It’s standard for parents of children my age to mourn the loss of their Widdle Girl, as the less-widdle adolescent begins to make her appearance. And, truth be told, I sometimes take out the box of baby pictures and get a little wistful. Mostly, though, I look on a successful passage out of elementary-school as an affirmation that at least we made it this far. And then we work, again, on those pesky time-telling skills.
I missed this story when it went around a couple weeks ago: Columnist Lenore Skenazy, who lives in New York City, did a shocking thing.
Skenazy recently left her 9-year-old son, Izzy, at Bloomingdale’s in midtown Manhattan with a Metrocard for the subway, a subway map, $20, and told him she’d see him when he got back home.
And guess what? He made it. But Skenazy suffered a few wounds of her own:
As she wrote in her column about Izzy’s big adventure: “Half the people I’ve told this episode to now want to turn me in for child abuse. As if keeping kids under lock and key and helmet and cell phone and nanny and surveillance is the right way to rear kids. It’s not. It’s debilitating — for us and for them.”
Izzy had been bugging his mom for a while to let him try it. The reaction was predictable; Skenazy anointed herself America’s Worst Mother afterward, and I get the sense she was waiting to do so. But so what? I, as America’s Second-Worst Mother, salute her.
Say what you want about Michael Moore, and “Bowling for Columbine” might have been mean to poor old Charlie Heston, but he hit on a very important truth in that movie, and hardly anyone talked about it: Americans are constantly spoon-fed a diet of Fear, and it shows in the decisions they make, including how they raise their kids.
One day last winter, I called Kate at a friend’s house, a friend who lives one (1) block away. I’m sitting at my bedroom window now, and if there weren’t a house in the way, I could see this friend’s house. I told her it was time to come home. Two minutes later, headlights swung into the driveway — my neighbor, dropping Kate off.
Later I said, “Please, just let her walk home. It’s one block. She won’t freeze.” I assumed Kate had asked for a ride because it was cold outside. But no: “Oh, really, I don’t mind. If anything happened to her, I’d never forgive myself.” The chances of something happening in one block are, as Skenazy points out, about the same as being struck by lightning, but ah well.
“What do we pay outrageous taxes for, if not for safety?” I replied. She pointed out that taxes don’t buy safety, and she’s right. But fear doesn’t, either. Sometimes you just have to take your chances in the world. Paul Campos, a Rocky Mountain News columnist, wrote of Skenazy:
Skenazy notes that one acquaintance told her that he requires his daughter to call home after she has walked the one block to her friend’s house, even though they live in a typically crime-free suburb.
Other parents informed her they don’t allow their children to walk alone to the mailbox.
This kind of thing encourages children to see the world in fear-ridden terms, and to grow up to become the sort of people more interested in having their government protect them from largely imaginary threats than in preserving their civil liberties.
Here’s Rod Dreher, the banner-carrying Crunchy Conservative, a man whose very existence is defined by fear and whining, showing his faith in his fellow man:
John Podhoretz told me once that growing up in NYC in the big bad Seventies, he used to take the subway around by himself when he was not much older than Matthew is now. And that that wasn’t unusual. Nowadays, though, you’d be out of your mind to let your kid do that in NYC, which is vastly safer than it used to be. Or if not out of your mind, at least that kind of behavior would be extremely unusual.
This was in the midst of a big post about how his own children can’t go around the neighborhood unsupervised, but can in his Louisiana hometown. (For some years now, Dreher’s been threatening to go off the grid and retreat to a plot of organically farmed land, to encase his family in the warm cotton batting of no television and homeschooling. I wish he’d just pull the trigger and put the rest of us out of our misery.) Note the twisted logic: John Podhoretz navigated the city safely when it was far more dangerous. Now it’s far, far safer, but if you let your kids do it today, “you’d be out of your mind.”
I live in a suburb so safe that the vandalism of a For Sale sign makes the newspaper. (Seriously: The headline was “Sign bent.”) I may live to regret it, but just for today, I’m going to assume my taxes buy something other than potholes and lousy city government. Fly free, little bird.
(Oh, and about those time-telling skills: Of course Kate can tell time. She just loses track of it. One condition to the freedom I give her is, she has to be home on time. Inevitably, she forgets.)
While we’re on the subject, I wasn’t offended by Miley Cyrus’ back, either.
God bless America? No, god DAMN America! And John McCain asked for his endorsement.
My Indiana alma mater’s circulation: 24,196. One-year drop? More than eight percent. I confess, my jaw dropped.
Back to work.