Sunday, July 26, 2009

"It’s all this mistaken notion that if we avoid everything, we’ll avoid risk."

In the past week of summer vacation, I have permitted the following activities:

My eight-year-old stayed at home to play computer games while I and the three Littlers walked a block up to the little neighborhood market to buy cheese for dinner sandwiches that night.

My eight-year-old and six-year-old walked to the vending machines at the pool from the playground sort of next to the pool, to buy treats for themselves and their brothers after swim lessons. Then they went back again because Seg punched the wrong numbers into the vending machines and wound up with peanut butter crackers instead of a bag of Skittles. My friend M and I stayed at the playground, chatting and watching our Littlers play in the dirt and run around.

The three older boys roasted marshmallows and flung wood onto the fire, and traipsed around the woods collecting feathers and walnuts and leaves, and slept outside in a tent. I sat on a porch swing next to the fire with a bottle of Straub’s and my friend A and talked (when I wasn't bogarting their burnt marshmallows).

The two older boys and their friend rode their bicycles and scooter around and around the block and up and down the alley playing some sort of tag they made up involving Harry Potter and much loud casting of spells (their extremely common use of the Cruciatus curse might give me pause for concern...)

The three older boys ate popsicles on the front porch while I put the baby down for a nap upstairs.

The two older boys took my coupons and went and retrieved items I needed in other aisles of the grocery store while I waited for the damn fishman to give me my order.

The two older boys continued playing a game in the van (windows down but vehicle locked, of course, parked DIRECTLY in front of the coffee shop and with several people we knew sitting at the tables out front) while I ran into the coffee shop to pick up a (pre-called/ordered) latte.

None of these sound completely crazy, do they?

I mean, really REALLY beyond-the-pale crazy?

Because they are activities that have been a little tough for me. A little tough on my over-protective, overactive mothering instincts. Activities that frankly fly in the face of the helicopter parenting most of us practice (or are expected to practice) these days. While the boys were on the porch, I envisioned – I dunno – Jack the Ripper? White slavers? A slavering pedophile in a panel van looking for his puppy?

Yes, we live in the city, which means I lock my doors and car at night. I will not allow my children to play in the actual street. I am cordial but distant with strangers walking up and down the street.

But *I* grew up riding my bike where I pleased, and was pretty much left to my own devices most of the summer, and a lot of the rest of the year. (Remember this post?)

We kids ran up and down and IN the street, and we built treehouses in the woods at the end of the cul-de-sac (which incidentally backed up onto a major freeway, separated from our street by a cinder block wall and little else). We played hockey and kickball in the street ("CAR!"), and I was allowed to walk not only to my friend Roseann’s house at the end of the street, but to my friend Stacie’s house, across the previously mentioned highway (there was an overpass). I was permitted to walk down the street the other way to the pond, to fish and skate and to hang out with my friend Stephanie. I was permitted to ride my bike anywhere I could pedal it, which often included the 7-11, the movie theatre, and the ice cream store (all roughly within a mile radius).

In addition, I was sent away every single summer for weeks at a time to camp (and loved every blessed minute of it), where I had a large posse of friends I didn’t see the rest of the year; we ran around in the woods (sometimes in the middle of the night), canoed and kayaked and played in the creek; we climbed all over a ropes course and in the trees like monkeys; we camped outside, built large fires, learned to shoot a bow-and-arrow and a BB gun, and swam miles in the freezing cold pool at 5am to earn meaningless badges.

I was not only permitted but EXPECTED to walk the two long blocks to the bus stop and take a public bus three miles home from school in the winter months, when my mother didn’t drive due to snow (my older brother was with me most days, and this didn't start till I was in second grade). (One memorable snowy day, when my brother was not in school for some reason or another, I fell asleep and missed my stop. The bus driver turned around at the end of the route and drove me to my doorstep.)

I was a Free Range Kid.

Before the days of 24-hours-a-day news channels trumpeting every single missing child (and even some not really missing), before the days of Stranger Danger programs and the prominence of organized sports, before the days of your kids’ friends all living in the ‘burbs to which you must drive, I think most of us my age (39ish) were.

After reading Lenore Skenazy’s wonderful and reassuring book Free Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry, I feel like a new convert.

Lenore Skenazy is passionate about her cause: Giving children — and their parents – freedom. For the kids, it’s the freedom to play outside without grown-ups, to make mistakes, to climb trees, to walk to school alone, to frolic. For their parents, it’s giving them the confidence to let go of irrational fears that make them to want to place their children under lock and key or 24/7 surveillance. Or both. (from Picket Fence Post.)

The zeal with which I am now actively trying to develop my children’s independence must necessarily (and wisely) be tempered by a number of factors. For example:

- Their ages –would I send the three-year-old to the vending machine alone? I WOULD NOT.

- By their personalities and common sense - Would I leave the six-year-old home alone for half an hour? I actually might, since my six-year-old is the most responsible of all my children – it might depend on where I was going, and how he felt about it.

- And by MY common sense: Would I drive my twelve-year-old to the local mall, along with a friend, and leave them in charge of three younger siblings, including a three-year-old? Boy, for all my zeal and independence-building, I sure would not. (I have an eight-year-old and a three-year-old. I would not trust them at a large public shopping mall with anyone but me, and sometimes I even wonder about me.)

Skenazy allowed her then-nine-year-old to ride the subway alone. For this feat of mothering confidence, she was interviewed all over national TV and vilified by lots and lots of plastic talking heads in the media. She discusses this reaction in her book, and she then goes on to discuss why we have become such a fearful and overprotective society. She backs up her strong opinions with solid empirical evidence, citing, among others, David Finkelhor, head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, and several prominent NY pediatricians (her own included). She cites numbers at a dizzying speed, debunking many of our long-held and weirdly cherished beliefs re: stranger kidnapping, online predators, cell phone use by children, and the need for toilet locks (I personally gave up toilet locks when I couldn't get one open at an, er, critical moment. Thank God we have two bathrooms). Her tone is friendly but firm; her writing style would seem most at home in a mommy blog (I don’t think that’s an insult, is it?).

I may be a little bit in love with her and her ideas, and if we lived in the same city, I would so find her and make her be my (enabling and supportive) mommy friend.

Would I let my nine-year-old ride the subway alone? Perhaps, if he’d grown up in NYC and was used to riding the subway with me and it was daytime and he didn’t have to switch trains...see how it goes? You have to use your parenting instincts and skills to make the best decision for you and for your child.

But you also must stretch a little, take a few chances – let them spread their wings and attempt a solo flight. Because eventually (dear God, I hope and pray) they grow up and move out and must do their own laundry, and believe it or not, little Junior needs to know how to turn on the stove and live in his own place and ride the subway to work at some point.

*Lenore Skenazy

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"I shall gather myself into myself again..." *

I don’t like you.

Actually, I do, but it may seem like I don’t.

While I do indeed have several lovely and fun friends who go out and drink with me, or knit with me, or just hang out with me, I usually prefer to be by myself. I don’t require company to go get a beer, or to eat dinner out, or to see a movie, or to go shopping for yarn or clothes or books.
I really enjoy being alone.
The people for whom I forsake this aloneness are very few.
And I generally don’t do it for long, if I can help it.

Fortunately my husband is not too different, and we have our own separate lives (in addition to our mostly pleasant life together, that is, with our beloved, if demanding and perpetually going, children). I go out to browse a bookstore or the yarn shop, or to get a cup of coffee by myself, or run or swim for a long, solitary, fulfilling, time on a regular basis. We have separate bedrooms, and have for years. We both like our space, and our solitude.
I more than like it – I require it.

It’s not my fault. I get skittish and short and cranky if I am with other people for too long. Especially if I am with other people in a smallish space, and especially especially if there are other people there whom I don’t care for.

I have always regarded this as a personality flaw. Obviously, there is something fundamentally wrong with a person who so often disdains the company of the very nice, funny, smart people whom I am lucky enough to call my friends. I know I am VERY lucky that they put up with me and this oddity of personality. (Perhaps this is because many of my friends share this quirk to some degree?)

But, again, I can’t help it. My brain is wired this way. I need chunks of time to be by myself, to recharge my batteries, so I can venture out into polite society again.

And – again – I always thought of this somewhat shamefully, as a giant pointer to everything else that is screwed up in my weird brain. Until my dear friend A lent me her copy of Anneli Rufus’ Party of One – The Loner’s Manifesto.

Oh my God, the revelations.
The chapter on the emotional wrench of mandatory participation in family holidays.
The pages on eating alone. On enjoying eating alone.
The commiseration about how one can adore one’s children but at the same time need to be away from them, away from their constant, never-ending demands.
This simple explanation of what I go through just about every day:
“…time shared, even with true friends, often requires loners to put in extra time alone, overtime, to recharge. It is a matter of energy: As a rule, loners have less for the social machinery, the talk and sympathy. Our fuel runs out. That is what nonloners don’t understand about us, what they cannot see. We do not choose to have such tiny fuel tanks. These can be quite inconvenient. They are why we seem rude, when we are, why we seem bored and often are. Spaced-out and often are. Running on empty.
Not heartless. Not unappreciative. Not fools. We know the rest of the world has big tanks. We know they don’t know.”

And this:
“They [nonloners] do not understand that what we have to give is not always what others have to give…being friends with a loner requires patience and the wisdom that distance does not mean dislike.”

I have disentangled myself from several friends over the years who don’t get it. Who don’t understand why I don’t want to spend hours chatting on the phone, or seeing them every day. That I value their friendship and their time and all the things they can offer me (and selflessly do), but need some space. (Let’s not even venture into the thorny arena of my spotty and convoluted love life and ex-boy/girlfriends.)

Rufus explores the existence of the loner in film, in art, in literature. She delves into the plight of the loner forced to work in an office environment (cubicles ARE the devil’s handiwork). She examines the friendships and romantic relationships of the loner. She even discusses the miracle of the Internet, the boon of loners everywhere. (It’s much easier to find other loners online. Hi there! I’ll be going now…)

I read half of this book this afternoon, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
I may be sick, but there are other sickos just like me out there.

Reading this book was as good as therapy.

It’s ok to want to be alone.
It’s ok to enjoy your dear friends and then hole up for some solitude.
It’s ok.

Or at least – ha! irony! – I am not alone.

"The Crystal Gazer," Sara Teasdale

Monday, July 20, 2009

I got nothing, people. Go look up your own quotes.

I am too fucking tired, and too thoroughly fed up, to exert any effort right now. Sorry.
I am probably just sick of all the screaming and crying and and whining and yelling - and that's just me.
Or maybe I am bitter that *I* am not going to BlogHer. Not like it matters. Not like any of the cool people would want to hang out with me, or even know who the hell I am. I should just shut up and go read another book. Since I seem to be channeling my inner junior-high-schooler ANYWAY.

The baby just wandered downstairs without any diaper.
And a poopy butt.
God, I just fucking LOVE my life.

Go read Amalah: her book reviews made me laugh so hard I nearly peed myself.

They also made me feel marginally better.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn't be half so interesting."

Hey, all you peeps who make fun of me because of my Twilight thang?

And I retort by insisting I am channeling my inner thirteen-year-old?

Well, now I am channeling my inner nine-year-old:
Penguin to Release Last Green Gables Book in its Entirety

I don't think I could be any more excited if Marilla made me a dress with puffed sleeves and decided to rename me Cordelia.

Monday, July 06, 2009

"There is something very special about being away from your parents for the first time, sleeping under the stars, hiking and canoeing."*

Am on book 6 of the Sookie books. Can I tell you how pleased I was that Harris shakes it up a bit, and the series is about Sookie and her life, not just about her love affair with a vampire? Not that there’s anything wrong with women who love vampires. A friend mentioned the repetitive sentence structure of the Sookie books, but I must say I haven’t noticed. I HAVE noticed how funny they are, and how nailbitingly fast-paced they are. They are this summer’s perfect read.

I also went a leetle nuts at Persephone Press’s website (more complete post re: this later, with photos of the pretty, pretty books), but suffice it now to say that I started Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s The Home-Maker and am liking it immensely. I can decisively diagnose Evangeline Knapp with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and think she (and her family) would benefit greatly by regular, daily intake of 200mg of Zoloft. And maybe Ativan as needed. But then where would the novel be? Hmmm. What‘s more important, people, easing a person’s pain or maintaining an entertaining novel? Heck of a question….

I have a buttload of books waiting for me at the library across town (my regular branch is closed for renovations) but as I am depending on my not-so-reliable-in-this-arena husband to pick them up and bring them home, it may be a few days before I actually lay eyes on them. In the stack: Lenore Sken’s Free Range Kids and Penni Russon’s Undine, and the Kim Harrison novels which were mentioned in the same Salon article that turned me on to Sookie.

I sent my oldest off to camp today. It is not sleepaway camp, but it is a real honest-to-God, in the woods, archery and swimming and arts & crafts sort of camp. I think I may have been more excited than he was. I spent 8 summers at sleepaway camp (yeah, my mom didn’t like me much), and one of the single most joyful moments of my Facebook experience (and, oh, there are many), was reconnecting with my camp friends. The girls I met there each summer carried me through my year (which looking back now = odd, since reconnecting with my old high school friends via FB has also been wonderful. But then I guess we have all grown up a bit…)
Regardless, I am thrilled for my boy. (Although, I admit to some neurosis re: summer camp - shocked, you say? Ha. - have you read Siri Hustvedt's What I Loved? Excellent book, but a horrible thing happens to a beloved child at summer camp. I wake up in a cold sweat every now and then, thinking about it. But I am SURE Primo will be fine. He will be more than fine, he will have an awesome time.)

The rest of us will go to the playground to meet up with some other friends, and then zumba class at noon. Which, oh my God, is going to KILL me. Especially since I do not appear to be getting any thinner AT ALL. I just saw photos from last weekend when my husband’s Irish cousins were in town , and I AM A PORKER. I am not a small-boned person, but my frame is too small to be hefting around this weight, I merely look bloated, not healthy and pleasingly plump.

Anyhoo, then I have some sewing to do, and some packages to pack up to mail, and then I have to figure out what to feed this family for dinner. Because, oh, man, am I sick to death of chicken.

*Jami Gertz