Sunday, August 14, 2011

PANIC!!! (or how not panicking may save your child from death via keg stand)

And in our eighth encounter with the police in a year and a half, the policeman asked for my name and number because he wanted to include in his report that the man he had just ticketed had said "fuck" in front of my children. About forty minutes earlier, we had been passed by a cyclist who ran a red, said "fuck yeah", and then was given a ticket by this lovely cop in the undercover SUV. Unfortunately, if saying fuck in front of my kids is a crime, I'm probably due for some time in the clink.

During this conversation with the cop, an ordinary person may have taken the time to tell this officer that the reason I was going north and then south on the same road over this forty minute interval was because I had misplaced my eight year-old, but I really didn't want anyone to panic (anyone besides The Man who was sending me frantic text messages every two seconds).

About a year ago, I got separated from boy one at the grocery store. When I asked someone if they could page him, the reaction was absurd. "Code Adam. Code Adam." Flashing Lights. Security doors closing. I was like, umm, he's probably just browsing, could you just page him to the front please. Luckily, before they could fully implement their code, he sauntered up with a great sale price on a baked good or something.

Apparently, my feelings about not wanting the cops to freak out are shared by the kids because two hours later when I had finally found him, he told me that he had thought about going North on Remington to find us but hadn't because there were cops everywhere, and he didn't want anyone to freak out.

(For those interested in logistics...  We were on a four mile ride. At mile two, Boy One got ahead of us. Boy Two and I continued to ride up, and we turned North onto Remington hoping to see Boy One waiting on the side of the road. Boy One, however, had passed Remington, continued an extra block West, and was waiting for us at the Dairy Queen parking lot. After he got tired of waiting for us, he decided the safest thing to do was to head home. Once there, he went to the grocery store and spent a bunch of his birthday money on candy. He also gave some change to some little girls who were crying becuase their mom wouldn't let them ride the pony. Technically, he's not supposed to go to the grocery store without permission, but I know that once he starts to feel adult, he doesn't stop.)

The freaking out is the problem. (Okay, so maybe the fact that we all got too spread out on our bike ride is the real problem, but we'll deal with that at another time). People are way too freaked out about lost kids. I have been free range since well before Lenore Skenazy ever popped on the scene. Yes, of course, there's probably times when it would do us well to freak out about a lost kid, but for the most part, we probably need to calm down. (Out of all my parenting ideas, this is the one that has the least resonance with anyone I've ever meet.)

And we've been encountering problems about the free range business every step of the way. Many people have taken it upon themselves to tell my kids that they're going to get kidnapped (unlikely, and how about I stand in a parking lot and tell all the kids on their way into minivans that they're going to crash and die which is much more likely). People have told me that I shouldn't let my then three year-old (Boy One in St Paul) walk up and down in front of the house because people are driving around looking for white kids to put into child slavery (no, they're not). The list really goes on and on.

Lately, Boy One has been being teased by his idiot friend the preacher's kid because he's allowed to go to the grocery store and buy candy (I can see the store out my fucking kitchen window) and because he can go a block away and swim with another neighbor. Here's the taunt Boy One has to endure, "My mom actually cares about me and gives me rules. You don't have a good mother." Oh, wow, stick a knife in my heart. (Puh-lease)

I tell him his options are to notice that his friend is jealous, not tell his friend about his adventures, tease him back, or if he wants, I can give him a bunch of extra restrictions if my so-called lax rules are hindering his social life.

Their boundaries are the entire subdivision which is probably a half a mile square with the only caveat being that they cannot enter any houses where I have not meet the parents. Consequentially, I have met a lot of parents. I'd say I know more neighbors than people who have lived in this neighborhood for years, and it was the same in any neighborhood we've lived in. Beyond that, they can go up to three miles away with permission and my phone number. Boy Two has no interest in journeys like that, but Boy One has always been one for adventure.

Back to the freaking out problem. Boy One has an incredible sense of direction and a solid set of instincts regarding people. However, I worry that a simple request like, "Hey, sir, I just broke my leg on the bike path, would you please call my mother, " will have disastrous results like police and investigations and blah blah blah because if we don't totally undermine our kids' sense of independence, we must be bad parents.

That's what I worry about. When, they've gotten ahead of me on the path and arrived home twenty or thirty minutes before me, or when they've gotten separated from me at the library, I've never worry about that not-at-all-ubiquitous old man who's waiting to snatch them. I worry about the fact that other people won't be willing to help them without serious rebukes toward them or me because we're all supposed to micromanage the shit out of our kids.

So maybe the next time we see a kid who wants us to call their mother or a kid who needs directions to somewhere or a kid who is taking a walk on his own or a mother who wants to know if we've seen her kid, maybe we should just chill the eff out, offer help if necessary, and stop adding to the whole culture of PANIC!

Lastly, I'll admit that I have lost the kids a few times (but if you know me, you'll know that I'm the type of person who loses and looks for the glasses that are on her head and the keys that are in her pocket and everything else that isn't so close), but I would far rather have lost the kids a few times then face the alternative.

My neighbor has two ten year-olds who are not allowed to play outside unless under direct adult supervision. Today was the fifth time that I've ever seen them outside in a year and a half. I watched them ride lamely up and down the sidewalk under the gaze of their aunt. They aren't allowed to play with the other kids on the street, and honestly, I don't even know if they're capable of engaging in conversation or making any decisions.

As I watched them, I thought fuck-it (I know, a totally eloquent sentiment): It's important for the kids to be independent, and its important for them to engineer some of their own social relationships (even if I'm not a fan of the idiot preacher's kids). I'd rather spend a few hours looking for a lost kid once a year or so than have a bunch of incompetent lily-livered weirdos who have no sense of how to survive.

PS. I have no idea what lily-livered means, but I'm throwing it in.

PPS. It just seems that if you aren't allowed to venture around your block or hopefully further by age nine, it might be difficult to decide whether or not you want to do meth or have sex or do a keg stand, and those are all decisions that are coming up quickly for these kids.
So if we all calm down and let the occasional kid get lost and found without a heap of hoopla, we might be able to help our kids avoid real dangers like dying from alcohol poisoning after a keg stand because they've never had any practice making real decisions.



  1. As your Uncle G has observed, "Life is a dog from hell."

  2. Every time you write a post please link it on FB. We really should be neighbors. Really.

  3. Boy Two and I finished the 4 mile trek, didn't see Boy One, and were retracing our steps when we ran into the cop the second time. Maybe I've over-reacted, maybe the cop wouldn't have freaked out, maybe he would have just said, "Oh, I can see that your six year-old is riding at the speed of erosion; I'll drive up to the DQ for you and call your cell if your kid is there." It's just based on experience I really doubt that he would have reacted like that. Later Boy One said, "I wasn't too worried. We always find each other." And we do.

  4. I think you'd find the free range idea the norm once you leave the suburbs and cities. In our little town everyone lets their kids freely roam and play about the town and no one thinks ill of it. But we're talking about a really small town where you can walk down a block and find at least half the cars parked with the keys still in them and everyone knows everyone.

  5. For free ranging, yes. unfortunately there's plenty of not so ideal things bout life in small towns.

  6. PLease come talk to the people I call friends... I really am nowhere near as eloquent as you... I just say "fuck" and "fuck it"! A LOT... which is not really helping the cause... they just think I am one of the crazies. I need your help... bring Lenore with you... safety in numbers??? HA! The irony!!! I crack myself up... hahaha... I SAID CRACK TOO! ;)

  7. I'll come talk to your friends as soon as I finish talking to mine. Free-ranging is the idea that I find the least resonance with among all my friends. Even the people that theoretically think it's okay seem to define it a lot differently than I do. For instance, they may say playing the front yard is okay whereas I'll say that playing three or four blocks (or more) away is okay. I think, in general, people need to look at the statistics and then divorce themselves from the things that make them paranoid like local American news stories, shows like CSI, etc.