“Is there a reason the cat is eating frozen peas off the living room floor?” my husband asks me this afternoon.
Now before I answer that, first off, it’s endearing he says “the cat”, sort of casual as if we have one, as if our life isn’t sort of a constant Feline Shame Parade and it could be any staggering leggy fleabitten beast in any state of disarray doing Lord Knows What. And of course he’s not even accusing me much, his voice is almost mild and vaguely sedated, he’s been a daddy for many years now and is used to Whatever Is Going On (or has he puts it a minute later, “Clown House”, while doing a funny penguin walk) and that he might come home to total Chaos or Preternatural Domestic Calm and it’s really anyone’s guess as to which one, wheeee!
And actually there is a reason. For the peas. But before I get to that it’s confusing Ralph is even here at 2:30 PM (turns out he needed to pick up something at home then head back to work), and now what is really troubling me is how I’m going to relate the fact that we’d made a little run to the recycled clothing shop (hat for Nels) and the bookstore (Christmas book for Phoenix, shhh!) then stopped at the little charity shop where I donate my well-organized sewing scraps (they love us there!), and the proprietress at this latter venture gave my children these tiny little noisemakers that play incessant tinny Christmas tunes, and I was thinking it’s funny one kindness many grownups show small children is to give them either candy or noisemakers, and I don’t really think they’re being sadistic haw haw, just sweet (and it is sweet!), and it was kind of funny how the kids were playing these horrid things when we got coffee at the diner and I’d thought it might annoy customers but the two people sitting closest to us were profoundly deaf (for real), so a few minutes later we’d pulled up at home and I was going out of my mind with the repetitive Christmas carol MIDI crap and I leaned down in the car to rescue the box I’d carried my fabric scraps in from the footwell and I’d brought my arm up just as Nels leaned down to help me and the corner of the box caught him right in the eye and he howled in anger and I realized this was the first time (I think) I’d ever hurt him like this and quick as a flash I got him inside and wet a dishtowel and wrapped it around a few frozen peas in a plastic bag and set him on the couch and Phoenix entertained him on YouTube for a few minutes while I put away groceries and went pee and hopped on the computer and –
I guess the bag, you know the one with the peas, it had a hole in it.
Despite odd and weird and disconcerting mini-drama (due to our quick action Nels barely has a scratch evidenced) it’s been a good day. Over coffee I asked my mom for a loan to buy fabric for Christmas sewing and – gasp! – sewing for myself. Tonight we have a friend over for a sleepover and after the girls took an adventure (“We’re going to play in a ditch,” Phoenix informed me airily) we cleaned up and visited the gallery for their Winter Christmas Show (where we met new people and the kids made a straight beeline for the appetizers). Back home I slogged away at some sewing (a baby bunting, exactly no one is surprised) while Ralph made dinner (turkey meatballs over fettucine with almond pesto, salad with butter lettuce, cherry tomatoes, carrot and cuke, and lemon broccoli) and then we bathed the kids and I folded all the laundry and some of the cats rolled around in ecstasy –
warm house, yule tree, friends, red wine, B-movie, blankets and soft laughter.
Great quote! Thank you for the good laugh.
I’m curious. Would you say that your acceptance of having (for lack of a better term) “free range kids” arrived in an instant, or did you piece it together over time?
I ask because I’m having a difficult time imagining myself calmly endorsing the random adventures of my youngest if they are outside my circle of control (even after she gets a little older). I’m not saying that I will never do it. I’m just not feeling much of a change within my habits when it comes to “allowing” her to wander freely. I’m just not feeling it yet and I’m wondering if it’s likey to just happen all at once or if it is more likely to be a gradual thing.
I’m probably over-thinking it, but when I read stuff like â€œWeâ€™re going to play in a ditchâ€ I get all whoozy imagining myself in your place. Even though I’ve had many similar adventures as a kid, I’ve long since accepted that “I was lucky”. I don’t really believe that, but it fuels the fear none the less. I support adventures like these with all my heart, but the shadow of the responsible parent crushes down on me.
Worrying about worrying. Does it ever end?
By now I probably don’t need a disclaimer, but I can’t help it. I’m not judging your choices. I’m inspired by every independent adventure your kids take. I’m just sorting things out for myself is all.
…”responsible parent” should be in quotes I think because it’s subjective. I never was very good at grammaticalizing words and such.
No, you don’t need a disclaimer. 🙂 As always your comments are ones I particularly enjoy and look forward to.
You know I often think on the issues you’re voicing, because I come across lots of parents and carers who have fears like the ones you talk about, or ones related to not schooling (of course), and people trust me enough to air them. And when a parent/carer shares these with me like you have here I don’t really automatically separate their fears into “sensible” vs. “overblown” because the fears are real no matter what and I can relate to them – I’ve had and still have some of those fears, or I at least see how common many of them are. And I don’t wave them away when someone is vulnerable and admitting them. Whether you believe we are spiritual or just the planet’s smartest ape (or both) we have the capacity to feel Fear, and who doesn’t understand that? No matter if if we have specific fears or not, their presence or absence don’t keep us safe nor put us in peril necessarily as so much is outside our control. There is nothing, nothing guaranteed in life. Except our eventual death maybe.
So I’m guessing that cheers you up. Hee.
So my point is, as gonads-out as I live in lots of ways, I am completely sympathetic to the fears and worries of other parents and I understand down to my core how much they love, love their children. Even if my life looks more “risky” I do not routinely sit there and (silently or otherwise) tut-tut those who do things differently out of the twin experiences of deep love for their children and yes, fear. My biggest challenge is being sympathetic and a good listener to those who express their fears by loudly squawking about MY choices (or other parents’) as being neglectful or Ruining America or whatever… that often triggers a repsonse to argue or to fight. But I’m getting better at that.
To get more to your queries: not only was it not that long ago I would have had trouble letting my daughter go off outside where I couldn’t see her (though she has demonstrated an intelligence and tact and self-safety and awareness that is truly staggering) but even today I will suddenly have an episode where I need to see her, and soon. I will suddenly worry for her or hold her image in my mind and see her as so vulnerable and fragile and I’ll see her as someone who could be snatched or maligned or hurt. When I see her again I ask if I can hold her and I often talk to her about it but I own my fears as mine. She is a wonderfully understanding audience and she continues to demonstrate a surety about just WHAT she feels safe doing and what she doesn’t. She also seems to understand my fears without the result of my fears scaring her. This is a huge blessing.
Her surety and her track record (which in no small part our parenting has helped develop – if we’d always “known best” and orchestrated so much of her life like so many parents do, she would have had far less of a chance to grow her skills and competences) helps vindicate, daily, that she is “safe” (or as safe as anyone can be while still Living). This helps me. But like I said, I am not immune to fear.
Tangentially I am thinking about my daughter now… I have so many examples of Phoenix’s sense of personal safety and self-protective measures. One is from her year in kindergarten: on day three or something she injured herself between the legs while climbing out on the playground. She ended up with a few abrasions on her vulva. I got a call from the school because though the nurse wanted to administrate first aid to her, Phoenix (then Sophie) wanted me to help her because of where the injury was. Keep in mind we’ve never given our kids the “don’t ever let a stranger touch you” speech. It was her own sense of body autonomy and who she felt was Right for the job. She was so wee, so young, and she has always been perceived as polite and docile to many grownups but as you can see, she had enough nerve and knowledge to say “no” to the nurse on this. I brought her some clean panties and helped her and asked if she needed to go home and calm as anything she said No, quite cheerfully, and finished out the day.
I could write pages more about her, and my son, specifics and anecdotes. We have given them freedoms (sometimes with some trepidation) then observed and thus continue to form accurate representations of who they are and what they can handle. Sometimes I think I know the hearts and the minds of my children better than many parents and carers precisely because I have allowed them so much independence under a deeply-loving observational eye and because I continue to improve on my understanding that their lives are Theirs, not Mine.
There is no point in feeling guilty about your fear. There also may be little or no point to risking something you truly are knees-shaking scared of (or even that makes you feel whoozy), especially if you have a traumatic past (and we all have traumas, some big, some small). Or maybe there is a point to the risk – it’s for you to decide. In any case I think it’s important that our first step, without thinking of other steps, is to acknowledge our feelings and accept them and stay with them a while. We don’t have to make any big decisions today nor suddenly thrust our children into X, Y, or Z before we’re ready. This is likely to be harrowing for us and may do them a disservice (although many kids can handle things their parents do not think they could).
It gives me pain to think any might read here and then further worry they are not “free range” enough. What I’d hope anyone reading here might do is start to learn their own fears and limitations and bathe these in awareness. Regarding parenting, my goals and focusses aren’t about whether a kid aged X should be “allowed” to do thing Y, or a kid performing a particular feat or feats that will prove we’re “good parents”. We cannot parent well for very long if we do not know the practice of extending ourselves compassion, first and foremost.
Your daughter likely feels deeply safe and loved and that is something that’s going to give her a basis for her own risk-taking on her own time, and with your help. You are very in tune with her as a person and you’re already giving her such a loving environment. Ditch-playing is a secondary concern – but a delightful enterprise.
It sounds like I’m on the right track then.
“She also seems to understand my fears without the result of my fears scaring her” is my primary concern right now. I do my best to explain things to her and answer her questions, hopefully providing useful information whithout scaring her.
Thanks once more for a well thought out and complete reply.