my sort of free range kid

The other morning I’m taking Ry to school and we’re going up the escalator from the train station to the street (escalator vs stairs is a conversation for another post).

as we’re going up, ry turns around and sits on the step. we’re a good 10 seconds from the top and he’s not a stupid kid. He isn’t going to just sit there while the escalator flattens out. I’ve never had to say “be careful ry because you could get stuck on the step and sucked in under the escalator and get chopped to bits and die and never see me or daddy or spongebob again.” I’ve never had to say this to him because not only is that just stupid, but because he knows. he sees the steps flatten out and go into the little landing. he knows he can’t go with it. so he gets up when we get close to the top. This isn’t something we had to TALK about. This isn’t something I’ve had to warn him about or explain to him. it’s just something he knows.

and I know he knows this because I spend almost every walking, waking moment with my son. I know this because I know my son. Because I am his mother.

So he’s sitting on the step and I’m standing right next to him, on the same step, maybe 5 inches away. Up we go, and suddenly this lady behind us says “oh no don’t do that, don’t sit there you can’t sit there no no it’s too dangerous” and actually grabs him and TRIES TO PICK HIM UP. Me, his mother, literally standing right next to him, and this woman is telling my kid what not to do and is trying to physically control him. I was shocked. Ryland ignores her, because he’s his mother’s son, and I ignore her, because I’m my son’s mother. we are champion ignorers. I don’t make eye contact with the woman and I couldn’t tell you what she looked like if I had to. she keeps trying to pick him up and I sort of scoot over and block her from him.

we get to the top and ry stands up on his own and she doesn’t manage to pick ry up before we get to the top.

ryland stands up on his own and we walk off and I think it’s over, but no. she follows us and keeps yapping, saying “oh that’s so dangerous, didn’t you hear about that woman who got stuck, and you shouldn’t do that and blah blah blah you need to be more careful” and on and on. But I refused to acknowledge her in any way, I didn’t look at her, or turn to her or say a word. Ry didn’t either. I don’t even think he realized she was talking to us. we just kept on our way.

But now I’m wishing I had said something. like maybe “don’t touch my son you fucking lunatic” or “mind your business” or “if I want my child to be maimed by an escalator in the boston transit system, that’s my choice not yours.”

It got me thinking about all the strangers we run into on a regular basis who think they have the right to parent my child and instruct me on what I’m doing wrong. If Ryland gets too close to the street, someone says something to me. if I don’t hold ry’s hand as we wait for the trains to come in, someone says something. if I let ry stand on the seat while the train is moving, someone says something.

But this kind of behavior from strangers, while super frustrating and maddening, can be ignored. because strangers are just stupid and obnoxious and I can say whatever I want or don’t want to them, and walk away.

but when other family members act this way, that is when I really struggle with staying calm and not committing homicide. if I let ryland put his hand out the window while we’re driving and his grandmother is in the car, she says “oh no ryland you’re going to lose your hand! a car is going to drive by and take your hand right off!” I’m not kidding, this actually happened. we were driving down the freeway and ry had his hand out the window, because it’s fun to put your hand out the window and she said, “No ryland! keep your hands in the car! it’s too dangerous”! as if ryland isn’t a four year old with four year old sized arms. he doesn’t have 6-ft ladders extending from his body. his arm barely goes as far as the damn sideview mirror. she’s been awarded the Worst Driver in the Universe award, regularly talks on her phone while driving, swerves when something like a fly pops up in her peripheral vision, brakes every 2 feet, and is scared of fleck of dust on the road. but she’s worried about ryland’s hand out the window.

If the temperature is below 70 degrees and I don’t have ry bundled up in four layers of clothes, she says something. If I let ryland go downstairs and out the door before me, she says something. if I let ryland eat something without first WASHING HIS HANDS OH MY GOD, she says something. It’s a wonder that I didn’t somehow manage to kill ryland in the womb (or when I was giving birth, or in the succeeding four years) with my mothering skills, or lack of them.

I thought this was just a problem I had. That I was a lackadaisical mom who was leading her kid down a dangerous and deadly path, where he is bound to be hit by a car or a train, get kidnapped, lose limbs on the freeway, and catch his death by not wearing enough clothes.

Then I found this lady, lenore skenazy, and read her blog, and I realized I am not alone. bad mothers like me abound.

I can’t really let ry outside to play with the other kids in the neighborhood, because they are of the ethnic urban variety, but I can totally let him ride the subway by himself. he knows the stops. and there are plenty of strangers who are more than happy to stick their nose where it doesn’t belong. he’ll be fine.

6 thoughts on “my sort of free range kid

  1. DG

    You need one of those fancy machine pistols or bear mace to stop these jerks from destroying your life… one sqeeze and they are all over!! Literally!!

  2. Marianne

    You know Christa, I had heard of this woman and her blog before, but never went there. I’m glad I did, I think I’ll make her one of my regular reads. I don’t agree with her all the time, but I definitely think she has the right idea.

    One time I had brought both my kids to the grocery store during a Tucson monsoon rain. The warm ones, dontchanknow, it was not actually COLD, just raining. And I had some woman literally SCREAM at me from her car that was passing to “put some clothes on your baby!” Now that I think about it, it may have been one of your in-laws, but of course, I can’t be sure.

  3. gina

    Okay – I call these people: officious intermeddlers. When this happened about a year ago, I didn’t say anything and had one of those 2 hour conversations with myself , on what I should have said to the person. You know, where you replay the scene in your mind and say all sorts of clever things… Anyway:

    I was walking down the street in Lewisburg, WV in the quaint little downtown shopping area. Aidan began screaming. For no reason, just started shreiking in a very obnoxious way. I didn’t like it, because I’m kind of uptight (and it is my perogative to be uptight) so I was like, “Aidan, please stop screaming.” and this dumb hippy beeyatch standing near us just starts screaming too. And then she bends down and tells Aidan, “See isn’t it fun when people scream with you instead of tell you not to do it.” And instead of telling her fuck off, I just didn’t say anything. I should have. But, by the time I got over my “how dare she say that” the hippy was gone.

    I really don’t know where these people get the nerve to do/say these things. I would never ever tell someone to put clothes on their kids or undermine another parent’s behavioral preference , or insist that some stranger listen to what I thought. Arrrgggghhh.

  4. Christa

    I sympathize with you both. God forbid we be allowed to parent our children.

    I don’t agree with everything this woman says either but you’re right–she has the right idea. And it’s up to her, the person who really knows her children best, to decide what they can and can’t handle. Personally I can’t imagine I’d be okay with my nine year old taking the NYC subway by himself but who knows?

  5. Marianne

    But sometimes you just have to try something to know whether or not it will work for you, right? The other day Chris and I left both kids at home alone for about an hour while we both went to the gym. It did not work. I spent the whole time too worried and distracted about the kids at home and ended up having a miserable workout. So, okay lesson learned, I am not ready to leave them both home alone together for longer than ten minutes (I have left them both home while I ran to the store, and that was fine). But if you never try, you never know, you know?

  6. Neila

    I haven’t been to the website yet, but from the way Kristyna and Michael are getting along with my sister, I think they need help, and if her blog is anything like your post…. I’m sure it will help.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *