“You’re only five years old, but you’re smart. Sometimes you take a leap.” There was definitely a part of me that wondered why on earth I was listening to the voice of Tina Fey, as a character who nearly drives off the road every time she gets behind the wheel of her tiny car, and thinking, “Yes. She’s right. Sometimes you take a leap. Sosuke is a smart boy. I would trust him to take care of a fish-girl in a strange storm/flood as well.”
But the other part of me did not wonder why I was taking parenting advice from Tina Fey’s avatar. My kid is smart. He’s responsible. He’s thoughtful and thorough. He does not do things impulsively. He spends a lot of time reading. I would trust him to take care of a fish-girl, too, if it came right down to it. I may even leave him at home, by himself, if there was some sort of emergency I had to take care of elsewhere.
In fact there have been times – non-emergency times – in which the boy really does not want to come with me to do the laundry or run errands or even go to a playground when I have considered leaving him home alone. It can be boring and disruptive to whatever it is that he is immersed in. He has to put on shoes and, sometimes, a jacket or coat. Who wants to do that when they’re in the middle of a good book? So we have spent lots and lots of time discussing why he can’t stay home by himself before he finally gives in, grabs his shoes, and follows me out the door, moaning the whole time. It is a pleasant experience possibly only for the Little Miss, who adores her older brother and gets a kick out of everything he does.
So Tina Fey had me thinking, “Why don’t I take a leap?” Why can’t I leave my intelligent, responsible 6-year-old by himself, safely locked in our apartment for 10 minutes while I go around the corner with his siblings to get the laundry?
And what about other situations? Say, for example, that we lived across the street from a playground. And say Manchild didn’t want to come out and play right then, but Squish was anxious to go on the swings. Would I leave him there alone? With strict instructions to stay put? Or with the expectation that he would come find me at the playground if he decided to come out and play?
We tossed around this idea for a few days, going through all the logistics we could think of. Would he need to lock the door on his way out? Could he cross the street by himself? What if he couldn’t find me at the playground? And as we went deeper into various scenarios, the sillier I felt that we were so concerned about parsing out every possible situation that could arise in the course of a 6-year-old walking across the street by himself – and especially as I realized how interested the boy was in the topic. It seemed like a revelation to him that he could, possibly, be given the opportunity to cross the street on his own. Or that he would be trusted to go nowhere and do nothing while I ran a quick errand.
And his interest in the situation, the way he went over the various scenarios with us over dinner, and the way he follows the rules in general made me think that it’s about time to show some faith in him. The kid’s got to be trusted to cross the street on his own sometime. And certainly at 6 – a mature, responsible 6 – he could be. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it was actually the thought that somebody else might disagree with my evaluation of my child that was holding me back. Somebody else might think that no child that young should ever be left alone. Somebody else might call child protective services on me. Or something.
But sometimes you take a leap. So one day, a couple of weeks ago, I did. Manchild wasn’t feeling 100%, but Squish had his heart set on a bike ride around the block. So I took a deep breath, told the boy we’d be back in 10 minutes or so, and to stay put. He was reading a book on the couch, as he so often does, and seemed not in the least interested or concerned as we walked out the door.
For a few moments as I followed Squish around the block, with Little Miss in the carrier, I wondered who I would run into that would ask where the big boy was, who would find me out and report me for child neglect. But no one did, and when we came back a few minutes later, Manchild was reading a book on the couch, as he so often does.
He seemed not in the least interested or concerned as we walked in the door.
I don’t know when I’m going to get around to it, but there is a part 2 to this post. It could be next week. It could be in two months. I like to keep you on your toes like that. 🙂