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Yesterday, I asked Elliot to make a batch of his justly-famous chocolate chip cookies. (And really, just why are they always so perfect? It’s my recipe. But his are excellent, while mine are just good. Must be that teenager spit–you know he samples batter freely!) This was to sweeten an errand I’ve been putting off, because I remain non-confrontative in spite of my goals to the contrary.
A few months ago, a new family arrived in the cul-de-sac where we live. I met them and their tiny boys one freakishly warm spring afternoon. Their boys were 3 and 5 then; now 4 and 6.
And the rains returned and I didn’t see them for a while.
But when we got back from California, it was summer. The sun shone, the street filled with the sounds of children playing, running, bickering, sword fighting, water fighting, lemonade selling, etc. And we noticed that now, those 2 adorable little boys were out in the street, but the mom was staying inside.
I will mention that I do that too. I don’t hang out watching my kids play. But then, my kids are 11 and 13. Also, this family has a one year old and, as of 5 days ago, a brand new baby. I understand that the mother may need to rest, and need a break. But.
I really am not uptight. I really don’t like to tell other people how to parent, and I resent it when people tell me how to parent. But these boys, in protective helmets on their tiny bikes, have the habit of whizzing behind our car when it’s backing up. I am pretty sure even those super helmets would be a poor match for my back tires. I have nearly killed them both several times. They are too young to be out on the street unsupervised, even such a safe street as ours where cars are rare.
So today I wrapped up the cookies and went over, first taking time to talk to the small boys about their new baby brother. I rang the doorbell. The dad came to the door; he was on his way to work, the mom and new baby were taking a nap. The grandma was sitting on the couch.
I explained who I was, gave him the cookies, congratulated him on his newborn son. Casually brought up the cars. “Yeah, that’s something we’ve been working on,” he said. He told me to let him know of any other problems.
I’m still worried though. I watch for these boys, make sure I can see them when I start backing my mini-van out, but they move. Of course it would be my fault, if I hit their 4 year old. Just yesterday, they nearly ran in FRONT of my van, which is of course a whole new worry.
So, what happens if I hit a four-year-old in America? I imagine the worst; my picture in the paper, interviews on the news, everyone hating me while I explain, pathetically, over and over, “I was only going 2 miles an hour! I looked! Honest!” I would feel horrible. I would never get over it. The parents would never get over it.
Ironically, this wasn’t a stress I was expecting to deal with this year. I figured that American parents, being more uptight than your average Mauritanian, would never let this be much of an issue. It was a problem at our last house, in Nouakchott, where an adorable toddler was fascinated by our big 4WD, and always wanted to run up and touch it while I was backing out onto the sand. It was really scary. His babysitter was his 5 year old sister. I know the worst there; a taxi driver of my acquaintance did run over a child. You pay $4000 “blood-money” and the family mourns, but fatalistically accepts that life is uncertain. I would never get over it.
So I am very thankful that I have not committed any vehicular homicide.
I posted several weeks (months?) ago about uptight parenting, and got some great comments. It seems that we are all relaxed in some areas and uptight in others, and that we are all worried about what those around us are thinking of our parenting. In a world of uncertainty, we watch each other sideways, constantly comparing ourselves. I don’t wish this upon my neighbour. I don’t think she should rein in her boys just because of what I think. But while I feel parenting is and should be personal, I do feel there are some basic rules of the road, some basic common sense. I may hanker back to a more relaxed time when kids could be kids, could have a real childhood in addition to their virtual one in front of electronic stimulus. (Although overall, I’m not one to idealize the past) But even then, in those helmet-less, tree climbing halcyon days, I don’t think tiny ones played unsupervised.
So I watch. Donn watches. Our kids watch. We’re our neighbours’ keepers, and that’s something that has carried down through the ages.

July 2008

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