“You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are set forth.”
I am not a daredevil. I’ll push limits, but I’m a fan of safety first.
Recently my oldest daughter confided that her BFF teased her for riding in a five-point harness booster car seat. The friend chided, “Pfft. You’re 6, and you still sit in that lame car seat.”
I promptly read the side of her car seat. #49 lbs. Check. She weighs enough and is tall enough to remove the high back and transition to the booster.
But, is it time…? Can I keep her safest a little longer?
I mentally noted to consult Babycenter… or hit up my pediatrician brother-in-law.
Before I could, the universe intervened. A poster at my daughter’s school advertised a lecture by Lenore Skenazy, the woman dubbed “America’s Worst Mom.”
Confession: I’m a nerd and oooh, a lecture. I signed up straightaway as I was hungry for the rationale behind the “Free-Range Kids” movement.
Skenazy created a media sensation when she wrote a column about her nine-year-old son’s ride on the New York City subway. By himself. The subway was part of their everyday, and he wanted to give it a go. Knowing he was well-versed, she confidently left him in the handbag department of Bloomingdales with money and a map. She went home to wait for his arrival.
She said, “we’re safety people,” admitting a penchant for helmets, car seats, and seatbelts. But the critical reaction to his solo ride, birthed the Free-Range movement. She questioned, when did our society start thinking like lawyers and become so afraid?
Law and Order plays a role for me. My go-to series warps my world outlook to worry about pediphiles lurking in the bushes or cruising the streets in utility vans.
I’m just a small town girl, so raising children alongside three-million Chicagoans is a stark contrast to the freedoms of my childhood. Admittedly, when I lose visual on my youngest as she climbs through a covered tunnel in a playground in Wicker Park, my neurosis kicks in: Did someone nab her and hop on the Blue Line? My brain cuts to the episode of SVU where a father turned his back a moment and bam, gone baby gone.
Skenazy encourages parents to listen to their instincts and their child. I must admit that my instincts are sometimes muffled by parenting magazines screaming: “How to crime-proof your home?”
She urges parents to stop creating paralysis by analysis.
She draws upon the rational world of statistics, citing the low-crime level – as low as 1964. She says, “we live in safe times with lots of safeguards and laws and medical advances that have made childhood less dangerous than at any other time in the history of human beings.”
This past fall, I was reminded about the power of preparation, and the inability to perfectly shield my girls from the world.
My oldest takes the school bus to and from school. At the start of Kindergarten, we hired a babysitter to meet our daughter at the bus stop after school and walk her across the street to our house. At the end of October – while rocking at bedtime – my oldest whispered to me, “M was not at the bus stop today.”
My heart stopped – what the what?
“What did you do?” I asked with as much calm as I could muster.
She walked me through the play-by-play. “Well, I told my bus driver that my babysitter was not here, and asked if a big kid could walk me to the neighborhood school. The school was closed. So I saw a mommy with four kids, playing on the playground. I asked her if she could walk me across the street to our house. She did. I rang the buzzer and M came out.”
I felt sick. outraged. and relieved that she knew what to do.
I kissed my daughter goodnight and immediately called the babysitter. Her response was flippant: “She was only alone for a couple minutes.”
A couple minutes? This is Chicago. She could be gone in seconds.
I was furious at the babysitters’ nonchalance – it was her job to wait for Veronica at the bus stop, which was just outside of our front door.
But even more, I was floored by Veronica. My oldest did not break down on the curb and cry. She skillfully took action and problem-solved like a boss.
In August, before the start of the year, we had mock trials: She practiced dialing her cellphone, crossing the street alone, and opening the front door with her key. We had prepared for what to do if M was not waiting at the bus stop.
Yet, I hadn’t expected this to really happen.
I am grateful that we had prepared and also plan to have Skenazy’s advice at the ready. She counsels parents to teach children the 3 r’s as early as age 3:
- Recognize. She says it’s important to teach your child to trust their inner voice. If something feels prickly, it probably is. She reminds to teach: No one can touch you where your bathing suit covers.
- Resist. Yell and run away. An offshoot on stranger danger, she said instead of telling kids not to talk to strangers, we should say do not ever go with a stranger. Even if they say your mom is sick, and said it was okay to go with them.
- Report. If a person makes you promise not to tell … TELL. I tell my girls, “We don’t keep secrets in our family.” A surprise, yes. A secret, no.
Her logic follows that if we want keep kids safe, we should teach them how to maneuver circumstances, not engineer their lives. The more we coddle, the more we clear the path of all obstacles, which in the end is unsafe. Helicopter parenting is weakening our child’s chances to build character and resilience.
I am a believer: The best way to keep my girls safe is to talk to them and to arm them with confidence – the tools to be independent, such as how to ask for help if they get lost at Target.
In her book, and on her blog, Free Range Kids, she offers some Going Free Range steps to desensitize ourselves to the “fear.” She offers baby steps, brave steps and giants steps toward giving kids a longer leash to prep them for the world.
I’ll start with a couple do-able baby steps:
- Let your school-age child go into a public bathroom alone. Wait outside. Of course, I’ll probably be hawking for a child with a dyed, shaved head to walk out of the bathroom. Halting the madness in my brain will take some practice.
- Cross the street with your school-age child. Without holding hands. Remind them to look left, right, left to check for traffic.
What do you do ready your kiddos for the wild world? What sort of conversations are you intentional about when it comes to preparing your children for dealing with strangers and unknown situations?