Our house was like Grand Central this weekend, with the neighborhood boys streaming in and out. We love these Social Sundays, especially now that I’ve gotten over the early bittersweet of my baby forming his own world without me.
Then that day came another milestone.
After playing with his friends on our street, Fred asked if he could go to Brian’s house, 2 blocks away. Straight path, no traffic. It seemed high time for him to go there on his own.
When it turned out Brian was still eating lunch, Fred came back and asked if he could go to Kyle’s house, a more complicated path 4 blocks away within our subdivision. Again, we said yes.
An hour later, Fred came back with Kyle and asked if they could go to the park. The neighborhood park is a little under 10 minutes away by foot, and up until that point Fred had never gone there without an adult. It’s not that we had forbidden it; he simply never asked and we never had to think about it. But today it came up, and again, we said yes.
I was surprised to feel relieved. Max, too, added, “This is how boys should live.” Coming from a country where kindergarteners commute alone on public transportation, Max has since adopted my American wariness and done his fair share of standing guard at playgrounds. But we always recall our own stories of how much more carefree our childhoods had been: how Max traveled alone from one end of Japan to the other at the age of 9, how I was walking 3 blocks through traffic in a much rougher neighborhood to catch the school bus when I was 8.
I didn’t realize how exhausting it was to fear and worry…not about safety from speeding cars or kidnappers but about how to make sure we don’t overprotect Fred.
In the second it took for me to calibrate the risks of letting Fred go to the park, I asked myself what it was that I was fearing: Was it child molesters? Traffic? Getting lost? Given our neighborhood, getting lost was the greatest risk, but even that was basically nil. There was more to lose by holding Fred close.
But I will tell you the bigger anxiety I had that day, once I’d let him go.
I wasn’t worried about Fred getting to and from the park safely, or being safe while playing at the park. I worried about what he would do – from now on – when there is no adult to say, “No, don’t do that.” My mind flashed back to all those stories of dumb pranks performed by my perfectly intelligent male friends, antics that helped build up my earlier vow never to have a boy. But you know, writing this, I am ashamed to admit to my own fair share of regrettable choices and dumb behavior. This latest milestone made it clear that I have entered that parenting stage where the most important thing I can instill – and rely on – is my child’s good judgment.
And suddenly potty training feels like a breeze compared to trying to shape a child’s moral compass and self-control.
This post took me three days to write. I didn’t know where to go after the above paragraph. Then, in trying to find my direction I ran up against this question again: What is it that I’m afraid of? Has Fred chosen bad friends? Has he made poor choices in judgment? Has he given me any reason so far to worry that he will one day binge drink at his first fraternity party (because, you know, that worry ranks right up there with doing bike wheelies and entering hotdog eating contests) ?
One of the incidents that triggered my worries was how oblivious Fred became to me as soon as his friend told him she was organizing a neighborhood talent show. He became so giddy he ignored my warning that it was dinner time, and threw himself at the piano to practice Jingle Bells, his latest and proudest piece.
After I’d gained some perspective, I realized, it’s Jingle Bells, not crack.
So, after more than eight years as a mother, I’m learning to let go…to let go of not my child, but my fears.