Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Free ranging right off the farm...

I definitely subscribe to the parenting school of thought referred to by my friend Lisa as "benign neglect."  I love my children, I care for them, I make sure they go to a good school, I feed them, I take them to museums and the zoo and the park and all that good stuff.  But I do not hover.  My kids can be upstairs when I am downstairs.  They can be in the bathtub without me in the room.  They can play in the back yard without my supervision. They can go to a friend's house or a birthday party without me staying.  When they are 6, they will be allowed to fly unaccompanied to go visit their grandparents.

But the prevailing parenting ethos these days is very much counter to this philosophy.  There seems to be a trend towards infantalizing children, insisting that every move they make be monitored and tracked and supervised, even for kids well into their teens. 

And then people wonder why kids get to college and are incapable of fending for themselves or taking any responsibility for their actions.

I follow a blog called Free Range Kids, and the more I read, the more I resolve to allow my kids appropriate levels of independence, the freedom to explore and make mistakes and learn from them.  It's how I was raised, and I firmly believe that it's the way to go.

I'm kind of bummed that I wasn't awake during a recent episode which might have tested my resolve.

My parents live on a decent-sized plot of land set back from the road in a very quiet and safe neighborhood.  And the weather in DC last week was lovely -- a bit rainy and damp early on -- but perfectly suited to playing outside, especially if playing in the mud is your thing.  So the kids played outside and enjoyed accompanying us on walks around the neighborhood, including a very short loop that leaves via the front of my parents's house and then follows the sidewalk around to a quiet road that goes along the back of their property, where you can cut back into the yard.

Zeke was allowed to play outside by himself to his heart's content, with the caveat that he needed to tell us where he was and stay in the yard (which is huge, so this was not an onerous request).  But he was really enjoying being outside by himself and having all that woodsy space to roam in (we live in the city, so our yard is postage-stamp-sized and mostly covered with brick patio stones).  So knowing the little out-the-front-of-the-house-around-the-sidewalk-in-the-back-yard loop, he took a little stroll.

But didn't tell anyone where he was going.

I was taking a nap with Josie at the time, so I missed all the hubbub.  But J kind of freaked.  Zeke was home shortly thereafter, being "escorted" by a neighbor who was driving by -- the neighbor wisely didn't invite him into the car, but ascertained where he was going and then drove alongside of him as he walked.

Everyone told me about it afterwards when I woke up, and I guess they expected me to be all upset.  But I really wasn't.  I talked to Zeke and told him that he needed to tell a grownup before he goes outside, and definitely if he's going to go for a walk, but my immediate thought was that Zeke isn't stupid (and in fact, he's both incredibly smart AND very cautious and thoughtful with regard to his own safety).  The neighborhood is quiet and safe and there's virtually no traffic, and he knew where he was going and was never in any danger. 

Yes, four is a little young to be going off on walks alone, if only because he is not quite able to control his urge to throw things into the street (like rocks, which could hit cars, which could cause damage and piss off drivers).  But I was secretly kind of proud of his desire for, and enjoyment of, a little bit of independence.

When I was little, I walked to school by myself at the age of 6 (and was responsible for escorting my 5 year old little brother).  All my other friends did, too.  It was not a big deal at all.  I flew alone on an international flight when I was 5.  Throughout my childhood and my teens, I was given enormous freedom by my parents, who raised me to have common sense and then trusted me to use it. 

I would like to impart that same gift to my children, the judgment of the helicopter parents of my generation be damned.  The world is a much safer place than most people are willing to acknowledge.  And life is much more fun and enjoyable when you don't approach it with the assumption that there is evil and awfulness around every corner.

Are you a "free range" parent?  Do you think I'm nuts?  What were you allowed to do as a kid that you would never let your kids do today?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The goats in the vicinity were disappointed

Our Thanksgiving travel last week provided an unexpected - and much welcome - glimmer of the light at the end of the tunnel.  Since having children, and particularly since having two, the mere thought of navigating an airport and getting through security and surviving a plane ride has filled me with dread.  First, there's the sheer amount of stuff that you have to take - diapers and wipes and toys and books and sippy cups and snacks and car seats - that is overwhelming.  And then you're dealing with one kid running one way while the other runs the other, or someone doesn't want to sit in the stroller, or someone decides they have to go potty when you're in the middle of a 25 minute security line, or someone runs around the scanner and causes a TSA agent to have a stroke, or someone jumps on the luggage carousel because it seems like the fun thing to do.  Either that, or you're waiting for one of things to happens - so the kids could be perfectly well-behaved but you're still all stressed out because the other shoe always feels like it's on the verge of dropping.

But Josie is now two, and her language and socialization are both developing at an amazing pace, so I can give her an instruction and she a) understands me, and b) knows how to comply.  And Zeke is a full-on, intelligible, semi-rational person, particularly in his response to threats and/or bribery ("if you don't behave on the plane, we're not going to the Air and Space Museum tomorrow").  So all of a sudden, traveling with them isn't so terrible.  It's still not great -- there's still all the stuff, and there's always the possibility of a meltdown -- but we're getting closer to the point of being able to count on them to behave.

Plus, we were flying Frontier, which has individual TV monitors for each seat, and for $6, you can get DirecTV for the entire flight.

"Aw, pretty please?"
I said to J, "I'll happily pay $6 to get some kid's show that will keep them quiet during the flight."

"Oh, hell yes.  If it would keep them quiet and occupied, I'd blow a goat."

Lucky for J, such extreme measures were unnecessary.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The month in review; also, go the fuck to sleep

I know that I am in the minority in that most Mondays, I am thrilled to come back to work after the weekend.  I like the structure of getting up and having a schedule to maintain and someplace to go.  Because outside of work, life is very chaotic.  I am tired.

First I was sick.  Then I got better, but we had the kids' parent-teacher conferences.  Josie's went fine - she's right on track, everyone loves her, she's a delight to have in class, blah blah blah. 

Zeke's was more unnerving.  Apparently, he's smart as hell ("scary smart" was how the director of the school described it) and doing fine in all areas of development except for social-emotional.  The teacher is concerned because occasionally he has bad temper tantrums.  (Um, he's four?)  So she recommended I have him evaluated. 

First, this was a total surprise.  Sure, there have been days when the daily progress report was, "he didn't have a great day," but that's true of everyone from time to time.  Mostly, the reports are all good.  Second, I've been practicing special education law for 12 years, so I know a little bit about evaluations.

"OK," I said.  "What sort of evaluation should I seek out?  Do you think he has an emotional disability?  Should I take him to a psychologist?"

"No, I don't think so.  But I couldn't really say what kind of evaluation to get.  I think you should have him assessed by an occupational therapist."

"Why an OT?  Wouldn't an OT look at sensory issues or gross or fine motor skills?  I don't understand what an OT has to do with evaluating emotional or behavioral concerns."

She couldn't really explain it further.  So I went home frustrated and upset.*

Then we had the craziness of Halloween to deal with.  Which was awesome, but not exactly relaxing.  Zeke and Josie both decided to go as pirates (or rather, Zeke was a pirate, and Josie wanted to do what Zeke did).  So I'm all ready to go with their costumes for the Halloween parade at school, except that Zeke announces, "I want to be a gorilla for Halloween."  Mind you, this is maybe 10 minutes before we're ready to leave for school on Halloween day.

"No.  You said you wanted to be a pirate, so I've got a pirate costume for you.  I don't have a gorilla costume."

"Oh.  You don't have a gorilla costume?"

He has a habit of taking the last thing I say and turning it into a question.  "No."


This is also par for the course.  "Because.  Now here's your sword and your eyepatch."

I am nothing if not full of rational explanations.

So they put their costumes on and looked all adorable and then had an absolute blast when we went trick-or-treating that night.  Seriously, Zeke was so damned happy I thought his head was going to explode.  Josie was bored with her costume at that point, so she went sans.  But they still killed with the cute, knocking on doors and yelling "TRICK-OR-TREAT!" and then giggling and saying "thank you" 85 times.

Josie went as a beat poet.
Then two days later I went to Omaha, Nebraska, for a legal conference.  Which was fine, except that I've essentially been to the same conference twice already this year.  I mean, literally, the same presenters doing the same presentations with the same handouts.  But at least I got two nights in a hotel room to get caught up on horrendously bad reality TV (Braxton Family Values makes Jersey Shore look like Masterpiece Theatre) and sleep without anyone waking me up in the middle of the night or wanting me to snuggle with them so that their night-time pull-ups then leaked pee all over me. 

Then two nights later we were headed to IKEA to get Zeke's new big boy bed.  We drove the SUV and went down to J's office in Littleton to pick up the Civic, where he had left it because he drove his work van home.  We found the Civic and turned off the truck while J found his keys and we prepared to move a booster seat because Zeke wanted to ride with Daddy.  When I tried to turn the truck back on, it wouldn't start.**  So we all piled into the tiny little Civic and went to IKEA anyway, because Zeke needed a bed.  By the time we got home and I started to put the bed together (I am the designated assembler of furniture in the family, which is fine because I love doing it), it was 8:15 p.m.  And whereas most pieces of IKEA furniture are really easy to put together, this one presented more of a challenge.  So it was 11:15 by the time I was finished and Zeke and I could both go to bed.

Touche', Kura bed.  Touche'.  Fucker.
The one bright spot in the last few weeks was this past Friday, when I had my first Friday flex day of ski season.  Copper opened a couple of weeks ago, and only a few trails and runs are open, but it was still a blast.  I went with my friend Christin and her kids, and it was a beautiful day and the conditions were pretty decent.  I found that all the weight training I've been doing has made me really strong, so I had none of the initial wobbliness in my legs as I got used to using them on really steep inclines.  Christen even suggested that I enter some ski races. The truth is, I ski really fast because I'm not as safe as I should be -- I tend to skirt the line between being speedy and hurtling downhill out of control.  But I'm intrigued by the notion of entering a race, especially if it means I have an excuse to wear one of those funky racing suits that looks like it's covered with spider webs.

But then I spent the weekend being sick again.  The top of my windpipe is sore and tickly, so I'm constantly coughing and I sound all frog-y.  It would have been really nice to get a decent night's sleep before heading back to work. 

Alas, this was last night:

9:00 p.m. - I lie down with Josie in her bed (which is a junior bed, so it's both shorter and narrower than a twin) and we read Goodnight Moon.  Then we both fall asleep. 
12:20 a.m. - I wake up all achy because I'm asleep with my ribs pressing on the thin wooden frame on the side of her bed.  I get up to go back to my own bed.  Josie wakes up and starts to cry.  I figure, "sorry, hon, you're on your own," and I go to bed in my room.
12:45 a.m. - she's still crying.  I go into her room and she's standing in the middle of the room, in the dark, sobbing, "Mama!  Maaamaaaa!"  I pick her up and take her back to bed with me.  She promptly snuggles in and falls asleep.
1:30 a.m. - I'm still awake.  Zeke wakes up and starts crying, which is odd for him.  I wait to see if he'll put himself back to sleep.
1:50 a.m. - Zeke's still crying.  I go to his room and climb up into the bunk with him.  His bed's a twin, so there's actually room for both of us.  He puts his head on my shoulder and calms down a little bit.  "What's the matter, sweetie?"  I ask.  When the crying has diminished so that he can speak articulately, he says, "I neeeed a hu-u-uuug."  So I give him a hug.  He promptly calms down and falls asleep on my shoulder.  I nod off as well.
5:00 a.m. - J gets up and starts getting ready for work.
5:30 a.m. - I get up and start getting ready to exercise.
5:45 a.m. - Josie wakes up and starts to cry.  "Get up?" she says.  "No, sweetie, you need some more sleep."  "Snuggle mama."  So I bag my workout and get back into bed with her.
So, yeah.  I'm a little tired.  Thankfully, I work through Thursday, Friday I'm giving a short speech in the morning, and then I'm off for the Thanksgiving holiday.  We fly to DC on Sunday, where we will spend the holiday with my parents, my brothers and their significant others, and my nieces.  On the agenda are hockey games, visits with friends and cousins, the Day After Thanksgiving Pie, the Turkey Trot, football, and much fun and merriment.

Six more sleeps.  That is, assuming my kids allow it.
*I emailed Zeke's pediatrician when I got home.  She said that she's never seen anything in him that gave her any kind of concern, and that she suspects that he's just highly intelligent and his maturity level hasn't caught up with the rest of his brain, which is not unusual for super-smart kids.  I love her.  I also talked to the director of the school, who agreed with the pediatrician.  Which begs the question of why I was referred to child find if no one suspects him of having a disability, but whatever.  In any event, I'll have him screened, but I think it's a load of bullshit.

**We got it back $1600 and a new fuel pump later...