The kids are aging and growing and as my father, God bless him, used to say, …and that’s how it’s supposed to be. My problem is that saying that presumes that I have a clue of how it’s supposed to be. I’m very comfortable with many aspects of fatherhood and parenting, but helping prepare a rising high school senior for the world is new and – honestly – scary territory. Where’s the balance betweem staying grounded with the family and becoming independent? Because learning independence requires having a degree of independence.
I’ve been to college and seen what happens with kids who are truly on their own for the first time and drive their proverbial freedom into a brick wall. There’s no perceptible reason why they couldn’t handle it while I did, apart from the fact that my parents gave me some latitude as I came through high school. Latitude? In the early Spring of my senior high school year, they took a 10 day trip to Europe and left me to myself and the quiet surveillance of a community of small town neighbors and friends. When I missed school with a virus, the vice-principal’s wife dropped by the first afternoon with some food and did indeed verify that I was truly sick. Nothing terrible that some sleep and a quiet diet wouldn’t cure and I later found that my father had been made aware while in France. That however, was a very different time and environment.
We’re going to Europe ourselves in two weeks, but the kids will come with us. Not because we don’t trust them, but because we believe that with the way things are going, these children might never again have the opportunity to see places that they’ve wanted to go. And trust me, I have no burning desire to travel to these places, but the kids do and so we’ve saved for two years to make this work.
But back to providing latitude. I’ve said for years that children are egocentric and if I could graph it with degree of egocentrism on the y-axis and age on the x-axis, it would be appear to be an oscillating wave with the low points in the middle years of childhood and the height both in the early years as well as the mid to late teens. In the early years, the egocentrism is a function of need since they depend on you for almost everything and that lessens as they age. But I’ve seen it ratchet upwards in the mid/late teens as they gain a taste of independence and a wider, more eclectic set of friends. There are more things to do, a greater diversity in interests and activities, and kids are beginning to develop their own eccentricities and quirks on the adulthood path. I recall those days well as friends became black belts, developed their musical skills to impressive levels and experienced new genres of music. Of course, friends also drank, smoked dope, broke into churches and subsequently drove around the county wearing clerical vestments, made master keys of the local high school and passed almost an entire school year using free gas courtesy of the pump for the district school buses.
Really. And in this era of MTV’s Jackass, it’s only gotten weirder.
It’s exciting and something in which an eager soon-to-be-adult can completely lose herself. Having seen much of this as well, it’s frankly terrifying at moments. So what are we trying to remember as Eldest enters this pubescent free-fire zone?
- Always find out who’s going to be there as much as possible. Who is she with and if they’re at someone’s home, are the parents there?
- As much as possible, where are they going to be? Honestly, I have crawled into the car to take a short detour of six miles to get ice cream at the convenience store two blocks away and fortunately, it appears that what’s supposed to happen is happening.
- What are the check-in times? Give us a call about mid-evening to check in and let us know if there are any changes in plans. If there is no call, then the kids should expect a call from us.
- Whenever possible, meet the other kids with whom they’re spending times. It’s not perfect – way, way far from it – but it’s a relief to at least put names with faces and there are instances when the vibes can jump out at you.
- Take a moment before they leave to remind them of a few items and then hope and pray that they remember the lessons that you’ve left since they were old enough to listen. Or at least before they started to ignore you because you were no longer cool.
- Go ahead and tell them that there are going to be nights that are at home and not out with the crowd.