Monday, January 31, 2011

Day 17

Day 17 - A picture of your biggest insecurity.

Oddly enough, I was discussing this just this weekend. Not that I sit around cocktail parties and lay my insecurities out on the table like cheap booze, but we were talking about a topic that fits into this category: how much freedom you give your kid.

I worry about this. I don't know if it qualifies as an insecurity, but more like a well-worn worry.

When I was a kid (ahh--the phrase that sends teenagers into perpetual eye-rolls) we did some crazy shit. OK, not crazy, but it's not stuff I think I'd let my kid do. I mean, we would hop on our bikes, ride a few MILES across town, past the pedophile's house (luckily we knew which one) to the good park. The one with a lake. And ducks. And grass--unlike the crappy park just a few blocks away that only had one tree, no real grass and a sad set of monkey bars that even monkeys wouldn't climb (no monkeys were ever spied there, and we would not have missed them). Not to mention the roving gang of bullies who were set upon terrorizing even the smallest of sandbox users. All of this before cell-phones. Before anything. I would just call my mom (she was a working single mom) and tell her where we were heading (OK, I would ASK. I wasn't a complete tyrant). And we'd return in time for supper. Occasionally we spoke to strangers. We rode our bikes without helmets. We outran dogs. And we were happy as all get-out...and our hair remained as we intended it, rather than sporting a post-bike coif that would be a pitiful combination of the hairstyles of one-to-three Stooges.

Of course this deserves a disclaimer. I grew up in a small Indiana town. I recognize that kids who grew up at the same time in big cities may not have had this freedom. But they still had more than our kids will.

Even if Ben WAS a neurotypical child, I don't know that I would be able to just let him "go to the park" and trust he would be back in an hour. Or to just let him ride off on his bike, as long as he was in "shouting range" which was my range as a kid (lucky for me my mom had a big voice that allowed for a multi-block radius within which i was free to wreak havoc).

Of course, that's a moot point, since Ben is NOT neurotypical. He really has a poor sense of danger (he has a little--which puts me in the slightly lucky category of Autism moms). I mean, he can take a tumble and protect his head like a natural, but he's got no idea about staying out of the street. And he won't bolt much anymore, but he will wander if not being given the stink-eye. So, I let him ride his trike without a helmet (go ahead, gasp and call child protection, I'll wait) but I think that may be the extent of his living dangerously. He will never have even a modicum of the freedom I had as a kid. And I worry that I will be depriving him of some of the vital life lessons learned beyond the gaze of the parental eye, such as:

1) Geese are mean. I mean MEAN. One should never try to feed ducks stale bread if geese are around. Unless you wanna get pecked. Some of my worst childhood injuries were during escapes from geese. And some of my most colorful pre-teen language, as well.
2) When you are the oldest in a group, you have to watch out for others. Which is a cool way to play grown-up, but it really cuts into playtime. It's really the best way to teach responsibility and the earliest form of birth control.
3) Penny candy is easily stolen from a local store, especially if there are a bunch of you. But it's gotta be a team effort, and you have to watch out for other store employees--especially the stink-eye kind. You know the ones: they sneer when you walk into the store in the first place. As if the store's owner doesn't want me to drop by and pay a 40-cent markup on a Zagnut™.
4) Some things are best left untold to parents. Secrets are the beginning of developing a sense of self, and is the one child lesson that scares parents the most.
5) When adults are drinking and carousing, this is a good time to sneak things--just stay out of sight and earshot.
6) While it's good to be free of the fetters of nosy parents, coming home to a hot meal is also good. For some kids, this lesson sticks until you have to force them to get a job and move out of the basement.

So, aside from putting a chip in his neck like the dog, or putting a GPS tracker in his shoes, I will have to develop a way to help Ben learn these lessons without turning him completely loose on the rough-and-tumble streets of Studio City. And honestly, I am not sure the Studio City can handle this much awesome.


Debi Smith said...

Studio City isn't big enough for that much awesome! You make a great point that even neurotypical kids don't have as much freedom as we did as kids. It's sad that kids don't just go over to their friend's house, knock on their door, and ask if their friend can play anymore. Everything is about play dates and scheduling. Not to mention protecting them from the dangers of said pedophiles and other ne'er-do-wells.

I have every confidence that you'll be able to think up something outside the box for Ben to learn those important life lessons as he grows. :D

And what is with Blogger today? it won't verify my OpenID credentials. o.O

Sherri said...

We had the pleasure of listening to Wendy Mogel lecture yesterday (author of "Blessings of a Skinned Knee") - she wrote a new book about parenting teens (which is why I was there) called "Blessings of the B-".

She spoke about exactly this idea - that kids have so little time and freedom away from the watchful eyes of parents. She said (hopefully i'm remembering this right) that the ability to make good decisions comes from wisdom, wisdom comes from experience, and experience comes from making bad decisions.

I've always struggled to give my kids the right balance of appropriate independence. It starts when they're little and the distance grows as they get older. Now that Gaby is 14, she can walk to Ventura Blvd with her friends and loiter in Urban Outfitters, Joel can now take the city bus to a few places. Of course, he has been much less willing to take those independent steps and has needed more structure, practice, patience and persistence. I'm thankful that he has come as far as he has - every step forward is a step forward.

Ben has time - as he gets older, there are camps and clubs and all kinds of places that he can grow and practice his independence.

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