How much do I let my four-year-old roam free? That has been the quandary of my summer.
I recently moved into a row of town homes with garages open and streets full of kids and bikes and so much sidewalk chalk. My boy has been in heaven.
I like to think of myself as the mom who gives my kid space. I don’t hover, I don’t over-monitor, and I surely don’t referee squabbles over who-had-what-first.
I do, at the same time, have a pretty healthy dose of anxiety. I worry that my kid will get snatched, I worry that he will get hit by a car. I’m always doing the dance between letting him go and reeling him in. I want to foster independence and competence but I also don’t want something bad to happen to him.
Most of the parents on my street are comfortable with their kids running around unsupervised. It is a relatively safe street and the kids hang around together. So, slowly throughout the summer, I have let my little guy have more and more time outside without me. I usually have a door open so I can hear them and things have gone really well so far.
Every time he heads out the door I make him repeat the rules.
“Don’t go in the main road and don’t go into people’s houses,” he yells.
These rules, theoretically, keep him contained on my little side street and keep him out of people’s houses. Over time, as I see him following obediently, my anxiety is not so bad when he is outside.
You see, I ran wild as a kid. I made forts and knocked on every door on the street to find someone to play with. I rode my bike for hours upon hours during the summer and learned how to navigate neighborhood politics. I think it is good for a kid to get a scooter rusted out by the sprinkler because they left it out on the lawn all night and to learn the laws of gravity by climbing trees.
As I have let my son have some freedom, I have discovered some hilarious things about him. For one, I think he might have a future career in event planning and party hosting. He loves setting out chairs, inviting kids into our garage and handing out popsicles. I have bought oh so many popsicles this summer. He passes out cups of water, volunteers my bathroom to relieve the collective neighborhood bladder, and is quick to apply Band-Aids to any wound. He is learning and growing and developing his big personality as I give him some space.
Then, last week, my biggest fear happened. While playing with my son, one of the little girls in the neighborhood shot out into the main street on her bike and was hit by a Suburban. Luckily, the car was going slow enough that while the little girl had some pretty gnarly bruises and a banged up bike, she walked away relatively uninjured from the accident. But, had that Suburban been speeding, whew I don’t even want to think about it.
You can imagine what kind of conversations followed in my house. I took full advantage of the chance to talk about why we wear helmets and why we follow mommy’s rules.
So here I am, stuck between wanting to let my little bird fly and fighting the urge to cover him in bubble wrap before I give him a nudge.
He is my first, so maybe I will eventually learn that this feeling goes away. Or maybe, I suspect, this feeling never really changes.
Maybe, being a good parent means that you do this dance for years and years. You push on and pull in, you give space and sometimes you hover. You try your best, within reason, to keep them out of harm’s way. But, when tough stuff inevitably happens, you’re there to work through it.
I certainly do not have the answer on how much roaming free is the right amount of roaming free. For now though, I will keep buying popsicles and Band-Aids and listening to the neighborhood politics out my window and smiling at my boy’s cleverness as he learns to navigate the world.