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Letting Kids Fly, But Not By Helicopter

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Ahh, vacation.  It’s my first day back from a weekend trip to visit family, and I already need another vacation.  Not because of the family, we had a fantastic time, but because I came back from a Saturday and Sunday away to a shitstorm of work to do.  I digrmyess, however.  Every year, my step mother’s sister throws an annual weekend up at her house.  Since my dad married into the family, they also include me, my husband and kids.  The weekend is filled with laughter, days spent at the lake, and lots of food and beer.  It’s always a fun weekend.  This year, I think we had 16 or more.

Saturday, while lounging at the lake, watching the kids play in the swimming areas and in the sand, I got into a conversation with my…let me see if I get this right….step cousin’s wife.  We were talking about our kids, and how they are growing up so fast, the usual.  She lives in Brooklyn NY, and she overheard her son tell me how excited he was for school this year because at his school, the kids are allowed to leave the school and go out for lunch unattended.  I was completely fascinated by this revelation, and his mom (I’ll refer to her as E) filled me me.  Apparently, starting in 4th grade, the kids are allowed to leave the school building and can go for lunch.  Completely unattended.  In Brooklyn.  I was a bit amazed that the school, never mind the parents, would ever go for such an idea.  I live in relatively small town suburbia, and parents here are CRAZY intense.  Helicopter parenting is mostly the norm, if not encouraged.  Parents direct every aspect of their children’s lives, friends, interests and activities.  Kids are placed into a LOT of activities because the general thought is that they must be active ALL the time.  They must be kept busy.  I have friends who have their kids in about 6 activities a week.  It looks exhausting, not only for the kids, but for the parents who have to drive to (and most attend) as well.  The idea that this school in NY would allow kids as young as 10 to just leave the building mid day and roam to a local restaurant unattended was something I struggled to fathom, but I was intrigued.

For those of you who follow my blog, you may remember I wrote a while back about how I was trying to let me kids have more freedoms, more independence, and promote a sense of self responsibility and good decision making skills.  It went swimmingly, until we had a falter when my daughter forgot to communicate she was going to a friend’s a few houses down and I couldn’t find her.  After that we had to place new rules and explain the communication process.  Things have been going really well, except that it got so hot the kids haven’t really wanted to venture outside too much, never mind riding bikes etc.  Hopefully, we will work on things more in the fall.

As we talked, E explained that the school allows the kids to leave, unattended for lunch, mostly due to a problem with overcrowding in the school.  There really isn’t enough room in the cafeteria.  She said the kids have a radius that they can go to, about 2-3 blocks, and their are crossing guards at the intersections (and to make sure the kids don’t go outside of the “zone”.  On those blocks, there are a bunch of restaurants the kids can choose from, they bring their own money, and buy lunch.  I thought about how this would fly where I live and giggled, because it never would.  After hearing the layout of their school’s plan, it seemed like quite a good one.  The kids have choice, are given responsibility, there are crossing guards to keep them in the general vicinity, and frankly, it was a great way to keep local businesses afloat.  E explained also that the principal is a very strong leader, explains the process to the kids very clearly, and they are fully aware that one misstep means they lose the privilege.  They haven’t had any issues, because the kids take the privilege so seriously, they don’t want to lose it.  Also, with the volume of people in the area, parents feel that the kids are far safer than wandering in the suburbs.

I explained to her my realization earlier in the year that there were so many things I knew how to do at a young age that my children have never learned, simply because they have never had to learn it.  Road safety, because I am always there to walk them across the road, for example.  All those little things, that really are big things, because I am always there to do it for them.  She said she had had the exact same realization, and it really bothered her.  The interesting thing was that with one of us living in the city, and one in the suburbs, we each had a different set of skills we realized we had never taught our kids because we’d always been there to do it for them. Also, the kids needed different skills based on their location.  For my kids, bike riding was more important, but for her kids, there wasn’t much of a good place for her kids to ride.  For her kids, navigating their neighborhood during rush hour was more important than for my kids, who don’t see a lot of traffic in our area.

Both of us have decided a change is in order, and we are working to give our kids more flexibility, responsibility, and more LIFE skills they can do without us.  While the skill sets may be different based on where we live and the needs that arrive from that, the mentality is the same. Our parents let us learn the hard way, on our own quite a bit, and it taught us good, solid lessons.  We weren’t hovered over and coddled.  We were treated as little people who had to learn to live in a complicated world.  I see moms on social media claiming their kids are never out of their sight, that they do EVERYTHING for their kids, and that they keep their kids in activities and busy every minute of the day.  Know what that tells me?  Those kids likely won’t be able to entertain themselves if someone isn’t telling them how.  Those kids will miss many an important life lesson.  Independence and self discovery is important!  If someone does everything for you, how do you learn to do it yourself?

I recalled the conversation I had with the police officer who came that day my daughter left for her friend’s without telling me where she was going.  I was honestly really, really frightened and questioned my decision to let her do more on her own. (And trust, there were the people who had to make nasty comments about what happened, but you know what? 0 craps given.)  The officer told me that I was doing a GOOD thing.  That kids should be outside playing.  He also said that one thing he runs into all the time are kids of helicopter parents.  He said these parents hover over their child’s every move, thinking they are doing the right thing.  He said that he sees the end result of that, where if a parent goes to the store and runs 10 minutes late back, the kids (old enough to stay home themselves) the kids freak out because they don’t know how to cope for a few moments outside of expectation when the parents aren’t there.  He sees a lot of kids without some basic life skills, because they have never been taught them or had to learn them.  When I recounted this to E she thought it was really interesting, and we discussed how true this probably is.

Statistically, we are at a time of lower crime, but more ways to communicate it.  Our kids in some ways are probably safer than we were when we were younger.  Yet parents are more protective and are helicoptering.  I have seen parents call their grown children out of work.  I have seen parents doing laundry for grown children.  How did we get here, where we are so focused on our children that we have stifled them?

One of the greatest feelings I had as a kid was the feeling of being trusted with responsibility.  I felt so grown up, and appreciative of any new independence, that I worked hard to keep the privilege.  As a kid, I flew overseas by myself!  I traveled 3000+ miles myself, with some oversite from the airline.  I arrived, got my bags, and found my ride.  I navigated airports like a pro.  When I traveled with my parents, they had me tell them where to go, what our next steps were, etc.  In time, I learned my way around our frequented airports, knew how to travel responsibly, and became comfortable that I could manage travelling on my own.  If I got separated from my parents, I knew I had a plan to stay safe and find help.  I knew road safety on my bike. I knew how to speak to adults, how to navigate my corner of the world, and even another area of the world.  I walked comfortably across town at 12 years old in a town overseas.  It saddens me that after being pushed to hover over my kids, I have neglected to teach them some life skills, not for not wanting to, but for not thinking of them.  Why? Because I handled everything for them.  The more I talk to people, the more I notice parents having the same revelations.  This year, I am going to teach my kids the process of navigating an airport and how to travel safely.  Time to let them fly, just not by helicopter parenting.

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Let Them Be Chickens

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So, it’s official.  I am officially on the PTSA board of our school as of today.  I am still wondering if I have done the right thing, and also just what I have gotten myself into. My default is to jump in with both feet, and have already been brainstorming some fundraising ideas.  I was told to relax, hold back, and take a “let’s see” approach.  That’s not really my style.  On one hand, I am chaos personified.  I’m the mom screeching into the parking lot at the last minute, but I get there.  I am the mom who gets it done, even if it doesn’t look pretty.  There is some method to my madness, and I usually need at least a baseline plan in place to keep the stress levels down.  I’m not very structured, but I need a basic idea of a plan to get started.  At the moment, I’m floundering and I feel dazed.  I’m not a fan. I will therefore sit back, and try very hard not to think too much about things.  It just won’t be easy.  I’m more of a doer than a not think about it type of gal.

After getting voted in, I was chatting with a mom friend about the changes, about summer, after school care next year for her daughter, and she asked how I manage to work from home when the kids are home.  She was surprised by my answer.

“Well, the older one will play video games or read and entertain himself pretty quietly, and the younger one plays outside or with the neighbor kids.  I’m trying this whole “free range parenting” thing out.”

She looked stunned.  The video game comment gave her pause and a raised eyebrow.  The free range parenting comment made her appear quite surprised.

The fact is, my son is an old soul.  He is extremely smart (way smarter that me, to be honest).  He’s responsible, a rule follower, and very mature.  (Not like me).  He gets great grades and is respectful and kind.  That, along with some chores, is his “job”.  As long as he is doing his job, and his grades are good, I don’t sweat the small stuff.  I let him play video games with his friends after school.  Sure, I keep the time down to a decent amount, but I let him play.  It’s a form of socialization, and he enjoys it.  It’s also sparked an interest in coding, which could be good for him.  He accompanied me to the apple store and jumped into a coding class there.  The instructor was very impressed with his knowledge and demeanor.  I may take him for more.  Currently, my son and his bike have disappeared down to the school to go hang out on the field/playground with his friends.  He has his sister’s ipod which has wifi, so he can text me if he needs me.  I’m only a few minute drive away.

The little one looks most forward to racing outside each day.  I can see her from my home office window.  I can call to her.  We have a system, and it works.  She never leaves the front of the house without telling me where she is going.  There are also a group of great kids in the neighborhood that she plays with.  The parents know each other, watch out for the kids, and text each other when kids are on route from one house to another.  It’s working.  I now have a happier child, who enjoys being outdoors and playing with friends.

For years, I have struggled with balance.  Work vs home, fairness  with the kids, and a constant battle of how their childhood is vs mine was.  When my son got older, my daughter was still 4 years younger, so it was easier to keep them both inside.  With my work schedule, there wasn’t any time to just hang with the neighbor kids.  Growing up, I raced home, did homework, and jumped on my bike.  I rode the back roads about a mile from my house to my best friends, and we would go back and forth between our houses, playing, riding, laughing, and making memories.  I did this when I was about 8 or nine.  My parents trusted me to do right, to call when I arrived, and to do be responsible.  And you know what?  I WAS.  I DID.  I called, and I was responsible.  I knew quite clearly that bad behavior, or not doing as I should would eliminate my freedoms.  Looking back, I believe my mom would drive the neighborhood to make sure I was safe and keep an eye on what I was up to.  I fell off my bike once and she was there in minutes, without a phone call.  (no cell phones when I was a kid, folks!).  Nowadays kids have technology at their fingertips.  Luckily they have ipods and the neighborhood is a wifi hotspot, so they can text me if they need me.  That’s more than I had as a kid.

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The fact is, kids were kids, but in many ways, we were more grown up than today’s kids.  We had more freedoms and we learned to handle those freedoms appropriately.  We learned responsibility.  We had street sense.  The small freedoms I received made me feel more grown up, and I behaved better.  Why? Because I didn’t want to lose the privileges I had been given!  Cause and effect is an important learning tool.

It occurred to me one day my kids might not really know how to cross the street safely.  As in, which lane cars drive in, where to look, how to listen for cars, how to double check.  I was horrified.  The fact was though I was always with them and guided them. I started teaching them more street sense.  How to manage if I wasn’t there.  How to be safe, and to help their friends be safe. I started taking them on bike rides, to learn the layout of the neighborhood, where cross walks are, and how to read the traffic signals.  It’s an ongoing lesson, but an important one.  I keep an eye on them, but I am allowing more freedom and choices their way as they get older.

I notice other parents doing the same more than before.  Maybe I’m just more in tune with it because giving the kids so much freedom is a bit daunting at first. The fact is, I am raising future adults.  I have to balance teaching them a healthy dose of reality (ie. stranger danger, car safety, etc) vs teaching them to be independent and responsible.  I need to teach them that outside is where magic happens.  Healthy habits, spending time in nature is good not only for the body, but for the soul.  Not to mention, they sleep AMAZINGLY now.

I’ll still be nervous.  I’ll still keep an eye on them when they don’t know I am watching.  At the end of the day though, this free range parenting, allowing the kids more freedom and responsibility has thus far been a good thing.  The better they do, the better I will do. There are parents allowing their kids to navigate the city by themselves, take the subways, etc.  I’m not there yet.  We’re keeping with the neighborhood and going from there.

 

Little Assholes and The First Ride

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bikeSometimes. kids are little assholes.  As parents, our jobs, should we do it successfully, is to not raise little assholes, but it has to be said, some parents are failing mightily.

Let me explain.

This is the year I have been giving the kids a bit more leeway and independence.  I let them play out in the neighborhood more, my son goes on bike rides with his friend who lives around the corner.  Now that they are a bit older, it’s time to trust them more, and I know they will keep an eye on each other.  I can watch them out the window, or from the front stoop, but they are feeling more responsible and independent.  Part of this was their age, but a big part was knowing at even the little one’s age I was always out playing or riding bikes with friends.  I went out right after homework and stayed outside until the street lights came on.  I had no cell phone.  I was fine.  It taught me responsibility, street smarts, and I got fresh air.  My friends and I all looked out for each other.  It made for a good childhood.

My children, on the other hand, haven’t had as much of that.  With my work schedule, they got home close to dinner time.  After homework, it was already starting to get dark.  I was nervous about them being outside while I was cooking.  There weren’t too many kids on the street.  The result? Too much screen time, not enough fresh air.  Another result? My daughter is almost 8 and couldn’t ride a bike without training wheels.  This never bothered me, and it didn’t bother her either.  That is, it didn’t bother her until the asshole neighbor kid started commenting on it. Then of course, the other kids had to tell the tale of when they learned how to ride a bike. I watched my daughter’s face crumble a bit, then tighten with resolve.

That night, I knew.  I grabbed a wrench and took her training wheels off.

The next day, I took her outside and started showing her how to balance on her bike.  She was nervous, but I could see strains of confidence beginning to appear. Just when I thought we were almost where I could start teaching her to use the pedals, the asshole kid came up.  He started again with the brag.  Not even a humble brag, but a full on, almost neener neener kind of brag.  I tried to be an adult.  I told him she was learning, and it would be more helpful if he cheered her on.  I said “let’s keep it positive!”.

He persisted in his assholish behavior.  I told him to go home.

At that point, I picked up her bike and wrangled it in my car.  “Hop in” I told her, “we’re gonna learn how to ride that bike!”  I drove down to an office park, knowing on a Saturday it would be a ghost town.  We got down to business, practicing balancing.  There was some whining. Some self doubt appeared for both of us.  And then, just like that, her feet hit the pedals.  Remember that scene in Forrest Gump when the braces come off and you see that sudden realization and determination in his face?  That was the same look she had.  Within 10 minutes, she was whizzing around the parking lot.

I clapped.  I cheered.  I danced.  I teared up a little.

I was just so damned proud.  I was proud of her for sticking with it.  I was proud of her grace when that kid was giving her balls.  And, if I’m honest, I’m proud I was able to teach her.  Riding a bike for a kid is a big deal.  I always figured I’d never be able to teach them, and that my husband would be the one to do it.  Yet I managed to teach both kids, and I think they’ll remember it was something I was able to do for them.  Kids remember our successes.  They remember (and sometimes land in therapy because of) our failures.  We don’t get an instruction manual.  We’re winging it every day as parents.  So that little success of “I can do it! I can teach her how to ride that bike!” was LIFE for me in that moment.

Parenting is just like writing a novel.  There are characters and stories, twists and turns, heroes and villains, successes and failures. We as parents work tirelessly, endlessly on our greatest works of art.  Our kids.  We love them, nurture them, and hope that their story will have more smiles than tears, more success that failures.  We are just one character of many in their story, but we play very important parts to that story.

When we got home, she hopped on her bike, and rode is smoothly down the sidewalks and back.  The kid who had given her a hard time came by and was shocked to see her riding without training wheels.  The other kids in the neighborhood also looked surprised.  “You learned to ride that in one day?” he asked her.

Yep, my mama taught me how.”

Best sentence I’ve heard in a long time.

 

 

 

 

 

Hello Loveys!

Well, the first few days of school have come and gone.  My oldest blended in seamlessly.  Actually, he asked us to walk him in on the first day, but after we got just inside the building he announced “ok, I got it from here”.  Secretly I wonder if my husband bribed him with a pack of Pokemon cards to humor me, because I had a tough time with the little one starting Kindergarten.  I’m not sure why it hit me so hard.  Maybe it’s because she looked so little and vulnerable, or maybe because she voiced nervousness, and I was worried if she would enjoy school.  The first day, I went through the car line, and she hopped out, announced “Bye Mommy! Have a great day! I love you, and try not to cry!”  To which I responded by tearing up, trying to catch a glimpse of her in the rearview mirror.  I promptly hit the curb.  My son announced “Did we just hit the curb?  You really need to pull it together.”  And so it began.

My last post was about my fear of getting things in order for the new schedule.  It’s been…..ok.  I tried a few crockpot meals. Once was a success, and the other was an utter failure.  I realized I am not a fan of one pot meals with meat and veg and potatoes all together in the crock.  Everything looked the same color and it skeeved me out.  Oh well, Rome wasn’t built in a day.  The kids didn’t care too much, as I had made the strange and unusual decision to go have ice cream before dinner.  Why? Because it was as hot as the devil’s asshole outside and sometimes, you have to be a rebel.  Ok, I’ll admit it.  I think I was also fueled by the happenings of the day, which were fueled by asshats and sanctimommies. You get that, sanctimommies?  I gave my kids ice cream.  Before dinner!  Take that bitches!

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Let me explain.  Today was, as I mentioned, hot as hell.  Especially for the Northeast in September.  Schools actually closed at half day because it was so hot and despite us paying ridonkulous amount of taxes, our schools have no AC.  Old buildings, building codes, money, safety reasons all contribute to why the schools have no central air or even window units.  Most of the schools in the surrounding towns announced a half day last night.  Not my stellar town, though.  They waited until school was about to start in 5 minutes.  Way to give us time to plan!  Now, I found this irritating, but not as irritating as some.  This was probably due to me assuming that my town would shut down half day but not announce it until the last minute.  I expect this sort of thing, and mentally prepare.  It was inconvenient.  It was piss poor communication.  It was frustrating. I get it.

I went on Facebook, which should be the bane of my existence but is really my addiction, and saw numerous posts on the school and town pages by parents.  I scrolled through the posts and saw lots of people who were pissed that they were told after school started that it would be an early dismissal.  There was one mom, however, who was determined to be the ANGRIEST MOM OF ALL TIME about it, and she demanded that we all bombard the Board of Ed with phone calls.  She was saying such thing as “I will not be calm when it comes to my children!”  Her anger spiraled until it was clear she simply had to be the biggest, baddest mommy of them all, It made my brain curl.  We’ve all seen these moms.  The one that has to be the MOSTEST. They have to be the bestest, the mostest, the most on top of it all, the most defensive of their kids, the most of it all.  They are mostly annoying.   Usually I let it go like water off a duck’s back.  IMG_7008

Another mother posted that while it was frustrating, to call the BOE with our frustrations but to keep in mind it’s the first few days of school, and it should improve.  The other mother got mad.  She will NOT calm down when it comes to her babies!! Calm mom explained she is calm because getting upset on facebook isn’t helping anything, and that if she is calm about the communication flub, her kids will feel calm and that she has control of the situation.  I thought about it.  She made a lot of sense.  That’s when angry mom threw out the gauntlet “I’m glad I don’t have YOUR parenting skills!

Wait…what?

OH NO SHE DIDN’T!  Sweet shit, she DID.  and that is so not ok with me.sc

Look, I have people in my life that I know deep down find my mothering skills not to their liking. I’ve had comments made to my face, and some behind my back. Some I’ve never heard.  The fact is, I have gotten angry about it, but have learned to laugh it off.  I do what I need to do to raise my kids the best way I know how.  I raise them to live in a real world.  I pad that world a little bit, I shield them from the ugliest bits, but they see a lot.  I do what millions of other moms on this Earth do…I do my best.  Sure, there are times I look on something and go “I probably wouldn’t do that again” or “I can do better”.  But I do the best I can with what I’ve got.  Today, my kids ate ice cream before dinner.  And then they snacked on fruit.  Not my best mothering moment, but a happy memory was had by all, they felt like they “got away with something special” and no harm was done.  Tomorrow they’ll get extra broccoli or something and the world will be balanced.  🙂  This will make another mother’s head turn in a 360 degree swivel, and that’s ok.  Not your kids, not your mommy choices.   Sometimes I see other moms doing something that wouldn’t be my style.  I shrug, not my kids, not my choice, not my style, but not my business either. Maybe I don’t agree with that one thing for me, but I DO like how they do such and such.  As long as the kids are healthy and not harmed, it’s not my place to comment on someone else’s parenting.  The fact is, commenting on someone’s parenting is a very, very bad idea for the most part.  Even if the comment passes in the blink of an eye, it’s remembered.  It’s pretty much in bad taste, and a high risk for getting a swift talking to or worse.

Sanctiangrymommy felt differently.  She tossed that comment out there and I, even though it was addressed to someone else, got MAD. It is not ok to shit on someone’s parenting just because it differs from yours.  Even if you think “she’s crazy for doing that” you just don’t say it.  I’ve caught myself on a couple of occasions, and immediately felt guilty.  Who am I to judge?  Maybe it’s the fact that I often second guess how well I am doing.  I work full time, my house is a wreck for much of it (clean enough to be healthy, messy enough to be lived in, yet never good enough for me to be comfortable.) I am often running kids from one place to another, trying to get it all done, and sometimes only succeeding in some of it.  I, like any other parent, sometimes go “Am I doing this ok??” The fact is, I am questioning myself plenty, because I love my kids more than life itself, and don’t want them in a lifetime of therapy or worse. It’s easy to compare yourself to the next parent and say “well at least I am doing that better”.  It’s wrong, but it happens.  Everyone wants to believe we are doing the right thing, because the thought of failing isn’t just failing ourselves, but our kids too.  None of us want to fail our kids. I don’t need other people questioning my parenting, and I surmise you don’t either.  Today made that so clear to me. It’s the sense of self righteousness that angry mom had that she could just roll that insult out there.  To just lay those shitty words out there in a public forum, to a woman she doesn’t know.  Her opinions mean nothing.  But those words just sat there.  Her judgement. Sitting there.

“That is NOT OK”. I responded.

“Puhleeze” she wrote.

I reiterated…that what she did was NOT ok. I kept saying it.  It’s ok to be frustrated, angry, upset, but it is not ok to shit on another parent’s parenting skills that way.

Calm Mom messaged me.  She thanked me for being the one person who stood up for her.  Nobody else did.  I sat…waiting.  Where were the parents, banding together to say “It is not ok.  We are all doing the best we can!”?  I dunno, but not one was to be found.  It bothered me, all damned day.

Seeing other parents supporting each other makes me happy.  Parents that admit their foibles and struggles should be supported, not torn down.  We should be able to laugh good naturedly at our mutual stumbles and strides.  Sometimes, I need some emotional support, to know that I am doing a good job, and I’m sure any of you reading this might enjoy the same.  If you see a mom getting picked on, do what we tell our kids to do…stand up and say something.  Try to be less judgy when it comes to what other parents are doing. Be mindful that what works for one family dynamic may not work for another.   We all do this parenting thing a bit differently, with different styles and views, but we all do it with love. With hope.  It would be nice to do it with some support.

Be kind, be mindful.