A mom struggles with keeping her son safe, and letting him explore the neighborhood.
This summer, I’ve teetered on a seesaw between granting new freedoms to my future third-grader and controlling his life.
He craves his independence, and until now I’ve been able to labor under the illusion that I can manage his environment — everything from what he watches on TV to the radio stations he listens to and the beverages he drinks … or doesn’t.
It wasn’t until he went off and spent his own money on a handheld radio at a garage sale in May that he discovered classic rock with less-than-desirable lyrics.
“I like that hard rock stuff, Mom,” he told me before jamming out with his air guitar.
I hesitated to answer, suddenly thrust into the decidedly uncool role of “censor” — which is, of course, what I had been doing on the sly for years.
The next time we were in the car and I happened upon that Guns N’ Roses anthem “Welcome to the Jungle,” I cranked the volume, determined to raise my guitar credentials. I even screeched out a few lyrics. (Yes, I’m that pathetic.)
And I understand there are far worse things for a parent to worry about than whether or not your kid is drinking the occasional soda from the 50-cent pop machine at church or learning how to change stations on the TV.
It’s a dangerous world out there, people. Or maybe not.
Author Lenore Skenazy doesn’t think so. Dubbed “America’s Worst Mom” after she let her 9-year-old ride a familiar route on a New York subway by himself, she wrote a book titled “Free Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts.”
She offers statistics that crimes against children have dropped significantly since the 1970s — although the media’s fascination with child kidnappings and tragic occurrences leads everyone to believe otherwise.
“Mostly, the world is safe,” she writes. “Mostly, people are good. To emphasize the opposite is to live in the world of tabloid TV. A world where the weirdest, worst, least likely events are given the most play.”
Yet, we persist in restricting our children in otherwise healthy pursuits like playing outside, exploring their surroundings and making mistakes on their own. Fear drives us. Fear that our child will be the one case in a million where something goes terribly wrong, and we could have somehow prevented a horrible outcome by better controlling the child’s environment.
Last week, my son approached me about riding his bike by himself through the neighborhood ... on the street ... where cars roam and UPS drivers barrel down the hill.
“I’ll keep a close eye out for cars, Mom,” he promised. “And I’ll check in with you.”
I took a deep breath and studied his face closely. The scenario of squealing tires followed by a mangled bike and crumpled body emerged briefly before I stuffed it back down. He looked so hopeful that I smiled at him.
“Please be extremely careful and stay to the right,” I said. “And don’t go anywhere near the highway.”
“I won’t,” he said. “Thanks, Mom. You’re the best.”
And I am ... until I’m not.
It hasn’t been that long since I was a kid. Even I remember how a bicycle carries you away from the familiar confines of one’s yard like a bird on a breeze.
Freedom is exhilarating, I thought, as he pedaled off our driveway and up the hill.
I forced myself to saunter to the front door and watched until I couldn’t see him any longer.
Julie Kaiser is a freelance writer and columnist living in Chatham, Ill. Her column runs every other week. State Journal-Register.