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It’s not about the ice cream.

Posted by on March 2, 2011 at 5:45 pm

Monday afternoon, my son Jake (5) wanted something else to drink at the cafe. We’re neither fancy nor French but my son LOVES “cafes,” and I can turn any local coffee shop into a cafe by simply calling it a cafe. He wanted more to drink so I handed him three dollars (I knew it was only two but I hated the idea of him not having enough — nothing more embarrassing than that, as far as I’m concerned.) and pointed him in the direction of the front counter, maybe 100 feet from where we were sitting.

He insisted that I go up to get it for him and I insisted that he go. Eventually he realized that I wasn’t going to bend. For him to obtain another lemonade he needed to put on his big-boy pants and march bravely forth:  stand in a line of strangers (grown-ups), order, pay and return to the safety our table. He thought for a while and eventually he mustered up his courage and set off.  Of course, I watched him the whole way and felt a surge of relief when he actually had his drink in hand and was headed back to me.  He was proud (and no longer thirsty) and I was proud, too. Of both of us.

This cafe day, coupled with a great post by Jenny Heitz this week at A Child Grows in Brooklyn called Parenting in the Age of Fear, has me wondering when it’s okay for us to start encouraging (or pushing?) them to be more independent? Of course, I don’t let the 5-year old walk the dog by himself but he gets to hold the leash and and “be in charge” while I bite my tongue (almost off) as I try not to micromanage leash length, treat allocation, etc. (Yes, I’m a pleasure to live with. Shame my husband doesn’t have a blog.)

I don’t know how old I was when I got to start doing things on my own but I know I was probably allowed to ride bikes with my friend Tricia to Gebos for penny candy when we were 8-ish. Or maybe we weren’t allowed, but we were out riding our bikes so we just ended up there. Lots of freedom comes from having wheels, and as a city kid, my son will probably not ride anywhere on his bike for a long time. (That he is barely done with his training wheels is another whole story.) And of course, along with my desire that my kids are capable, independent people comes the desire that they don’t become those people too quickly.

I often imagine letting Jake go to our corner deli alone. He would have to ride the elevator to the lobby of our building (the elevator has an attendant), walk 8 or 10 steps to the corner, turn the corner and enter our deli, where the guys know us. No streets to be crossed, but a corner when he would leave my sight if I were to follow him as a spy. (And of course, I plan to follow him for a long time.) I envision him selecting whatever his $5 can buy him. I wonder if he would be safer if I sent his little sister along as a back-up and made them hold hands? (Because a snatcher might successfully snatch my sweet son but wouldn’t have a chance if he tried to snatch the crazy little sister.) And though I know he can order my coffee (he even knows my order at Starbucks, which is different than my deli coffee order; his father, sadly, choses to know neither), he doesn’t read yet so what if he grabs me a pint of chocolate chocolate chip instead of the vanilla heath bar crunch I really want?

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