Just before they walked out the back door, I reminded them of the rules.
- Stay on the footpath.
- Do not cross the road.
- DO NOT separate under any circumstances.
- If you see a stranger you may say hello and be polite but you are not to go anywhere with them. Not to their car. Not to see their dog. Not to their house. Not around the corner. Nowhere. If they ask you more than once – run back home. Screaming.
- If one of you gets hurt the other must drag you back home. Screaming. DO NOT separate.
- Do not go into anyone’s house. Not even their front yard. Not even if another child invites you in. Not even if they look friendly. Especially not if they try to convince you that your mum won’t mind. I will mind and you can tell them that. Then run back home. Screaming.
- Have each other’s back.
- Be sensible.
- Enjoy yourself.
“Yes Mum” they chimed, earnestly. And then, once they understood that the lesson was over, they bolted for the front gate and disappeared down the road. At the ages of 6 and nearly 9, it was the first time they were allowed to walk to the end of the street unsupervised. I gave them a bit of a head start and then surreptitiously peeked my head around the corner to watch them, briefly, saunter down the road. Even from my rear vantage point I could see a new attitude in their gait. A confidence almost busting out of them as they chatted to each other, walking along. I resisted the urge to watch them the whole way, as I understood that this first unaccompanied trip was as much a practice run for me as it was for them.
There was no reason that today marked the first day. The weather was fine and the boys were restless. Having spent the day amusing themselves while I worked, I just had the urge to loosen the apron strings a little. On the weekend, we spent the day at a city park and the playground that they wanted to play in was largely out of sight from where we were sitting. So naturally my first instinct was to only allow them to go if I could see them at all times. And naturally that lasted about 2.5 minutes. I
want to couldn’t stay there to supervise them so we had, what was probably,
our first real stranger danger talk. In hindsight, that’s probably what
prompted today’s radical shift in parenting. The realisation that I’ve never
really felt the need to warn my kids of external dangers because they’ve never
really been exposed to them. And whilst I feel very happy and comfortable with
my decisions to protect them during their young, vulnerable and formative
years, I know they will never become the resilient young men that I’m planning
for if they don’t start learning the important stuff really soon. They will
never develop their own instincts for potential threat if they are always
protected. They will never learn to navigate their own way through the world if
they are not permitted to explore it for themselves.
And so the next step towards independence was taken.
With every new step, there’s a real sense of competence that I see in my boys which makes me proud. Their hunger for independence and achievement of more grown-up tasks scares me but it fascinates me too. Watching them grow physically, emotionally and mentally is exciting. Exhilarating. Exhausting.
For fuck’s sake woman, get a grip on yourself. They only walked to the end of the street!
But it is exhausting. The ‘on’ switch is always, well… on when your kids are taking the risks they need to take for them to learn and grow. Keeping them safe from all harm is certainly a lot less taxing on the heart. Giving them room to get hurt or sense danger or assess threat, in even in the mildest circumstances, puts me on high alert.
Which is why we’re starting off slow. Walking to the end of the street and back is step one. Step two will be around the block. Step three will be to the local playground.
And by then they’ll be 18 so they can take a six pack of beers with them.