Thank you to my friend Polli for uploading this article onto her Facebook newsfeed this morning:
Now you have to know Polli. She’s one of those moms with 6 kids and a clean kitchen. I could never figure out how she did it. Plus, she threw great parties and was the most welcoming hostess ever. The neighborhood adored her, and for some reason, she decided to befriend me. I was ecstatic to help her with flower arrangements for beach weddings and to call on her at anytime for parenting advice. I remember distinctly complaining about not being able to get the Rocker up for school, despite 3 alarm clocks, and she matter-of-factly said, “If he misses the bus, he walks.” Brilliant. I remember using this same philosophy many times. My motto was ‘to learn responsibility, you must give them some responsibility.’ Was I a bad parent? And BTW, we lived about a half mile down a dead-end street and the kids had to ride their bikes to the main drag to get the school bus. At some adolescent point – that being before they got a driver’s license – riding bikes was just not cool. But no parent drove their kids to the bus stop or waited for their return, unless it was sleeting freezing rain. I wonder if they are doing that now?
And I wonder, would I allow my 9 year old to ride the subway? Well since I can’t fathom the NY subway system myself, probably not. But if we lived in NY, maybe? The Bride was once reminiscing to a friend and said that I had told her never to smile at anyone. Stunned, I said I did no such thing. Then she reminded me of a trip by train into NYC. Walking through Penn Station, some seedy looking guys at a pizzeria were smiling and waving at her. Then I saw my eleven year old daughter smiling right back. Indeed, I grabbed her hand and told her NEVER to do that again! It was the start of suburban parenting meets city gorilla parenting, we needed to teach our daughters – don’t dawdle, walk straight ahead, don’t look up at skyscrapers, don’t act like a tourist, etc etc… I was not a Tiger Mom, and I tried not to be a Helicopter Mom, but we all want to know if we did a good job at parenting. Sometimes we get to ask them what they thought, and now on the eve of becoming a grandparent myself, I’m starting to reflect.
You see their Duke University group was stranded at the Raleigh-Durham airport by a sudden storm, so they would miss their Kennedy connection. There we were, waiting at Kennedy in NY, and the BFF’s Mom and I made the executive decision that the girls were old enough to fend for themselves. And they did, riding the Metro, finding their housing, and spending one of the best weekends of their young lives in Paris unsupervised (all pre-cell phone). It’s a good thing nobody from the Today show called me! I might have been drummed out of the Corps of Good Parents.
Back to the recalcitrant Rocker. He was taking a sailing course at about age 9 in the land of Two Rivers, and one day they had to swamp the boat and get back in. I wrote about it in the newspaper. I said sometimes boats sink. Because that’s what parenting is, teaching our kids how to survive until they have their own IRA. How to be resilient, and move forward no matter what obstacle they may encounter. How to get themselves up and ready for school. How to get home on a subway, by themselves.
Here’s my advice to new parents – stop swaddling your children in cotton wool. The goal is to get them out of the house eventually, not to chew their food for them. Hello! And to that end, here are a couple of very good references:
Bringing Up Bebe, by Pamela Druckerman
The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, by Wendy Mogel
“Free Range Kids” Blog by Lenore Skenazy