Saturday, March 5, 2011

FTT Off-Topic: Free Range Children

About a mile from my house is a place called Kidstown. It's basically a better Chuckly Vermin place, in that the two-story climbing maze is bigger, and the place isn't so devoted to the token-sucking and crap-dispensing ways of your average Kid Casino. With the bad weather this winter and the tolerable WiFi at the place, I sprung for a 3-month membership after a poker win a few weeks ago, and we've been going enough to get our money's worth. It's either this or stay home and feel guilty about not cleaning the house. Anyhoo.

The Shooter Wife takes the kids over after school some days, and I tend to run them over on the weekends. The place is mostly little kids, 3 to 7, and my eldest is 10, but short for her age (shocking, given the combined 10.5 feet of parent) and enjoys leading the rugrats on chase games, so it works out. Besides, the joy from the 5-year-old is pretty contagious.

When you are at these places (as I am now, writing this), you can really see the different types of parents at work. Most stand like spectators at a sporting event near the climbing gym, looking for all the world like they are just waiting for that moment when they have to fold themselves up and dive headlong into the fray. Whether this is because they are concerned that their kids will get stuck in there or commit a war crime is, really, entirely up to debate... but the plain and simple of it is that most of the time, the kids do fine by themselves in there. It is, after all, more fun than just about anything my generation got to do on a routine basis, and it's not as if they are expected to clean up after themselves in there. Works out well. So I hang back, make eye contact with them every 10 to 15 minutes, and act as a base table for tag games and drinks of water, and after two hours of this, my eldest is more or less asking me to take them home, seeing how she's been run ragged.

But as for those who are ringside and anxious, my heart does go out a little. Because that used to be me, and seems to have to be a stage that you go through; the number of these things that I went into with the eldest when she was young was fairly staggering. But now, well... I'm older. The eldest can extricate the youngest, if need be. And when you hover, you just don't get very independent kids.

Finding that middle ground between support and negligence is, of course, something you can beat yourself up about any time you like. There's really no way to know if your parenting habits and practices are correct; you can only read up, trade secrets with others, listen as hard as you can and hope for the best. But on days like this one, as the kids give me hugs and ask if we can come back tomorrow (well, why not?), it feels right. And better than hovering.

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