Last night my daughter was escorted home by a policeman. Officer Cody, I believe. Why? Well, some “well-meaning” person called when he/she saw her walking down Riverside – this would have been about 7:30 PM. She was on her way home from the YMCA; after her swim team practice she wanted to swim swim swim some more. I asked if she wanted to stay longer and ride the bus home; she said yes. She asked me to stack four quarters in her locker and she told me where her locker was, then ran off to swim swim swim some more.
The bus system here? Not so much. Not so great. After my daughter finished her swim, dressed, and walked to the bus stop she waited. And waited, waited, and waited; and finally began walking home (it’s about a 1 3/4 mile walk). She was fine with all this; so am I really (I am sad about our bus system which has very long delays, ugh). Sophie always has bus and phone-fare with her (no cell phone – I want her to learn how to think instead of calling me over every little thing and Hey, about that safety stuff? All those teens walking around crossing streets with their heads down as they text? No Fanks). Officer Cody, after getting the call about this little girl walking at all hours of the night, or whatever, found her, parked, walked over to the sidewalk, and asked if she needed a ride. “Sure!” she said. A few minutes later she was home and we received the officer, assured him we knew where she was, and thanked him for his kindness. He said something like, “We just like to know parents know where their kids are – you know, with all the goings on in McCleary.”
Right. You mean all the people around here extra-keyed up about child abduction – although they hardly need a local event for that sort of hysteria, given our media prods the kidnapped (and/or murdered) child meme with more grotesque exploitation than a Girls Gone Wild video series.
I’m tired of arguing statistics in my head whenever someone writes our local paper and says you cannot leave a child unattended for ninety seconds (no really, this happened a couple months ago), or I read in Dear Abby’s advice column the tactic of giving your kids a walkie-talkie to use any time they enter the public bathroom (dear reader, just sit for a while. Think on that one for a few moments. It is truly breathtaking) and taking a picture of them each time you shop because they may be snatched – and that way you have an up-to-date photo (I wish I was making this up!). I’m tired of pointing out that the odds are greater for lightening strike, that there are four million children in America – and about a hundred are abducted by strangers each year. I’m tired of pointing out crimes rates against children have gone down since the seventies and eighties: if you feel you had a “safe” childhood but today it’s “different”, well, you’re correct – in terms of crime it’s actually safer for your child today than it was for yourself. I’m tired of putting down the media and the “CSI” television shows (one show is all about rape! Wheee!) and the graphic portrayals of child torture and molestation – some of our worst fears exploited cruelly for ratings. I’m tired of pointing out there is no age restriction on unsupervised kids in this state (and only two states have that in effect) to the many, many who think there are. I’m tired of asking people, “Hey, do you know how long you’d have to leave your kid outside out of supervision if you wanted them abducted?”* and how the person I’m talking to doesn’t care (ever!), because that person wants to believe the world is scary and that I should do this or that to prevent bad things happening to my kids- whom they think they care more about than I do (P.S. at the point you’re believing that, you’re an asshole, see the end of my post for more information).
No. Because those who want to be fearful do not want to hear facts, or maybe my facts seem suspect but television’s seem real (!!!). All I can tell you is: I’m not trying to sell you anything, or titillate you, or even convince you to parent the way I do. I just want to be allowed to continue my way.
And I would, really, like to address this Good Samaritan, or more specifically the kind of person I imagine might have called in – or perhaps the people who watch or read here or see my kids go out and about and think, “I would never let my kid do that.” Because even though the anonymous call-ins cause some trouble for me, I’m trying to hold some goodwill, and I’d like to share my own thoughts, since you voiced your opinions on my choices. And if in any way I could help anyone think a bit differently about our Children and Danger and ZOMG it’s a Scary Place Out There! I will feel I have done something good today.
I find the “I will do whatever it takes to keep my child safe” mentality is actually rather common in my (white, middle-class, American) sphere; few parents rise to overcome the fears and hurts buried deep and disguised with “I care so much I will always err on the ‘safe’ side” – which feels so good to say, and it feels so good to believe you can keep your child safe from Life or the horrid, horrid things that sometimes happen to Innocents. Few parents do the hard work of examining the harmful effects of this type of parenting – which can last a lifetime for children – and making sensible changes. Few parents think about the logical extensions for that sort of thought process, which (though humorous) make our desire for Security and Control so painfully self-evident and to me betray that in so many ways, so many parents haven’t really grown up after all. Most parents do what the herd does; if they hear you can’t let a kid unsupervised until twelve they believe that’s true, believe that law makes sense because it’s a law (oops! it’s not), and decide to follow it. After all, this means they don’t have to think too hard and it fosters the [false] belief that if they follow the rules their children will remain safe.
And these parents? I do not call them names nor point to their children – unable to bicycle or walk to the kinds of things they’d love to go do, passive to the point of boredom and constantly needing sheep-dog parenting, unequipped to handle money or catch a bus or do much besides crave video games and television and entertainment – living a curious life devoid of the joy that is innate in almost every child fed and loved and allowed to grow freely; later in life, adults and oddly afraid to take risks, entitled and bored and feeling the world owes them entertainment and a living, not understanding how they are buried in student loans with no idea what they want to do with their life, feeling a nameless dread and anxiety about going out into the world – with scorn. I really don’t. I feel compassion and I invite these children, young and adult, into my life. Regularly.
Because I understand, I really do, why their parents raise(d) them this way (and by the way, I’ve been that adult child described above).
Back on point, and hopefully to demonstrate how much I get it: I understand you love your kids. Or if you’re child-free, you think people should take “proper” care of their kids. For the moment you believe I don’t love mine or I’m not properly caring for them, but let’s put that aside for now. Because I really do think I understand you, if you don’t yet understand me.
I understand how comforting it is to believe that because you do not allow your child to walk to the corner store or go anywhere alone you are assuring their safety. I understand how nice it must be to believe, driving in your mini-van to their scheduled activities, that there are naive and irresponsible parents (hi!) and those are the people who bad things happen to (and they kind of deserve it, even if their precious children don’t!) and that these things won’t happen to you and your kids because you are a parent smart enough to care and precisely avoid risks – even though, of course, but it bears mention, being the passenger in a car is the number one killer of children.**
I want to take a minute to remind you that you are operating from a position of privilege in this regard. Since you are parenting basically according to a publicized mainstream, your many “safe” choices (like the driving, and teaching kids that danger comes from menacing strangers, while Oops! avoiding the unpleasant likelihood it’s more likely their babysitter, or your brother or father or neighbor, who might for instance molest your child, and the very act of teaching children to always “wait for a grown-up to help you” repeated over the years puts them in the position of always deferring to “trusted” grown-ups who are pretty free to betray that trust) will not be constantly vilified or called into question. If you teach kids, “Don’t let anyone touch your privates, EVAR!” many adults will sagely nod that is the Right Thing To Hammer Home and you Can’t Say It Enough. I mean, nevermind the uncomfortable reality that kids’ privates are theirs, really, just like the rest of them and soon enough they’ll actually want someone to touch them in the crotchal regions, and feeling a lot of shame about how PRIVATES are a source of secrecy and a coveted prize for hordes of perverts such that anyone who wants them is a Big Scary Creep and under no circumstances until marriage should anyone have access – even when you want them to, and um, how should I figure out when that is OK? – might be a bit confusing when they start thinking about their own sexual agency, because I hate to tell you this but when people feel shame and secrecy around sex they get up to all kinds of trouble, Oops! again. My point – at least in this paragraph – is you operate from privilege; you get to parent in such ways that the majority of our public social sphere will tell you that you are Right and Good to take these (over-)precautions, and that is a big factor that’s allowing you to operate daily without too much stress in these regards – or less stress than if you choose to do things differently – and may be influencing you in a way that’s really not best for you or your kids, because if your ideals aren’t called into question much then you don’t need to examine them and take the risk and do the work of painful change (a process that can be called “maturity”).
And even though I do not agree that the deep dread of danger and hurt at how shitty the world can be should be an organizing principle in the amazing, wonderful privilege of stewarding and raising our children – who are so goddamned precious, they really fucking are – I also understand how, in today’s culture and social climate, that organizing principle is so tempting for so, so many. And I imagine it must be nice to never or rarely have your “just in case!” overprotective parenting choices called into question for their very real effects: the risk of depression in teens and young adults, for instance, who haven’t experienced enough freedom and autonomy, or kids who run into trouble using drugs because they can’t feel joy in life otherwise, or girls who turn into women who are doormats, because we’ve authoritatively douched up so many of their choices (see: PRIVATES, above), or girls who are told they’re too Bossy to be Liked, so they lose their authenticity and their willingness to take risks because Mom or Dad told them being Liked is so very, very important, or boys who grow into date rapists because they learn the world is organized into Creeps and Those Who Weren’t Wily Enough To Avoid Being Victimized, the latter blamed so often for their own victimization. At times I envy your position in that you will never have the police called, or television programs constantly yammering on and on about what a bad or stupid parent you must be for being so “safe” and so caring in raising your children according to these principles. (I do not envy your position that you own and watch television, however; my life is far better without.)
It also must feel nice to be so safe (a privilege I share): let’s face it, as a white middle-class American (as I imagine the majority of my readers are) things are pretty good for your kids. Why not jump into the assumption that things are or should be perfectly safe and that you must stamp out even the smallest risk to make life easier and more comfortable? You know, for your kids. Like a friend who told me, “I want her to take risks, but while I’m watching her.” (Pssst! Those aren’t really “risks”! Sorry!)
I understand it’s too hard for some of you (childfree or no) to be a “village” for kids. Here is how I see your thought process: kids are scary and confusing for many of us, since we were raised rather segregated and aren’t used to them. Some kids behave badly, and they’re just Shits and someone (else!) should deal with that. Even “good” kids are unpredictable and seem kind of fragile (whisper-P.S.: they’re not, especially when they’re allowed the process of Growing!) and impulsive and they need to be controlled and corralled. They should also be protected at all costs, because protecting them is right, even if they never learn how to walk or fly or be strong or protect themselves or advocate for their own needs. The “Good Samaritan” who sees my kid walking does not want to do the work of pulling over, heralding the child herself, and asking if the child needs help. No, it is far easier to pick up the phone and dial a simple number, report the incident to the police. The authorities will surely straighten it out; the “Good Samaritan” can go her way feeling she did what she should (and she’s a good person!), and maybe she will believe there are so many crazy, irresponsible parents (hi again!), and someone should be sorting that all out, even though she’s too unsure how to do anything much of all. So in a way, Samaritan, you are wailing and gnashing your teeth and “What about the CHILDREN?!”-ing, but you yourself display a terror and lack of competence and experience that is truly profound (although I’m sad to say, common); I would be happy to share my thoughts with you on how you might be more helpful, effective, relaxed, and joyous, if you’re interested. (You’re probably not.)
Let me point out: this is only how I imagine you, Samaritan, to be, based on previous experience and accounts of these actions from strangers. Please correct me if I’m wrong.
Now, I’ve probably lost you a bit. You probably don’t like the way I’m characterizing your actions. Let’s see if we can agree on one point at least:
I understand that the Monster, the hideous most terrible thought of Pedophile & Child Killer, is horrid. He’s so despicable most of us wish he wasn’t real; most of us would do anything not so much to protect ourselves but to Eliminate The Possibility It Will Ever Happen To Me Or Anyone I Know And I Won’t Have To Admit Life Can Be Awful. I understand your revulsion and I share it. When I think about someone hurting my kids or holding my kids against their will I get crazy-stabby and I feel like I could kill, not just feel anger but really really imagine myself a murderess (weirdly, the closest I’ve yet come to having my children removed has been calls by strangers to the authorities re: my kids’ “safety”). I am not immune to this fear; some nights it grips my chest in an icy hold as I lie next to my sweetly sleeping child. I know the thought of such a being – this monster – is so scary that it is tempting to live a life according to his spectre in the desperate hope we and our loved ones could avoid pain because (despite what Dalton says), pain hurts.
The difference between you and I… well, I don’t live as if the monster is hunkered behind every bush, because that would do my kids a great disservice, a lifetime of disservice, which I could go on further at length (but won’t, for now). I do the hard work of paying attention to my kids and giving them every freedom possible when they’re ready even if I don’t feel I’m completely ready. Oh, and I really do know when they’re ready – more than you do, Stranger.
Others have said all the above many times, and better than I can; somehow the topic wears me out, but nevertheless I try to communicate it.
Oh, and let me remind you, I really do love my children. So much more than you care about them. Just in case you were, you know, completely and willfully ignorant.
Last night a few hours after Sophie got home she lay next to me sleeping and her hand found mine while she slumbered. She threw her arm, then a leg over my body and sighed in her sleep; she seemed troubled, although she’d had a happy and active day. I rubbed her back and whispered, “I’m here, it’s OK…” and I felt tears in my eyes, because every day my children astound me. Because Yes They Can, they can do so very much, and they can be competent and strong and live with a deep happiness that is a privilege and a joy to behold.
At least in her sleep last night she was clingy and wanted me; when she’s like this, I hold her when I can.
And when she wants to fly, I let her.
* 750,000 years. No, really.
** No, really.