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Yesterday, my kids went to Albertsons by themselves, where they picked up a couple of things they wanted. I was surprised by how worried I felt at this very minor stretching of their wings. The year we lived in France, Elliot was 8 and we would sometimes send him across a fairly busy street (with a crosswalk) to the boulangerie for our daily baguettes. At the local Monoprix, it wasn’t unusual to see the twins’ classmates (age 6) picking up a little something for their parents. In Mauritania, when Elliot turned 6 he was allowed to go half a block to the boutique to pick up a packet of butter (taken from the freezer in the boutique, already warm enough for baking by the time he got home on the hot days). By the time we left, all 3 were allowed to go to the boutique to buy candy or cokes as a treat; they just had to use their own money and let me know. I didn’t turn a hair. Why was I worried here? Albertsons is not far from our house, and our neighbourhood is safe, full of children and careful drivers.
I’ll tell you. It’s because I’m worried about what others around me will think of me. I’m still relearning the boundaries of what is normal here, and I have to say that my “mom-radar” is shockingly low compared to my friends. And, for those of you who don’t know me, I’m not a relaxed mother, I don‘t think. I’m uptight too! We are careful what they read and watch; we have standards and many, many rules. I think that overall, we’re good parents (obviously; if I didn’t, I would change). So who’s right–the uptight parents who won’t let their kids climb up ladders onto the roofs to get down the Frisbee? Or the ones who send their kids off to climb the big hill behind the house for PE, while they stay home? Where do you fall on this issue?
I notice that I trust strangers much more than my friends seem to. At the library, at the grocery store, I don’t stress if my children are out of my sight. In fact, I’ll ask them to run and pick up something from a different aisle, or send Elliot off to the Young Adult section while I check out the Mystery aisles. Part of this has to do with their age. They’re not babies. They are responsible kids. They’re old enough to be home alone and even to babysit other young kids. I know other kids their age who travel alone; parents working overseas sending kids to grandparents for the summer, whose children can navigate airports and plane changes with aplomb.
I suppose each parent must navigate their child’s trip towards maturity in their own way; each of us are uptight in some areas and loose in others, and most of us can see clearly where everyone else is screwing up. For those of us who choose to raise our children in a different culture to our own, this is especially clear. So I’ll keep sending my kids to Albertsons, and sending them up the hill for PE, and not worrying overtly when they climb trees and walls and act like children should. And I’ll continue to ignore the occasional horrified look I garner with my seemingly cavalier attitude.

Related to this (at least in my mind), I was horrified to see a news article recently featuring a verbal pedometer–a device that measures every word your baby or toddler hears throughout the day. This is supposed to guarantee that you’re doing your job–saying at least 17,000 words a day to your child, to help it be intelligent and succeed in life.
So do we laugh or get outraged or just feel a general sense of overwhelming sadness? I mean, WHAT? How ridiculous! Talk to your babies by all means–talk to your stomach when you’re pregnant if you like (which I did, all the time, and I have to admit it made for some embarrassing moments at the grocery store). But do it because you love them and care about them, not because you’ve got to worry about logging your 17,000 words per day so the little darlings can grow up guaranteed to go to Harvard! It’s things like this that make me live overseas.
But that’s just my opinion. What do you think? Am I lax about my children‘s future intelligence? Are you uptight? Or are we both perfectly balanced?

May 2008

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