This may amuse, or even satisfy, those of my friends who have long thought, silently (or not so silently) that am too loose with my kids – allow them too much freedom too early. Or that I'm not paying close enough attention to their comings and goings. That’s not to say there aren’t rules, because that’s different. But I’ve always been the mom who allowed my kids to walk to town sooner than their friends, take the bus alone, do things on their own. I don't hover.
My sister and I were raised in a family that placed a great premium on independence, both because of its inherent value and because of our circumstances. We grew up to be New York City kids, adept at riding the subways, navigating the mean streets alone, taking the train to school from the age of 11.
We both feel incredibly fortunate to have had that experience. It has prepared us for life in a positive and empowering way.
I have always wanted the same for my children, except that we live a bit more in the suburban, go-car-go culture than I would have liked. But we have public transportation, and schools close enough to walk to. So they have figured it out. My oldest has been getting himself everywhere by himself for years – he hoofs it on his own, takes the bus or metro. Even flew to Israel on his own when he was 14 (to stay with family.)
Each summer I put them on a plane to fly alone to Boston to visit their grandparents. They walk to middle school, have learned how to take the bus to “downtown” and the youngest is about to leave for 6 weeks of sleepaway camp without a worry.
But this weekend tested me in a different way, and I felt more like a mother bear than I have in a long time.
My daughter, 14, the same age as her brother when he flew half way across the world alone, was invited to visit her friend’s grandmother’s beach house on Long Island. Completely lovely. We love the girl, we love her parents, we were sure that they would have a wonderful time.
Except that the friend had already had the experience of traveling up to New York City, and then taking the bus all the way out to the tip of Long Island to get to her grandmother’s beach house. My daughter had not.
The girl’s mother was rather nonchalant – the girls could take the bus or the train up to NY, then get on the Jitney. Alone. The grandmother would pick them up.
Now, at 14, I was perfectly capable of making this trip. But I wasn’t so sure about my daughter. For all her sweet swagger, she is less intrepid than either of her brothers. So I got nervous. And for perhaps the first time in my parenting life, I became That Parent. The one who puts the brakes on. Who needs to know every detail. Who was pretty insistent that the girls get a ride to the city and then take the bus to the Island.
As I was having these conversations with the other mother, I was simulanteously standing outside my body, looking on in amazement. When did I become this person? Why was I so nervous? Was she quietly laughing at my worry?
In fact, she was incredibly kind, and understanding, and in the end, we came up with a travel plan that satisfied everyone. As I write this, the girls are safely tucked into the grandmother’s house, and will probably sleep until noon after their great travel adventure of yesterday.
Perhaps it has to do with the emotional tug and pull of the oldest’s imminent launch. Perhaps it is because my girl is a girl, and for all my feminist sensibilities, I sense more danger lurks for young girls in the world than for young boys. Perhaps it’s because my daughter has always been the one just a teensy bit more scared of things.
For whatever reason, I hovered. And I’m glad that I did – I felt like I was doing my job as her mom. But she is on her way, on an adventure, and I am also glad that I allowed her to go and learn how to do this on her own.
And for the record, I fell asleep before the final text came in telling me they had arrived. Now that’s more like it.
Photo by George M. Groutas via Flickr