked to my advantage, for many situations.  I was always early for interviews, on time to work and punctual with bills and paperwork. The reasoning behind it is this:  when someone is waiting on you to arrive, it is respectful of them and their time to be on time.  It did lead to a lot of frustration with others, however.  My high school friends had absolutely no concept of time.  And while I wouldn't go so far as to get angry at someone for being late to simply hang out over at my house, I did experience a degree of irritation with some of them who thought, "I'll be there in fifteen minutes," was a suitable E.T.A., when they still had to shower, eat dinner, and drive twenty minutes over to my house.  I would reason with them exasperatedly that their "fifteen minutes" wasn't just a poor estimate, it was ridiculous, since the travel time was more than that.  Mostly, I'd just get a shrug and a "whatever" in response.
Now that I have kids, my phobia of being late has necessarily waned, though I am still the most on time person I know.  When I think about what time to leave the house with the kids, I factor in surprise poopy diapers, surprise messy snacks and surprise traffic.  Regardless, I am early less often now and, even on rare occasion, late - even Little Miss Prepared can be caught totally unawares by a child under five.  It has taken a lot of pointed effort to let go of my, "I HAVE TO BE ON TIME!" mentality.  I really have to work hard not to act like a shrieking harpy as we gather all our crap to leave the house.  ("Where are your shoes??"  "Didn't you JUST go potty??" "GET IN THE CAR!!!")  I can feel myself tensing up when I experience totally unexpected traffic delays.  I take a deep breath, get my shoulders out of my ears, and repeat my new mantra, "It's out of my control.  'Might as well relax."  Nine times out of ten, I get there on time anyway, just not as early as I thought I would. I have, in the past, felt really stupid/crappy/irrational when I have hounded the kids mercilessly to get them in the car with exclamations of, "We are going to be late!!" as if it's a cardinal sin... and we get there early - oops.  Okay, so I'm my father's child.
Where am I going with all this time nonsense?  Basically, I realize I get myself all worked up worrying about being late, when I am nowhere close to being late.  Many times, it's for something where it's not even that important to be exactly on time.  I am working on letting it go, relaxing about that which I cannot control and not getting so annoyed with everyone else for being late, because, as I said before, often it's not even that important.  Therefore, I promise to be more relaxed about tardiness, if the rest of you will work on being on time for a goddamned change every once in a while. Just kidding... maybe.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Declaration of Independence by a Four-Year-Old

Jack has always been my little momma's boy.  He has been glued to my side since the day he was born.  At play dates when he was a toddler, he'd sit in my lap instead of wreaking havoc with the other kids.  He was the kid who would only let Momma make his breakfast, kiss his boo-boo, brush his teeth, or read him his bedtime story. At the grocery store, people would smile and wave at him with his cute, sticky-up hair, and he'd scowl at them and bury his head in my jeans.  As you might imagine, his first foray into preschool was traumatic for both of us.  This milestone is what prompted his sobbing quote, now famous at our house: "Just wanna stay with Momma all a time!"  It succinctly summed up his whole mentality about life.
Throughout the earliest years, I gently encouraged him to be more independent - to leave my lap, to explore new surroundings and play mates.  Sometimes, in exasperation, my prodding was not so gentle: "Go play with your friends!  Momma wants to have a cup of coffee and talk to the adults!"  Neither approach was very successful.  Jack remained hidden in my skirts in any unfamiliar (and depending on his mercurial mood, sometimes familiar) social situation.  I was not worried about his development.  After all, I was shy as a kid, but I did feel a bit smothered by him at times, which is part of what caused me to enroll him in preschool at age two-and-a-half.  The other part was, I was pregnant with his brother.
Now, at age four-and-a-half, Jack has become more independent.  He still loves being with Momma and is occasionally somber when dropped off at school, but he always has an excited smile on his face when I pick him up and is full of stories about his day.  I can now go to another room of the house without, moments later, hearing a blood-curdling shriek of, "MOMMA, WHERE ARE YOUUUUU?"  Yes, Jack has a flair for the dramatic.
 So the other day, we are up the street at a kid-friendly coffee house in our neighborhood.  We had never been there before.  While I was waiting in line to order, holding a struggling Gage football-style, I suddenly looked around and could not find Jack.  I did not panic, because he is a cautious kid and would never run off, but I was surprised he'd left my side in an entirely unfamiliar setting.  I soon discovered he'd been lured away by the Fisher Price toys in the corner on a small shelf.  I then ordered coffee, drank it and visited with the other moms we'd come there to meet - no big deal.
Later on the way home, we passed a tow truck on our street.  The driver was loading a car onto the bed, and Jack wanted to stay and watch.  As we were already pressing it to get home for Gage's nap, I said no.  Then Jack asked, "Can I just stay here by myself?"  Mind you, this is way at the other end of our street from our house.  I wouldn't have been able to see him from the front yard.  I froze.  I did not want to discourage his independence or make him fearful, (the kid is scared of lots of stuff) but I wasn't comfortable with it.  In the end, I talked him into going home with us, and he was happy to see the tow truck drive past our house as I parked the stroller in the garage.
I thought about this incident a lot later that day:  What was I scared of - that he'd run into the street and get run over?  No, he is a super cautious kid, and even if he did, the odds of getting hit by a car on our sleepy, residential street are almost nil.  Was I scared someone would kidnap him, like maybe the tow truck guy?  Well, maybe a little, even though the odds of that are much less than getting hit by a car on our street.  The bottom line was, it just made me uncomfortable.  I realized while I've been working to get Jack to be more independent, now that he's becoming so, I have to get used to it.  I admitted to myself, it was somewhat comforting to be in a store and feel his little hand holding my skirt, knowing he was right there and would not run off.  Even knowing Jack and his careful nature, I was unsettled in the coffee house when I could not immediately see him.  Now, I'm not saying I should have let him stay and watch the tow truck.  Sometimes the instinct of  "I'm just not comfortable with it," is worth heeding, but I do need to get used to not directly supervising him in public.  He is a responsible kid, and the reward for being such is a degree of freedom.  I do not need to undermine his self-esteem by unintentionally sending the message he can't be trusted on his own.  This letting go I have to do is scary, but I do have to do it.  This is the goal of parenting:  letting go a little at a time so when they move out of the house they know how to handle themselves.  I don't want my kids to be like some of the people I knew who went nuts and got into serious trouble after high school, because their parents had been very sheltering (helicopter-y, if you will) and they simply did not know at all how to regulate themselves.  The bottom line we parents have to face is this:  the risk of letting them out into the world a little at a time when they're younger pales in comparison to the risk if we don't.