As the kids get older, they, especially Samuel, are craving little opportunities to exert their independence. Sam wants, for example, his own cell phone and an ipod. Yeah right. Don't hold your breath, kid. He asked me how old I was when I got my first cell phone: I had to break the unfathomable news to him that I was around 28, and that there were no cell phones when I was a kid. (As if from a script, Vincenzo used the opportunity to ask if "they" had electricity when I was little.) So these are the no-brainers: sorry Sam, you have to wait until you are older.
But there are other things that Rick and I are struggling with whether or not to let them do. A boy from down the street knocked the other day and asked if the boys "could come out and play." Sounds like the quintessential childhood question. But I didn't let them go. We know the boy a little bit, not well, but well enough to know he's a sweet kid, very friendly and polite. But we don't know his family; I wasn't even sure which house he lives in. So there's that. The boys across the street often play in front of their house, riding bicycles or playing catch in the street. We live on a corner lot, and the drivers around here can be completely NUTS. It's pretty scary. We've lived here for almost 10 years, and we've seen more than our share of bad accidents on or near our corner, usually due to speeding idiots. (The kind of idiots that make my husband remark, as the too-loud engine fades into the distance, "I wish they'd get in an accident -- not bad enough to really hurt them, but enough to scare the **** out of them." I get it.)
The boys are also asking for permission to walk around the block by themselves. Scary. So basically, the question is, should we -- can we -- let them play outside with other kids from the neighborhood, or walk short distances from our house on their own?
Here are the issues: First, they are pretty clueless. They don't exhibit great signs of awareness when they are walking near cars or having to negotiate people. We have real doubts about whether they are "up" on safety issues, so we need to address that. Second, there are random dogs in our neighborhood. Scary dogs. Without owners. Not often, but not unheard of either. Third, we don't live in the greatest neighborhood; in fact, our city in general has been experiencing a heightened level of violence these past few months. Most of the incidents have not been near us, but a few have. And the local park, a mere two blocks away, is known as teetering between being kid-friendly and being drug-pusher-friendly. I'm not sure which way it has been leaning lately.
Add it all up, and you come to the same conclusion we have always come to: Like hell they can go around the block or play with the boys across the street or do ANYTHING that does not involve our watching them every minute.
But then, we come up against the reality that they need to learn how to be in the world without us around. They need to be able to play without being watched all the time -- it's what we all did when we were growing up, and it's how we learned to figure things out for ourselves. These kids look to us for so much -- too much, sometimes -- because their lives take place always in our eyesight and earshot.
I don't want this for them. I want them to be able to walk around the block, play with the neighborhood kids, get to know the families up and down the block. Just today, Samuel had a bummer day at school (subject for another day), and he was pretty out of sorts on the way home. He asked me if I could think of something to make him feel better. After saying no to his suggestion that he get to watch Tom and Jerry, ( do they ever learn to ask for things that have better than a snowball's chance in hell of happening?) I almost told him that today could be the day he gets to walk down to the other end of the block by himself. Knowing, however, that Rick would prefer to be consulted on this decision (I made the mistake of letting Samuel have 30 minutes of computer time without consulting my husband; note to self: do not make child-related decisions unilaterally.), I decided to wait. So I talked to Rick about it when he got home. But, as it turned out, Sam got interested in some other things and it never came up. The possibility did, however, give us the chance to talk about the struggle that is this decision.
When do we let him do these things that we wish he could do, but that scare the hell out of us? Shortly after we talked about it, we heard some fool screech down the street, so loud it made us start, and we were reminded why we have such reservations.
And yet, even with all of the reservations, we find ourselves on the brink of giving him -- them -- permission to do these small, independent things that pretty much give us heart palpitations if we think too much. Yet another example of what I know to be true: Parenting is not for the feint of heart. No sissies allowed. Waffling discouraged. Because guess what? Tomorrow morning, chances are very good that one of those little people will ask me for permission to do something that my entire being wants to absolutely NOT let him do but that my heart and soul know he should someday -- and soon -- be allowed to do.