When my husband was four, his parents put him in a car with his 20-something uncle, and they drove from Wisconsin to Los Angeles. The car broke down somewhere in New Mexico, but they finally arrived, safe and sound. It was, undoubtedly, a fabulous adventure.
Can you even imagine? No cell phones? No Google Maps? No GPS? Not knowing where your precious snowflake was at any moment?
You may remember the piece from Lenore Skenazy several years ago, about letting her 9 year old ride the subway home alone. The reactions ranged from high fives to horrified, with most people in my circles leaning toward the latter. I know I did. And while I support the idea of free range kids in theory, I hold on to the notion that the world was a safer place 30 years ago when I was 10. Today, well - there are scary people everywhere! Stranger danger is so drilled into our heads (and our kids'), that we assume multitudes of pedophiles are lurking in every bathroom stall.
Katie is a connoisseur of public restrooms. We almost never go anywhere where she doesn't have to pee, and I am not about to drag two other children, strollers, carts, and various other bullshittery into a teeny bathroom so I can make sure she's not molested by the Tidy Bowl man. She is old enough to get in there, do her business, and get out - and old enough to know that if she walks in on something hinky, she needs to get out toot sweet*.
I temper her independence with my idea of safeguards. Against sound advice, we got her a cell phone. It gives me peace of mind when she's roaming the neighborhood, and it's come in very handy during her extracurricular activities. We only had some minor glitches ("Get a text every day from Justin Bieber!"), and overall it's been a good thing. She's as responsible and mature as any ten year old can be, and I feel reasonably sure that she will conduct herself as such out there in the big, bad world.
The topic 'how old is old enough?' is one that comes up frequently with my friends. How old to stay alone? How old to go to the mall with friends? How old to babysit? How old, how old, how old? It's such an arbitrary question, with so many qualifiers that it's hard to give a pat answer. I can't answer for your kid, only mine. Even then, I'm not always positive of my answer.
Yesterday, we put her on a plane by herself to fly to Arizona to visit the grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins. And every confidence I had completely shattered and I became headless chicken panic stricken hover mother. I tracked her flight (in real time, which is a very cool time suck I learned during my brief stint as a Cha Cha answer girl) and was yelling across the house "SIX MINUTES! SHE LANDED SIX MINUTES AGO! HAS SHE CALLED? WHY HASN'T SHE CALLED?"
She'll be gone for 12 days. It's the longest I've ever been away from her. Even though she is a smart kid, and is in very capable hands, I can't help but worry she won't brush her teeth, or wear sunscreen, or eat vegetables. The more she grows up, the more painfully aware I am that she will always be my baby. I wonder if letting your kids grow up has less to do with letting them go and more to do with keeping quiet about the choices they make.
She's still a kid. Old enough to go to the bathroom alone and fly across the country. Young enough to still need her mom, hopefully as much as I need her.
*Or, tout de suite, if you're some fancy pants French person.
2 weeks ago