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Why You Should Let Your Kids Learn To Walk Without You


Do you ask why there is mayonnaise on the floor, approximately eight feet from the counter on which your five-year-old is making a turkey sandwich—for breakfast—or do you just let it go? No, you notice the crude attempt to clean it up. The greasy smear of mayo and some sort of cleaning solution. Maybe it’s just water.

You have to ask, even though time is of the essence. She matter of factly informs you, “I dropped the jar.” That’s when you realize how much worse the situation could have been. Thankfully, you have but a few gelatinous splatters and smears to clean. You rush, anxious to beat a possible surprise inspection by Child Protective Services. You finish cleaning, carefully placing the dangerous butter knife into the dishwasher. You remind the five-year-old to close the blinds before crawling on the counter and hurry her through the destruction—that is, consumption—of the evidential sandwich. Safety first. Safety always. The alpha and the omega. Heaven forbid you accidentally raise an adult.

It was really necessary for things to end up this way, despite what you may be thinking. In the bad old days, children routinely lost limbs, and occasionally life, while preparing peanut butter sandwiches. The flat-top hairstyle was not popular for sartorial reasons, but because most young men had flattened their heads riding bicycles without helmets. Little ones who dared to go outside unsupervised were frequently captured and carried off by hungry hawks and eagles. Those who dared go outside in the evening faced owls.

We’ve made some progress, although we had to start with the easy targets—the ones that don’t really protect us from the horrors we constantly face as human beings. We have seatbelt laws. We have car seats for babies and kids, though we should also probably mandate car seats for adults. We have strictures against excess recess and classroom snacks featuring gluten and flavor. We don’t have a federal mandate for bicycle helmets yet; for the time being we just strongly encourage them. Soon we’ll make a law. Then a law requiring everyday helmets. It’s not just random falls to worry about. Everyday helmets offer the added benefit of a being coated with non-caloric silicon-based lubricant that is 500 times more slippery than any cooking oil. Try to grab onto that, birds of prey!

Back to Reality—Oh, There Goes Gravity

Pardon me. I briefly wandered into a Kurt Vonnegut dystopia. Back on earth and in the USA, a place where we’re still free to raise hell and do front-flips on snowmobiles, we’d never be so cautious. We love to take risks; we imbue that love in our children. We give them the freedom to lose limbs, to bust their skulls, to be carried off by large winged predators.

Except we really don’t. Our world is becoming a dystopian novel, one in which parents Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, whose children are 10 and 6, are being investigated for letting those kids walk a mile unsupervised. A mile. One mile. Ten- and six-year-olds. Not even uphill both ways in the snow. What fresh hell is this?

It’s not the first time. No, the Meitiv youngsters have previously taken walks around the block, to a local 7-11, and even to a library. A library!

Are you disturbed yet? If not, then take a look at this quote from Danielle Meitiv.

“The world is actually even safer than when I was a child, and I just want to give them the same freedom and independence that I had—basically an old-fashioned childhood,” she said. “I think it’s absolutely critical for their development—to learn responsibility, to experience the world, to gain confidence and competency.”

Responsibility, confidence, competency? A modern American craves not these things. With these comes risk and, especially when it comes to our own offspring, we’re not too big on risks. As the always incisive @maxwellarm tweeted.

Bike helmets and child booster seats in cars. Symbols of decline.

— Adam R. Maxwell (@maxwellarm) January 18, 2015

This loops us back to the problems we’re facing. If we are to raise future adults, we cannot live in fear. And, no, I’m not about to start invoking FDR. He’s part of the reason we ended up here. But we do tend to forget that on a long-enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone falls to zero. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be prudent, but we’re all going to get injured and die.

Risks Are Part of Life, and Kids Should Learn to Manage Them

At times, we have disputes about this in my household. At times, I pick obnoxious fights politely initiate conversations with my wife regarding the merits of letting our five-year-old supervise the two-year-old in the front yard. We live in a cul de sac. We have a front yard. The five-year-old is fairly responsible. We possibly have mountain lions.

Not sure we’ll stick to the government suggestion that she ride in a booster until she’s 47 years old or eight feet tall, whichever comes first.

Perhaps my wife is right when it comes to the front yard. True, we can’t see them in the backyard, but I’m pretty sure mountain lions can’t scale a six-foot privacy fence and, even if they could, they surely wouldn’t want to navigate the landmines strategically placed around the yard by our two large dogs. So the kids are likely safer back there. Plus, the dogs would hopefully put up somewhat of a fight were a mountain lion to saunter in.

Mountain lions aside, we mostly agree when it comes to risk and not helicoptering. We also don’t have time. We’ll probably never know how the five-year-old chipped her front tooth. We do use booster seats, but our oldest is seven. Not sure we’ll stick to the government suggestion that she ride in a booster until she’s 47 years old or eight feet tall, whichever comes first. And, contra my support for Adam’s tweet, the kids do wear their Hello Kitty bike helmets. I think that’s a fashion statement, though, as the amount of blood that came pouring from the five-year-old’s mouth after an accident which I can’t describe because I totally wasn’t on the other side of the track not paying attention, but because I was so traumatized, can only be described as a plethora. Can one bleed a plethora of blood? Eh, doesn’t matter. There was much wailing and rubbing of stain sticks. ­

Relax, People: The Kids Are Really Fine

But she survived. As did the seven-year-old when I was showing her how to add power steering fluid to my car and maybe got a little sloppy. I missed her eyes. Got a little in her hair, maybe some on her cheek. But the guys at O’Reilly’s let us use their bathroom to clean up and we only ran three more errands before I took her home and let her continue to wear the same clothes.

The two-year-old, well, she still requires more supervision, which is why she goes in the back yard. With the mountain lions.

Similarly, they both ended up with nothing more than extra sap on their hands when I let them help me with the annual “Get Rid of the Christmas Tree” ritual. This year was supposed to be different. Namely, a couple offered to pick up the tree and haul it to a local big cat rescue. Apparently big cats like playing with old Christmas trees. The couple didn’t show up. So I was back to my normal plan—hack it into pieces and throw it over the fence into the community composting pile a.k.a. the ravine behind my fence.

The older two accompanied me. Sensing potential danger, they promptly asked me to show them how to use the hand-held saw. I handed it over to them, provided brief instructions, and got my fingers a safe distance away. They weren’t quite strong enough, but they got the gist. They had more success throwing tree parts over the fence, which, in the parlance of Bob Ross, became a happy accident in my master plan to distract the mountain lions. Unless the mountain lions bring them into the yard to play because it’s more spacious, but that is a question for another time.

Back to the original question: Do you ask why there is mayonnaise on the floor? Of course you do. It might give you a chance to prevent it from happening in the future. It also provides you the chance to swell with pride that your little hobbit, eager to eat first breakfast without waking you, managed to make her own sandwich, albeit with a side of carnage. Just as you beam with the knowledge that your seven-year-old won’t freak out the next time you accidentally splash a fair amount of random automotive fluid on her. The two-year-old, well, she still requires more supervision, which is why she goes in the back yard. With the mountain lions. But as her primary method of communication is growling, she’ll be just fine. They all will. We just have to let them get out and stretch their legs.