Where are your kids?"
"In the backyard."
"You mean, you can't see them?"
We certainly don't live on acres of land out in the country, but at that particular moment, they were out of my sight. It's important that my children understand that I trust them to make responsible choices on the monkey bars, the swings and the slide. But this is a very controlled environment. I am mere feet away, and the front gate is locked to ensure that no one will be compelled to come in from the outside. As I am writing, it strikes me how utterly pathetic this is.
Another friend tells me that when she visits her family in Sweden, the children play unattended all day long. I can't even fathom this. She tells me that they leave in the morning after breakfast (we are talking about kids as young as five) and they don't come back until dinner time. They ride their bikes, they stop at the playgrounds and play their hearts out without a care in the world. I tell her that she must be joking. A place like that only exists in one's dreams.
I try not to get too paranoid. I rarely let myself watch Nancy Grace because it makes me never want to leave my children. I make sure that they hold my hands tightly in in the crowded mall and at the market. Because all it takes is one second... But children need to develop personalities separate from their parents. How in the world do parents accomplish this?
When we are at the playground, I pretend to be busy reading a magazine and watch my boys interact with other children. They are absolutely brilliant in their rawness. I feign ignorance, but I watch and wonder. When adults don't step in and dictate the territory, children are capable of so much. So why is it that when one of my boys has to use the restroom, I drag the other two along for company? I've allowed one boy to go on his own, and the entire time I was thinking that I should have checked the restroom (at a public park, no less) before he went in. Because what if there was a homeless man sleeping in the stalls? Another time, I really had to go and the boys were playing nicely, so I told my oldest to holler if he needed me. When he shouted my name as I was washing my hands, I bolted toward him. It turns out that he just needed help down the climbing wall. But. It. Could. Have. Been. So. Much. Worse.
Not every store has a "family" restroom. I once observed a woman propping the men's restroom door with her foot so she could make sure that her son was okay. She was absolutely unapologetic about depriving the men entering the restroom any privacy. Personally, I drag my 8-year-old into the women's room.
Now, Etan Patz is back in the news. The Etan Patz disappearance was a defining moment for parents everywhere. Etan begged his parents to let him walk just a few short blocks to school. It was his first time walking alone. He never made it to school. This sounds strikingly similar to Leiby Kletzky, and many more boys that separated these generations.
My 8-year-old has asked me how old he needed to be to walk alone to school. I don't know how to answer that. We live in a neighborhood that has it's share of beautiful houses and neglected ones. We set our security alarm every time we leave, just in case. I notice a more than usual amount of homeless people in front of the library and 7-Eleven, just blocks from our driveway. Sorry son, I don't know if I'm ever going to let you walk alone.
Wendy Mogel really influences my parenting style. She says that by not letting our children fall (her book is aptly titled Blessings of a Skinned Knee), we are creating mini "tea cups." These tea cups are ill-prepared to deal with the world around them, because, frankly, the real world is hard and mean, and unforgiving.
I let my children climb trees that look like they are about to topple and play "hockey" with scooters and brooms. They love to wrestle each other, even though I just know that someone is going to get hurt. These are experiences that will mold them. They need to scrape their knees and bruise their arms and get dirty. I can't cushion them from that. But play hockey one block over, without my gazing eye -- you have got to be kidding.
Etan Patz's alleged murderer says that he offered Etan a soda. When Etan followed him into the basement, the man suffocated the boy and dumped him into the trash.
There are evil people in this world. The kind of people that will dupe a little boy and take his life. When that kind of hell exists here on Earth, you better bet that I'm going to do everything in my power to shield my children from it as long as I possibly can. Tell me that these people are a figment of my imagination, and my kids will walk to school themselves tomorrow.