I often compare my children’s childhood to my own, saying things like, “Well when I was your age…” but it’s not very realistic. Times have changed. The world is different. Life isn’t as simple as it once was. The good ol’ days were good for a reason.
Which brings me to my latest parenting dilemma. Concerned that his hand might permanently fuse to the Wii remote, we had begged and begged all summer long for the Cheese to play outside, to get some fresh air. We wanted him to dig in the dirt and scrape up his elbows.
“But there’s nothing to do outside. It’s boring.”
I couldn’t help myself. “Well when I was your age I loved to play outside.”
I’m not sure what I expect to accomplish with this sort of comeback. I think it had something to do with being more for my benefit than his. Then one day he said something that totally took me by surprise.
“Can I go outside and ride my bike?” I couldn’t run to get his bike out fast enough. After putting on his helmet, the Cheese had one more question before taking off.
“Are you going to stay outside and watch me?”
I hesitated. Did I want to sit outside in the front yard, watching my young son ride up and down our street, back and forth, back and forth? I’ll be honest here and tell you that no, I really didn’t. There were tons of things that I needed to be doing inside of the house, which included staying on top of whatever mischief my other child was getting into.
Up until this moment, I had never considered it. Even though our quiet neighborhood is safe and traffic is at a minimum, our children were never allowed out front without a trusted adult standing nearby.
Back in the good ol’ days, this would never have been an issue, but we live in a time where fear is served up on a daily basis right alongside your drive-thru Starbucks order. The “what ifs” are too much for most parents to bear, including me. Kidnappings and head injuries and boo-boos…oh my! But standing in front of my son that afternoon, that old comparative phrase suddenly popped into my head.
When I was his age I was allowed to ride my bike all by myself all day long. As long as I never rode out onto Meadowbrook I was good to go. The Golfer had it even better than I did. He was allowed to ride his bike all over town, literally. It’s hard to believe, but we did it all without helmets and our parents watching us every single second and somehow we managed to survive.
“No, Buddy, I’m going to go inside. Just keep your eyes and ears open for cars and don’t talk to any one that you don’t know or get into any cars or…”
I stopped myself, recognizing that if I continued it was possible that my son might run back inside the house screaming, never to face daylight again. I was giving him permission to be independent and free—two concepts totally unfamiliar to him—and I needed to allow him to do so with as little fear and anxiety as possible.
I walked inside, leaving my son to his new-found freedom. Every time a scary “what if” popped into my head, I took a quick peek outside. And before long, I heard the back door slam and saw my little boy rounding the corner, smiling from ear to ear.
“Mom? When you were little, did you ride your bike really, really fast all by yourself?”
“Yeah, Buddy. When I was your age, I’m sure I did.”