"You'll never get anywhere of you go about what-iffing like that. Would Columbus have discovered America if he'd said, 'What if I sink on the way over? What if I meet pirates? What if I never come back?' He wouldn't have even started! We want no what-iffers around here, right Charlie?"
- Mr. Wonka in Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl
I find myself wondering, "What if I meet pirates?" rather often these days. What I really wonder is, "What if they meet pirates?" or some other less metaphorical harm.
This past weekend was one of boundary pushing. The spring weather sprung the children from the house (thank goodness), but it caused each of them to push for new privileges--privileges that make me uncomfortable even as I know it's probably time.
After much lobbying on his part, I permitted the ten-year-old to ride his bike--alone--a mile from the house on a somewhat busy street. I permitted the seven-year-old to walk alone to a friend's house without texting anyone she was on her way. It was only a 2-minute walk, but she was out of my sight and needed to cross a street.
It all made me uncomfortable. I let them do it anyway. But not without some resistance.
My son and I went several rounds about the bike-riding. He argued his case in all the predictable ways. "I'm really good on my bike." "I'm responsible." "I'm not a baby anymore." I agreed with all those statements. Then I explained all the reasons I wasn't comfortable with the idea--the people who drive too fast, the inattentive drivers on their cell phones, the landscaping trucks that take up half the road.
Even as I went through my litany of reasons it wasn't a good idea, a little voice inside my head told me it was probably time. I want a constant line of sight to assure myself that my kids are safe, and I want to be there to catch them if they fall. But I won't be able to do that forever. The only way they are going to learn to take care of themselves and gain the confidence to do so is if I let them try.
So I did. Reluctantly, but I did.
Fortunately, I do have responsible kids. They ask permission. They tell me where they're going. They stop home to show me they are still okay.
Equally importantly, I also have a neighborhood network of parents who text me the kids' whereabouts. This means the kids perceive freedom and danger, yet I never worry about them for long.
Being a parent makes you a what-iffer, but I'm trying not to let it hinder my children's development. There might be pirates, but a kid can't learn to deal with them unless he is first given the opportunity to encounter them.