Tying the Apron Strings Tightly

My kids are over-protected. I’m over-protective. And only slightly apologetic about it.

There. I’ve said it. And I won’t lie: there’s a part of me that winces when I tell you that we often allow our kids to play outside of our house with other kids, more or less unsupervised. What if someone reads this blog post, figures out where we live, and then lies in wait for my children to walk out the door, and then goes and snatches one of them? I’ve spent my whole life practicing the memorization of licence plate numbers just in case someone I love is ever abducted in a car, and I count my complete inability – to this day – to remember a licence plate as a portend of doom.

What could I have to do that could be more important than watching over them? Some days, I wonder how I let them out the door in the morning. What if they fall down those impossibly wide old stairs at school? They’re nine and seven, and still I worry about them eating a snack at recess: what if one of them chokes? Will their friends have the presence of mind to call a teacher? Do any of their buddies know the Heimlich manoever?

It’s crazy. And I know it’s crazy. And I keep my crazy mostly under wraps, hidden from view, because I know my crazy does my children no good. In every other part of their lives, I believe in allowing them to explore, test, and ultimately, to fail.  I do try to push them out of their (my?) comfort zones, but they’re not going anywhere; my nine year old won’t even walk half a block to mail a letter without me.

I’m not entirely sad about that.

I’ve tried to figure out where this irrational over-protectiveness comes from, but the only comforting thought I have is that there’s strength in numbers. I’m not the only one locking the doors constantly. Being overprotective has become a sign of “good” parenting, like feeding your children only organic veggies and demanding copies of their grade’s curriculum so that you can monitor your child’s daily progress toward their Expected Learning Outcomes.

We monitor our children’s every move during the day, but that doesn’t stop each and every one of us from lamenting the loss of freedom that we had when we were children. We live in cities that are considerably safer than when we were little. So what in the hell are we afraid of?

Nuclear proliferation. Watergate. Distrust of institutions. Energy Crisis. Hostage takings. Hijackings. Three Mile Island. Bhopal.

Ah yes. I was a child of the 1970s and 1980s. Half of our parents were divorced (a statistic, by the way, that hasn’t held true since the early 1980s, but I digress). We were educated by ABC After-school Specials, with episodes entitled things like “My Dad Lives in a Hotel” and “Which Mother is Mine?” In public school, I had a friend who was expected to be out of the house until dinner. Not that she had anywhere to go; it was just that her mom worked all day, and she wanted some quiet time when she got home. So when I went to their house, we played outside until six or seven at night. In January.

Can you imagine that now?

I read somewhere that Generation X went through its formative years as the least-parented generation in history (which may be news to the generations of children who were sent out to work before they were ten, but you get my point).  And while I feel obliged to include here that I was not under-parented myself (just because my parents were divorced doesn’t mean I didn’t spend a lot of time with my grandparents, thank you), I knew a whole lot of kids who were. And I bet every last one of them is trying to keep their kids safe from whatever boogeyman of uncertainty and insecurity haunted them in their childhoods.

So as a card-carrying member of Generation X, you’d think I’d just get myself into therapy – like everyone else – and get on with it. Why not try and push my kids to be more independent? But then I think of Sharin Morningstar Keenan, abducted from a playground when she was nine, in 1983. She was younger than me, but familiar; I remember, when she went missing, seeing her father on television, pleading for her return, and realizing that I recognized him: Sharin had her music lesson right after me on Saturday mornings. I still think of her, remember myself lying in my orange-wallpapered bedroom, listening to the news on the radio, and being so afraid: not for my own safety — I was streetproofed beyond measure — but because such evil existed in the world and I was helpless to do anything about it. I know, now, that most abductions of children are by people they know — most abuse is perpetrated by people that children know and trust — but that’s not the evil that frightened me most.

And I think that I’ve been given no greater gift than my children. If the kids of my generation turned out to be okay, so often cut loose, then I have to hope that our children will turn out all right for having been held onto a bit tighter than may be strictly necessary.