Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Confessions of an Insouciant Parent

I never used special laundry detergent for my baby's clothing.

I know, I know. What was I thinking? Of course a brand new baby can't handle the harsh, skin irritating nastiness that Tide provides? I shouldn't have even risked it! It's a miracle that my children actually kept their skin.

I've spent the past 11 years feeling no small amount of guilt and judgment from other moms about my laissez faire style of parenting. I am the opposite of a helicopter parent. My idea of baby-proofing was a baby gate at the bottom of the stairs and a firm "NO" when one of my little darlings tried to open a forbidden cabinet or door.

At the playground when my children were small, I allowed them to climb without standing right behind them to catch them if they fell. And if they did fall, I waited a few seconds before I jumped up and rushed over to them. The vast majority of the time, they got up, brushed themselves off, and again tried to climb whatever obstacle they had fallen off of in the first place. Oh yes, there were tears sometimes, of course. In fact, there still are tears sometimes (actually, I think there are probably more tears NOW that they've learned they can get a reaction than there ever were when they were small). For the most part, kids don't think it's a big deal if their parents don't act like it is.

I always giggle a little when I get these calls from the school. This happens so often with Goober it's truly laughable. I'm not even sure why they keep calling me... liability or something, I guess. Here's a standard message left on my voice mail if I miss the call.

"Hi, this is the school nurse calling from Overprotective & Lawsuit Fearing Elementary School. I'm just calling to let you know that Goober bumped his head/scraped his knee/got sand in his eyes/was exposed to a germ today at recess/at lunch/in the bathroom. I checked him over and he seems to be fine so I sent him back to class. If you have any questions, please call me."

Alrighty, then. Thanks for informing me that my child once again braved the unbearable tragedy that is elementary school and has made it through alive. I wonder if there are parents who actually call back with questions.

Is my darling okay? Do you think he has a concussion? Should I take him to the pediatrician? Should I come pick him up now and observe him carefully in a sterile environment for the rest of the afternoon?

Now, this isn't to say that this lackadaisical attitude hasn't bitten me in the ass a time or two in my life as a mother. For example, (true life mother confession to follow - you've been warned) there was this time that I left Bug and Munchkin, then 18 months and 3 years, to watch Teletubbies in the living room while I took a shower. Little did I know that Bug had learned to open the front door and decided that it was a good time to go exploring the neighborhood wearing nothing but a diaper and a smile, his barefoot and onesie wearing little sister in tow. Oh yes, that was awesome. Police were called to inspect the house and a Department of Children and Families investigation followed up to ensure that we weren't beating or neglecting the children in any way. Munchkin, fair skinned little Irish girl that she is, had bruises on her legs from bumping into assorted tables and chairs as she toddled about and a DCF worker actually supervised a visit to a DCF approved pediatrician to give her a full examination to rule out abuse. No joke. A very high chain lock was installed on the door that very afternoon.

But for the most part, I think that my relaxed parenting has served my children well. All three of them have survived thus far and with a sense of independence that I don't see in a lot of kids their age. I sometimes watch in amazement at friends who won't allow their child to do so much as make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich themselves.

Do they think their little darling is going to slice off a finger with the butter knife or something? Sure, sometimes you get a little peanut-butter in your jelly jar... but really, there's more to life to worry about than that.

I'm confident that if I were to be somehow incapacitated for an extended period of time and my children had to take care of themselves, they'd do just fine. They could get themselves up for school, put on appropriate clothing (okay, I'm still kinda working on this one with Goober, but I'm confident he wouldn't put his underwear on the outside of his pants or anything) and make it to their bus stop on time. After school they are quite capable of walking home, unlocking the door with their own key, locking it back behind them, making a snack, and getting their homework done. They know how to use the microwave, wash their own dishes, take a shower without scalding themselves or getting water all over the floor, brush and floss their own teeth, and get themselves to bed if need be. Heck, even the dog and the cat would be taken care of as they all know how much to feed them, how to walk the dog, and how to change the litter-box.

And one day I'll even manage to have them do all of these things without making any mess or at least clean up after themselves. Rome wasn't built in a day, folks.

It's a common occurrence in our house when The Man is working late and it's just the kids and me at home that I let them make their own dinner. Munchkin's specialty is soup and sandwiches and she gladly fixes them for her brothers and herself. Bug has learned how to microwave scrambled eggs and can make a mean slice of toast. Goober hasn't moved much past the peanut butter and jelly stage, but let me tell you he is quite the champion at it.

And it's not just feeding themselves that I constitute as independence. It's knowing that they feel safe and secure and I feel confident knowing that they can be on their own and make good decisions.

This past Christmas Bug and Munchkin both got bikes. Goober got one for his birthday, but hasn't really mustered up the motivation to actually learn how to ride it, yet. (No, he can't have training wheels... he's SEVEN for goodness sakes!) Bug and Munchkin, though, are in love with their bikes. These bikes, for about $50 a piece (seriously - bikes are way cheap these days - and they're totally cool Mongoose bikes, too), have given my kids a sense of independence that no iPod touch or Nintendo Wii or any other "must have" Christmas gift would have given them. So far the only place they really ride their bikes to is the park up the street, but just that little bit of trust that I place in them gives them a whole new sense of responsibility. On the way there, they stop and pet the mules that live across the street from the park (yes, they have to cross the street to get to the park), and they watch the ducks that swim in the canal about halfway there. They play with other kids, get plenty dirty, and come home within the time range I've given them. In other words, they do the same things I did when I was a kid and you did when you were a kid and our parents did when they were kids.

Hooray for childhood!

**today's word of the day is insouciant** ;)