May 18, 2007

Mother, may I sleep with Danger?

**Kudos (or not) to the person who can name the starring "actress" (loose term, I know) in the cheesy TV movie that provided today's title. **

The MotherTalk Bonanza for this Friday is about the book The Dangerous Book for Boys, by brothers Conn and Hal Iggulden. Several questions were raised by this book - such as:
  • Have we made childhood too safe? Are we too afraid for our children, too scared to let them wander, ride bikes around the block, take risks? What are the real risks, which are imagined, and how do we navigate these, as their moms?
  • What dangerous games did you play as a child? What did you do that you'd never, ever want your kids to try? What risks do you hope they'll take that you didn't?
  • Dangerous Book for Boys is aimed, obviously, at boys; it was written by two brothers trying to bring back the fun from their childhoods. At least one blogger has criticized the boy-focus, and asked where the girls are: What do you think? What would a Dangerous Book for Girls include? What do girls need to know?
  • What makes it okay for boys to be dangerous, but not girls? (or why is it scarier for girls to be dangerous?)
This has been a topic rambling around in my head for some time now and when I received the email inviting me to join the Bonanza, I decided to take the opportunity to "get it out".

First, a little bit about me........ From the age of 4 to 18, I grew up in small Kansas towns that were close enough to Lawrence and Kansas City for us to not be isolated, yet far enough away that I truly got the "small town" experience. In both of these towns, I actually lived IN town for awhile and also in the country - both of which presented very different dangers. Furthermore, besides it being the 1970s, my parents were very, very relaxed when it came to childrearing and furthermore, I was left to my own devices at an early age. My dad worked nights at the hospital and YES, he was home during the day, but he was sleeping - so, from 3rd grade on, I didn't have a babysitter. And yeah, I was pretty much doing whatever I wanted to do. When we lived in town, I lived in the streets - we did EVERYTHING in the street - baseball, kickball, bikes, hopscotch - you name it. When we lived in the country, I lived in the woods and on dirt roads. I never wore a bike helmet as a kid yet have ridden miles on dirt roads AND major county highways. I rarely wore bug spray. I didn't think twice about scrambling onto a trampoline. I didn't wear protective gear while rollerskating and often, the leather straps of my metal rollerskates would come loose from my tennis shoes and I would go flying. And, I've tramped through enough pastures and hay bales that it boggles my mind thinking of how close I must have come to copperheads and rattlesnakes all those years.

I have very mixed feelings about these experiences. On the one hand, exploring our woods was such a treasure for me. I had my special spots along the creek where I enjoyed hanging out and I had my special trees that I liked to climb. On the other hand, one of my most precious memories to this day is one of me running around in our fields with an umbrella while I sang songs from the Sound of Music because OMIGOD, I wanted to BE Julie Andrews. However, I did this during a lightening storm. Also, I used to go miles down the road to visit neighbors who my parents didn't know very well. And yes, one of those neighbors was inappropriate with me - nothing serious, but most definitely inappropriate.

What do I want for my own children? (Note: I take issue with the "boy" part and am going to ignore it. No debate necessary - I want the same for my daughter as my son. Period.) Basically, I am striving for a mix that all of us can live with. For sure, my kids will wear bike helmets. But full-body armor? Um, NO. Not unless they are roller-blading would I insist on the extra gear. We don't have gates on our stairs and our 19 month old has full run of our house. My 5 year old nephew tumbles down the stairs at his house. Hell, I still tumble down the stairs myself. Currently, my son is as safe as it's ever going to be. The rule is clear, he has to slide down on his stomach or forget it. If he tries to walk the stairs as normal, the gate goes up. Guess what he chooses? And sure, I locked away the bleach and knives, but I don't see a reason to put a lock on everything. He's torn apart my kitchen more than a few times, but is now tired of the contents leaving me free to a kitchen virtually free of those silly locks. And yep - I let my son run around in the back yard by himself as long I am in the kitchen where I can keep an eye on him. In our front yard, he's also allowed to run around - he's not always within arms' length, but he's always within our view. And the rules are strict - if he gets past the curb on the street, we immediately go inside. No playing around - INSIDE WE GO. He's only tested that theory twice because he HATES going inside. We don't have corner guards on our coffee table and we don't have fancy safety molding for our fireplace. He's knocked his head a few times on the table and guess what? He's more careful around the table. Granted, our table does not have sharp corners, but I've seen folks apply extensive childproofing to far less deadly dangers. I think a normal childhood is full of bumps and bruises.

And finally, I will probably let my kids run freely around the neighborhood when they are a little older. I will not, however, let them run around at the age of 4, as I did (not judging my parents, but OH.MY.GOD, I shudder at that now. I wasn't allowed to cross the street, but I was allowed to run around on our side of the street.) I just don't buy into the myth of Pervasive Stranger Danger that the media likes to force upon us. YES, oh YES, crappy, horrific things happen to children at the hands of strangers, but I don't believe they are the norm or as common as the media would lead us to think. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges agrees and had the following to say:
"Contrary to the common assumption that abduction is a principal reason why children become missing, the NISMART-2 findings indicate that only a small minority of missing children were abducted, and most of these children were abducted by family members (9 percent of all caretaker missing children). Close to 3 percent of caretaker missing children were abducted by a nonfamily perpetrator; among these, an extremely small number (90) were victims of stereotypical kidnapping.”

Frankly, I've tried to have this conversation before and always got an emphatic, indignant "What if"?. Unfortunately, when someone starts off a discussion with a "What if", all reasonable debate is immediately nullified. How can you come with any response to a "What if"? Life is chock FULL of them and if you thought too hard about them, you would NEVER LEAVE YOUR HOUSE. I've also received the "one accident is one too many" answer. And yes, that is a hard one to argue. Never would I want to endanger my child, but damn, I don't want the to walk on eggshells their entire life. I don't want to be that mother paranoid of every scrape or bruise. I want my children to know that visceral thrill of doing a backflip on a trampoline - that brief, heart-stopping second where you are totally suspended in the air with your body contorted in ways you never knew possible. And no, I am not hard-hearted. I got teary eyed when my son got his first scraped knee - he totally wiped out on our sidewalk and cried in a dramatic fashion over the whole thing. It was NOT enjoyable and it really scared him. However, we cleaned him up and he wanted to immediately go back outside.

It's my job as a mother to encourage my children to face their fears and take on Life. It's a fine, thin, teeny line between Living and Living in Fear.


Stephanie said...

I'm thinking the "actress" is Tori Spelling, but I can honestly say that's just a guess and I have not seen that movie. (Not that I haven't watched other horrible Lifetime movies, but not that one.)

I think I had a similar childhood experience to yours. I grew up in a small town (village, technically), but in the "housing development" section, not the "town" section. The development section is basically all these cookie-cutter houses on a maze of streets, whereas the town section was basically individual, old houses on the main road through town (that turned into a highway in other towns nearby). I, and pretty much all other kids, had free run of the streets in the development. We played dodgeball and wiffleball and four-square. We played hide-and-seek in neighbor's yards and behind their cards. We rode our bikes (no helmets -- there was no law at the time requiring them) everywhere. I think my parents let me go out onto other streets of the development on my own when I was about 7 or 8... 9 for sure. My friends lived on the other streets, so their parents would be nearby, but they weren't outside with us usually. Once, my friend fell through some ice in a shallow creek (too shallow to go under, we just needed to tug him out), another time my friend broke her nose while we were playing softball in the park. No parents were around when these things happened, but we went and got them after they did. It was a big deal the first time I was allowed to go into "town" without an adult though... must've been about 9 or 10 though, walking to the summer day camp.

Things have changed since though. There's been a lot of migration from NYC and with that, there has been some minor gang violence (fist fights and vandalism... not guns and drive-bys), so I don't think my parents would have let me out and about on my own after dark if I was a kid there now. It's sad... I have great memories of playing IN the street, of running through the fields and woods behind my friend's house. I'd like to think that wherever I end up living and having children will be safe enough that they will be able to do some exploration on their own. It helped a lot that we had parents close enough on every street we could run to in an emergency... hopefully I will live in a similar community where everyone looks out for each other's children.

Jenny said...

So. NoTorious. I am a popculture whore.

I am always the mommy that doesn't jump when my own kids fall down. They are balls to the wall boys, all the way. When one of them crashes, if my friends and are standing around visiting while the kids play, they always leap out of the skin, gasp, and start moving toward them, I stay still. I don't know why I do it, I just know they are okay. And when I know they aren't, I move. I'm just not really hyper in that way.

Now when other people's kids crash, especially if I'm supposed to watching them - then I'm a big panicker.
Who wants to be the one who let someone else kid get hurt on their watch?

I'm also the one who picks up other people's kids at the park, or at the store, or wherever, if I happen to be closest to them when they get hurt. Whether I know them or not. This drives my husband crazy, but I think men just don't have that gene, frankly. And like I said about when I chastise other people's kids, I've never had anyone tell me to get my paws off their baby. They always seem to realize its a kind mommy gesture.

Monkey McWearingChaps said...

I had the same type of childhood except I genuinely grew up in a very small town in rural Quebec.

I think what makes me feel a bit better about the fact that my parents used to let me run around at the age of 5 with my sister (who was, *gulp* only 3) is that we weren't out alone-we were with a "neighbourhood gang". Not gang as in gangsta, but a whole gaggle of children that would get together as soon as breakfast was done. We ate lunch over each other's houses and were always together. It was a mixed boy-girl group of 6 or 7 of us.

Thinking back on the fact that we were always in that group, I don't feel my parents were terribly irresponsible in not being overprotective. Our ages ranged from my sister, the youngest (at about 3 or 4) to about 9 for the oldest one and it would have been pretty difficult for anyone to lure us away (the group had a clear leader, Mademoiselle Dominique).

Other stuff, like bicycle helmets...well, we honestly just didn't know about them.

One thing that concerns me about giving my kids this type of freedom is that other than older suburbs and suburban parts of big cities (like Brookline, MA), I don't really see the type of urban planning in most new 'burbs that would even allow for this type of fun and games. I know I was horrified when I visited my ex in Naperville because the homes would be built really really close to major free-way like streets. Even in the city of Boston, the residential neighbourhoods all have narrow streets and sidewalks and whatnot-they're built for community living. And as much as suburbia gets dumped on, every suburb I've ever lived in (Lexington, Bedford, now Pasadena) has reasonably decent urban planning (I think because they are all older) that I would feel okay with letting them run around. But some of the places I've seen spring up in IL would give me a pause-they just have very little wilderness and seem uncomfortably close to major highways and strip mall like areas (this is not me being a hippie, I'm just concerned about the danger regarding lots of traffic).

Monkey McWearingChaps said...

After reading Stephanie's comment-yeah, I also grew up in the type of neighbourhood where the parents looked out for everyone else's kids in "the gang". Hell, there was even a lunch rotation :).

Plus, the neighbours in front of our house-the dad was a cop and he was AWESOME. His daughter, my sister and I were really close and the minute they moved into that neighbourhood he went and knocked on the doors of EVERYONE who had been harassing us racially for the past 3 years (a la, egging our house, spraypainting racial slurs on the carport etc.). We knew what was up but my parents would call the parents of the teens who were harassing us and they would say they'd talk to them and nothing would get done. It was Guy who made them cut that shit out for us.

Cagey said...

Yes, the "actress" is Tori Spelling. I've never seen the movie, but the title always made me giggle.

I am really not horrified by my childhood - it was a different time and a different place. However, when I say that I will let my kids run around the neighborhood, they will definitely be older than I was - maybe 8 or 9? It depends on the kid - currently, Arun is adventuresome and not afraid of people or new situations, but he is not a daredevil. This is why I give him greater slack. On the other hand, my cousin was the sort who would ride his trike down the stairs - he's my age and he's STILL a daredevil to this day!

Also, in regard to Jenny's comment - I'm with ya, sistah! I really try not jump up when Arun falls. It's usually immediately clear if he has truly hurt himself. If it's a minor bump, I tell him to rub the affected area (Rub your head!) in a singsong voice. I don't want a kid who cries to get attention - that would drive me INSANE.

Christy said...

Like you, I ran free as a child. We always lived in the city, and I roamed the streets. I have played in thunder storms, I have never owned a bike helmet, and I often swam at the community pool unsupervised. I was also given way too much responsiblity at a young age. From the age of 7, I frequently babysat my baby brothers. It boggles my mind that my mother left her babies with a little kid. What the hell was she thinking?

Although my children will never do many of the crazy things I did as a child, I hope that I don't smother them or hold them back. I want them to have a fun childhood, full of wonderful memories.

By the way, I am not really into the whole child proofing the house thing either. Porgie plays in the cabinets, roams free throughout the house, and slaps her head on the corner of the table occasionally. Its just part of growing up.

Doodle said...

My brother and I always use that movie title as the stereotypical name for a Lifetime movie. :-)

So I totally knew the actress was Tori Spelling, only because it's been a joke for so long.

Diana said...

Yeah. Grew up in the 70s on various Air Force bases and ran free. Our only rule was that we had to tell my mom where we were going. Nothing bad happened. Every mom watched out for all the kids within her view. Totally a 'village raising a child' thing. Now, we live in the country. There are no sidewalks and the narrow road is twisty and large trucks go zooming past at about 50 mph. We don't let our kids on the road. We've got plenty of yard space, though. Both kids tend to avoid the tall grass, though, as they don't like it when I have to pull ticks off them. They have bike helmets. Everyone always wears their seatbelt. If we had a trampoline, I'd have the barrier up. I think there's a difference between the risk of a broken arm and the risk of a broken neck.

I find that's the hardest part of parenting by far, deciding how much freedom vs how much safety. I'm still navigating the waters.

Driving home a while ago, on the highway, we passed 6 kids on 2 ATVs. The oldest kid was about 13, two looked like they were 2 or 3, the others were about 6-8. They were all balanced on the ATVs trying to get them to go along the embankment right next to the highway. No adults anywhere (the house was set back from the highway quite a ways). Of course, no helmets. That seemed like more freedom than I would be comfortable with, personally.