I recently had one of those moments that make you completely rethink everything you’re doing as a parent. Like most world-shaking insights, it was innocuous in its beginnings.
Tristan and I were standing in line at Pet Smart, buying dog food. There’s a Bulk Barn next door, and I’d wanted to pick up a few of Beloved’s favourite candies for him. Time was getting tight, so I contemplated sending Tristan over to Bulk Barn to pick up the candies while I waited in the longish queue for dog food. I was fairly confident he would be able to complete the transaction without any trouble, but I realized as I was pulling a twenty out of my wallet that he might never have gone in to a store to buy something by himself before.
I actually paused in surprise. Could that be possible? Has my eleven-and-a-half year old son never actually been in to a store by himself before? So I explained what I wanted him to do and asked him if he wanted to do it. Ever agreeable, he said, “Sure!” and off he went.
I was done in my queue before he was done in Bulk Barn, so I stood outside between the stores, wanting him to complete the entire transaction by himself. He came out clutching the bag of candy in one hand and my balled-up change and receipt in the other.
I thanked him, then asked if he had ever been in a store by himself before. “Um, nope, I don’t think so.”
I was gobsmacked. How has this happened? Me, who espouses a parenting philosophy of trust until proven otherwise and benign neglect and argues against coddling kids at every turn? I am all about the free-range kids, about letting them walk home from school by themselves and play outside by themselves and letting them earn trust and independence. I’m the mom who was mortified to send a child out to walk over to a friend’s house for a playdate, only to have the other parent walk my child back to the house afterward. How is it possible that a child of mine is almost a teenager and has never been in a store to buy something without a parent or grandparent with him?
My understanding of myself as a parent is seriously compromised here.
Going to the corner store was a huge part of my childhood. I was probably four, maybe five, when I started. It was all of a three block walk, but it was a hella busy road, and we moved when I was six so I know I was doing it before I hit the first grade. I can clearly remember being eight or nine and getting an allowance of 25c. I had to budget two weeks of allowance to accommodate the tax on my favourite treat, a 25c bag of chips. (Remember, the foil and paper ones ones you could split down the fold in the side?) And let’s not even talk about all the times I wandered down to pick up some smokes for my parents. Hey, it was the 1970s, none of us knew any better. And I couldn’t have been much older than 10 or 11 when I walked from my Granny’s house to Kmart on my own for the first time.
I was talking to Beloved about my utter shock at this realization, but he was less perturbed than me. “The store is pretty far from our house, and you hate walking down Bridge Street even when you’re with them because of all those trucks and the traffic. You’d never let him go alone.” It’s true, the traffic on Bridge St gives me a stomach ache, and there’s no stores on the island, but still!
(I suppose it’s a good thing that I don’t have any pictures of my kids walking by themselves in traffic to illustrate this post, right?)
It makes me sad that so many of the experiences that shaped my childhood will never happen for the boys. I can’t get over the fact that he’s almost a teenager and he’s never been to the store by himself. When I was not much older than him I was taking the bus downtown to check out the book and music stores. There isn’t much in the way of public transit out here either, which makes me wonder whether he’ll be in his thirties by the time he makes it downtown on his own. I’m only being a little bit sarcastic.
Is this just the norm for kids now, or did I miss some essential parenting here?
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