Monday, July 9, 2012

The First Journey

Today, my boys asked to go to the local store on their own. We never forbade it or anything -- it just hadn't come up yet. My younger boy is eight and the older one is ten. The store is three-quarters of a mile down the road that runs through the middle of our town. I had no doubts about their finding it. It's just that they never went there alone before. I thought it over and finally gave the go-ahead.

My older son took his bike and, the younger, his scooter. Off they went.

After a few minutes, and echoing the numerous parenting parables about this sort of thing, I jumped in the car and followed, in secret. What I wanted to know, mostly, was how long it would take them to get there so I would have an idea how long it should take, for future reference.

I won't lie: it was kind of fun. I zigged and zagged through the neighborhood, taking up secret positions to watch them pass. When they got to the store, I waited until they came back out and then headed home, confident they would be fine. They seemed to have stopped at the cross streets on the way -- that kind of thing.

The questing parent, Marlin,
enduring Dory's whale song, from
Pixar's Finding Nemo
See, I believe "helicopter parenting" is one of the worst things in the modern world. But I also believe one can never be too careful with one's kids in the modern world. Every precaution must be taken. What's the difference between my secret mission and "helicopter parenting"? With helicopter parents, the kids are fully aware of the protection they are under. In fact, they rely on it; that's the damaging factor.

My kids never knew I was there. Now they know they can make the trip to the store. Now I know they can do it responsibly. I won't need to follow them again, but I will know about how long it should take, for the next time, so I know when and when not to worry. We're all equipped with confidence and knowledge and we are ready for the future, in one small respect.

The epilogue to this is as follows:

After I came home and sat down for lunch, we received a phone call from a number we didn't recognize. My wife picked up; my older son was on the line. His little brother had fallen and cut his knee. A kind neighbor had come out with her phone so they could call.

I went to find them and they were only about a two-minute walk from home.

"Buddy," I said to my little injured lad. "You could have made it the rest of the way. This is just a scrape."

"It hurts," he said, tears falling, "Okay?"

"Sometimes," I said, picking up his scooter, "you have to keep going even when it hurts."

"I'm sorry," he said, sniffling in a kind of angry way.

"You don't have to be sorry," I said, patting his cheek. "But maybe next time, you'll make it home all by yourself if you only have a little scrape."

A long, sniffling pause. "Maybe when I'm nine."

"Yeah, pal," I said, opening the car door for him. "Maybe when you're nine."


  1. Brave and wise - I helicoptered far too much

    1. It's so hard to avoid. I'm not always successful, either. (Some might argue that I wasn't successful here.)