Tell Me All About It
August 28th, 2016
Miss Mouse rode around the block on her bicycle this weekend. All by herself. For the first time ever. I admit that I had mixed feelings about this feat of childhood independence. On the one hand, I was nervous the entire time she was out of sight. On the other, I realize her journey was wildly overdue. The fact that my nearly-eight-year-old had never traversed the neighborhood alone before is definitely a sign of the overprotective times.
Rationally, I totally get that. On paper, I am a big advocate for allowing children to practice self-sufficiency. The idea of “Free Range Kids” resonates with me and I applaud parents who are willing to empower their children. In reality, though, it’s hard. I’m not paralyzed by the thought of Stranger Danger (child abduction rates have been steadily declining for decades and kids are actually safer than they have ever been) but I do worry a lot about accident and injury. I can conjure alarmingly clear visions of car wrecks involving seven-year-olds and mangled bright orange bicycles. Despite my apprehension, I let her go for the ride, heroically resisting the urge to cover her in bubble wrap before letting her set out.
She took off, pedaling furiously, and disappeared around the corner. I waited. Two minutes passed. Three. Five. And there she came, whizzing up the street, glowing with pride and hollering – “I’m going around again!” – as she flew by. When she got back, she regaled me with the tale of her excursion. How she’d navigated the hill on the adjoining street, how she’d remembered to stay to the side when a car went by, how she’d waved to a friend in their yard.
I can’t be present for every important moment of her life. This reality has become more undeniable in the wake of my divorce. My children now spend a full 50% of their non-school hours away from me and that can be hard – particularly for a hyper-involved parent like me. I am on the ball, folks. I know the names of all my kids’ friends, RSVP to every birthday party, (almost) always remember to bring snacks when requested, attend every soccer game, and used to run the PTO.
But I can’t maintain that level of daily engagement anymore. I won’t be on duty for every birthday party. Snack day will sometimes fall on a non-custody day. Their dad is stepping up and stepping in. This makes me a little twitchy, but ultimately I realize it’s a good thing, for the kids and for me and for him.
My children need to have the freedom to have an adventure by themselves, and then come back and tell me all about it. They need lives and identity and experiences apart from me. Sooner, rather than later. It turns out, I don’t have to attend every single softball game to be a good mom. I can listen to my daughter give me the play-by-play the next evening. Who got a hit, who struck out, and how her teammate got flattened by a baserunner but was totally tough about it.
So I’m letting her ride her bike by herself – after I taped a label with our address and phone number to her bike in case of emergencies involving incapacitating head trauma. (Listen, it pays to be prepared.) She’s giddy with the freedom and I’m practicing taking deep calming breaths and not freaking out. Much.