Home Alone

Judah got off the school bus at the wrong stop yesterday. He ended up bawling. I am thrilled that this happened and so freaking proud of my 6.5 year old.

He was supposed to get off at our church (aka Jesse's workplace) which is on the same route as home and about 2/3 of a mile away. We put a note in his folder to let everyone know about this unusal change, but there was a substitute teacher yesterday who didn't check. 

So he stayed on the bus and got off at our street like he does most Mondays. The bus drops off at the corner, maybe 20 yards from our front door. At the beginning of the year I would wait by the window and then walk out to meet him getting off. Then I started just keeping an eye out the window and stepping outside to greet him and watch him cross the street. That has progressed to complete independence where I just go about my day and he gets off the bus, crosses the street, and lets himself in 100% independently.

ASIDE: I am having a weird feeling right now because it's like "wait is this actually something to be proud of or call 'independence' in this day and age? Is that where we are?" but also simultaneously, "uh, wait, could I get in trouble for this is someone tattled on me?" WHAT IS WRONG WITH US?!

A few weeks back I had a spare key made for Judah on a total whim. We were are the hardware store getting paint and he was being a dreamy little delight. I saw the key blanks and remembered we needed a spare anyway. Then I saw they had Star Wars themed ones! I got Darth Vader for myself and Jesse yet couldn't leave little Yoda behind (even though his design wasn't as cool), so I asked if Judah would like a house key to have just in case I ever forgot to unlock the door for him. He was very excited and when we got home we practiced using the key and secured it to his back pack.

And yes, Tile is very worth it. Jesse and I are serial key misplacers. This has saved fights and money already.

When we were attaching his key we talked about how he'd probably only ever have to use it if we forgot to unlock the door for him, but how if there was an emergency or something crazy happened and Jesse nor I were home, what would he do?

After some truly whacko and concerning options from him (mostly involving punching and potions) I realized it was god that we discussed this. I suggested knocking on a few neighbors' doors to ask for help with calling us or walking all the way to church; and we decided the best first option was to grab his or Layla's iPad and wifi-call mommy or daddy. We then took the time to put pictures in our contact info so that they could both easily select us.

He has had his key for about 2 months, and that was the last time we talked about this stuff.

The first day he had his key with him and got off the bus he got mad at me for opening the door when I happened to see him coming because he had wanted to use the key. So for the rest of the week, Layla and I would lock the door when we heard the bus, stay in the house, and listen to him struggle until he was able to turn the lock and enter victoriously.

So yesterday I was out running errands with Noa and Layla and Jesse was at work. Judah came in and started doing his homework (can we talk about how great that is that with ZERO supervision he did his dang homework!!) and then he noticed things were quiet (when he tells it, he adds, "maybe toooooo quiet").

He went to the front window and saw neither car in the driveway (smart thinking!). That's when he says he first felt afraid, but then "felt powerful in his chest". I told him later how this is called adrenaline and how our bodies are made to power us up with it in scary moments. He liked the thought of Hulk juice in him.

He tried to find his iPad and couldn't, but did find Layla's in their bathroom beside the toilet (that's my girl!). He pulled up FaceTime and called Jesse. As soon as Jesse saw the call from Layla's iPad--which he knew was at home--he knew Judah had ended up there alone.

When Jesse picked up the call and Judah saw his face, the power juice in his chest dissipated, and he started sobbing, finally feeling the scariness of the situation fully now that he was safe from it (man, biology is cool).

After I got out of my class (I'm soon to be certified to lead RYH groups!) They told me what had gone down. I was instantly SO SO SO proud of my boy and felt so confident in the head he has on his shoulders. I was also incredibly grateful that we was able to process and feel and talk about the fear and sadness and power he had felt through it all as well as satisfaction from solving it on his own.

Am I glad he's safe? Yes, but he was probably never in any danger whatsoever.  I am THRILLED however that he took action, used critical thinking, and remembered what we had talked about. That is worth about 100X more to me than him being protected by circumstances this one time.

If you can't tell, we are Free-Range parents. We parent not to protect our kids from the world, but to prepare them for it. We have practiced getting separated in stores and taught them how to find helpers as well as how to spot "tricky people"  versus almost all other strangers who are happy to really help kids. We believe that talking to grown-ups gives them the experience they need to determine when a grown-up is acting shady or suspicious or asking something inappropriate of them.

Abductions and stranger danger have actually decreased over the past decades, but media coverage, social media fear-mongering (including many totally false stories) have blown it up so that even in my head--which I considered pretty level--it can feel like there are boogey men around every corner. THERE AREN'T. All the statistics say that if your child is going to be kidnapped, abused, raped or have violence committed against him or her, the OVERWHELMING odds are that it will happen at the hands of someone you or they trust.

We need to adjust our parenting energies accordingly.

All that helicopter parenting does is drastically limit the amount of time our kids practice thinking and using judgement--these aren't gifts that come with their draft card or college acceptance at 18--these are character values and neural pathways; brain muscles that have to be exercised and built up.

Otherwise we are turning 20 year old babies loose on society and calling them "adults."

There is no measurable proof that helicopter parenting makes a difference in the safety of our kids; I think there is demonstrable (if anecdotal) proof that it makes our kids less capable. Ask any high school teacher who has been in the game for decades what kind of trends they have seen in parental vs. teen responsibility and involvement. 

There was nothing I could have done to stop Judah from forgetting to get off the bus when he did (I mean beyond pinning a note to his shirt or nagging him, but even then kids are championship-level oblivious sometimes), no matter how low the helicopter flies, these are autonomous creatures we're raising and they're going to go off-plan at some point. But if the goal is to eventually have them making their own life/choices/character (living permanently off plan!) then these age-appropriate forays to independence seem vital...even if they are play-acting or controlled (not suggesting you lock the door and leave home today at bus time just to see what happens).

Tonight we are going to talk hypothetical fire scenarios. I will probably let them play with matches as a visual.

Adult in Training.