Big Mother is Watching.

meI’m having a personal pendulum swing moment.  After years of watching my children like a hawk, not letting them go anywhere without me, hovering, ever vigilant, scanning the horizon for signs of danger – pitbulls, clowns, men in trench coats, fat ladies with puppies and candy, rusty vans – I am starting to mellow.  In my gut, I have been feeling like Saint James and Supergirl need a little space, a little freedom – for them, for me.  Maybe I’m just exhausted and the jagged edges of my catastrophe-addled mind are being worn smooth by the day to day struggle of keeping everyone fed, dressed, relatively clean and happy.  Or maybe, just maybe, I’m doing that thing that we humans do so well – I am learning.

Stranger danger.  There is nothing, and I mean NOTHINGmore terrifying than the thought of my child being abducted.  It is the stuff of nightmares and masochistic calamitizing.  (To calamitize is to imagine horrible scenarios, letting them play out in your mind in painfully vivid detail.  I thought I was the only one who did this, who could literally make myself cry imagining, for example, my funeral, my kids and husband sitting in a pew with their dear heads bent, sobbing, dressed like somber mismatched ragamuffins.  Then I started to ask some friends and it seems many women and girls do it – it’s not so much a guy thing.  Why would you do that? asks Doctor Dash, mystified by the strange and alarming workings of my mind.  I’m not sure why I do it.  Is it preparation?  An attempt to ward off horrible events?  You know, the whole if you think about it, it won’t happen theory?  Somewhere, I stumbled upon the term calamatizing and just having a name for these peculiar self-induced flights of the psyche appealed to my need to categorize things.)  In any event, the combustible combination of the media’s bloodthirsty, sensationalistic, scavenging coverage of abduction cases, muddled with my own calamitizing could easily send me over the brink, imagining pedophiles and kidnappers lurking in every nook and cranny.  

Fortunately, although I do have a vivid imagination, I have an adequate grip on reality.  I know that the incidence of abduction by strangers has not increased in the last fifty years, it’s just that we hear about cases in Florida and Nebraska on the news so it feels like it’s happening every day, in our own back yards.  It’s fear mongering, plain and simple, and I have been feeling the need to push back.

To me, the trick has always been to keep a watchful eye on my guys, without their knowing it.  If they can’t actually have the freedom we had to run around the neighborhood all day, returning home sweaty, dirty and mosquito-bitten at dusk, then they at least deserve to have the perception of freedom.  I have always felt this in my core, in an amorphous, non specific way:  there cannot be too much fear, or there will be no courage.  

And now I’m reading this book.  (You knew I was gearing up for something).  The book is called Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louve, and it is rocking my world.  It’s one of those books that is compelling and provocative and perfectly pitched for where I am right now.  Louv’s message dovetails with the vague stirrings I’ve been experiencing.  Embedded within his larger message about the crisis being brought about by divorcing our children from unfettered, unstructured contact with nature (more on that at a later date, for sure), is a discussion of stranger danger.  It is one of many reasons our kids are being shooed out of the woods and into their homes. 

What struck me most about all of this is that by attempting to protect our children, we may actually be putting them at greater risk.  In short, by keeping them safe inside, we are basically raising a bunch of pussies.  He didn’t quite put it that way, but that’s the gist.  Kids need real world sensory experience, idle dream time, space for imaginative play, opportunity for spontaneous socializing and conflict resolution.  These things breed self confidence, inner fortitude, street smarts, world smarts – the first lines of defense against bad people.  We don’t want our kids to be afraid of all adults – what kind of adults will they be?  We want them to be open, to be community minded, to be involved and engaged in the lives of the people around them, to be able to discern the good guys from the bad guys (and not just on a video screen).  If everyone is out and talking to and watching out for each other, it makes for a safer and healthier community.  How likely is a kid to care about the old lady down the street when he grew up with a joy stick in one hand and a bag of Cheetos in the other?

So in reading this book, I have shifted from believing that my kids need to experience perceived freedom to believing that they need real, actual freedom.  They need to brush up against the world, with all its potholes and dark corners, and feel empowered to navigate it.  I’m not at all sure how to go about this.  I haven’t even begun to figure this out.  I can only hope that in my awareness and intent lie the seeds of change.  We all want to keep our kids safe.  But at what cost?  

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