To helicopter or not to helicopter
One of my high school friends had 4 children by the time we went to our 10th year reunion. I remember standing with her at the family picnic, she holding her youngest on her hip. Her baby dropped her pacifier, so Penney picked it up, put it in her own mouth to clean it off, and then popped it back in her baby’s mouth. I guess I must have looked shocked, because she said to me, “Go have 4 kids, and then you can judge me.” Fair enough. I took that piece of advice to heart, and I try never to judge other parents.
D and I have discussed what kind of parents we hope to be. We want to be involved as much as possible without crossing the line into being helicopter parents. It’s a hard line, though, especially when our son will be our only child.
My friend Bernadette is the youngest of 6 children. Her first “baby” picture is of her first day of grammar school, and she only has that because it was her next door neighbor’s kid’s first day also and they posed together. Her parents had given up taking pictures by the time Bernadette came along. However, I do have to say, I’ve never heard of six kids who loved their dad more than Bernadette and her siblings. Even Jimmy her older brother, whom her dad once left sleeping in the booth of a pizza parlor in Marine Park, Brooklyn. It was the 60s, different times. The pizza guys just called when Jimmy woke up to tell Bernadette’s dad to come get him.
A few years back, we spent the weekend with some friends who have four children. Their youngest daughter had her friend over for the evening. These two little girls played all night long upstairs in her bedroom, happily and alone. Our friends checked on them throughout the evening, and there were no incidents of playing with matches or underage drinking. However, the girls entertained themselves while we all sat in the family room drinking wine and catching up. At 9 p.m., the parents of the visiting little girl showed up to take her home. She is their only child and they wanted to know every detail: did they play barbies, did they have fun, did they say or do anything precious or funny. I watched my friends just fill in the blanks for the helicopter parents. “Oh, they had a great time, yes, they played barbies and then read American Girl books, and then they proved Fermat‘s final theorem.” Anything Mr. and Mrs. Helicopter needed to hear, they heard, and all three of them went away happy. Mostly their daughter, I’m sure, who had a nice evening not be hovered over for a change.
I want to be there for my son, but I also want to give him space and room to grow. It’s terrifying. Just today, there’s more news about Etan Paetz. HIs parents let him walk a block to the bus stop by himself for the first time in 1979, and he’s never been seen again. I was touched when I read that his parents still live in the same apartment 30 years later. Of course they would. They want him to know where they are if he comes looking for them.
I tend to overprotect; I think D will willingly admit that he’s less overprotective. In fact, I told D one night that I thought he was a little too “hands off” because our son had bumped his head a couple times on D’s watch. Of course, it was I who had to call poison control the very next morning because I let the baby get his hands on a tube of diaper rash ointment and get some in his mouth before I noticed.
I want my son to grow up strong and courageous and not afraid of risk. I’d prefer he not pierce anything or tattoo anything or jump out of or off anything unless there’s a really good reason. But I am also determined not to get into battles over matters of fad and fashion. Both D and I came from the generation where the Beatles‘ haircuts and Twiggy‘s hemlines caused fierce arguments in families. Was it really worth it? Does it really matter now that in 9th grade I had a dress so short that it came with matching underwear? These days, I guess mothers are happy that at least kids are wearing underwear. Or maybe not, since the whole “pull your pants up you look like an idiot” thing seems to have replaced “go get a haircut you look like a damn hippie.”
Fad and fashion. Who knows what my son’s generation will come up with. Or even scarier, what if he wants to be a republican just to test his dad and me. Boy, just thinking about that makes a piercing and a few tattoos seem pretty good to me. Pierce away my child, pierce away.
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