Friday, June 22, 2012

Ramona and me

I've been reading the Ramona books to Helen, and other than the pleasure of remembering scenes and phrases I've been turning over in my head for over thirty years and a slight irritation with how long the chapters are, what keeps gobsmacking me every time I turn the page is how free ranging these kids are. Okay, yes, it was the fifties, and yes, I get it, it's fiction--no one evvver exaggerates in fiction--but still. Nine-year-old Beezus looks forward to her Saturday art class, when she can leave preschool-aged Ramona to play by herself in the sand pile at the playground while she goes in and paints. Meanwhile their mother is--what? Learning to dance the mambo, presumably, or working on her novel, or running a political campaign out of her home--I mean, the mind boggles! What couldn't be accomplished, if your kids were free to just go ahead and take care of their own needs, unattended by you?

It hit especially hard, since while we read Beezus and Ramona I was trying to firm up summer plans and furtively googling latchkey kids and legal age home alone. (Spoiler: the law in Colorado still trusts parental judgment on this one, thank god. Unlike Illinois, where it is apparently the law that no one under the age of 14 can be left home alone--I mean, can you imagine? What the hell? There are states where you can get married at age 14.) I wanted to be able to drag the book out as a kind of living proof that kids used to be thought more capable than they are now- how once upon a time we parents weren't expected to be in constant doting attendance on our offspring. And how that offspring had a chance to develop on its own as a result. Kids used to be able figure out how the world worked on their own, I argued to imaginary juries. Or imaginary authority figures. Or imaginary other parents. I'm not sure whom I was arguing against, here, and frankly, the range of what parents are able to tolerate in other parents in this corner of the world, separate from Internet Crazytown, seems pretty reasonable.

In any case, I happen to disagree with my argumentative self on the last point, anyway. I think kids still independently figure out how the world works. The most helicoptered kids in the world still come to an independent assessment of cause and effect, and it's probably one over which their parents have little knowledge or control. Sigh. Which is the other reason I love reading the Ramona books. They give a little insight into what's happening behind the scenes when you ask, "So, how was school today?" and they answer "Fine" or "Good I guess" or my particular favorite, "I don't remember."

Even in Ramona, though, no one ever sends kids off on the bus to baseball tournaments alone (well, nobody HAS baseball tournaments. Still. If they had them, kids would be driven en famille. Probably.) Which is what I'm thinking about this weekend as I juggle 2 kids, 3 baseball games, a birthday party, a swim meet, an overnight, and a playdate as a solo parent, as M's in Utah for work. I'm getting by with a little help from some friends--not my friends, since I don't really have any in this set--but my kids' friends. It's quietly insane.

For what ultimate purpose? I don't even know, but we seem pretty committed to it, whatever it is. Must be good.


Tess said...

I know for a fact that my sister and I took care of ourselves (using our bikes or the city bus to get to the pool/community ed classes) when I was 10 and she was 8. On the one hand, I sort of can't imagine, and on the other, I don't remember feeling weird about it or like it was special or anything.

Melospiza said...

I know! I used to walk to school by myself starting in 2nd grade--past, like, fraternity houses and stuff. I would be worried to do that now, even though, on these walks, the times I was bothered by strangers or adults were a) never and the times I was bothered by slightly older kids I knew was b) pretty much every day--this was stuff that started in school and spilled over. But as a parent now I would be worried about strangers, not other kids.

This summer I am having Si bike Helen to swimming some days, and I was inspired to do so by a handful of other parents who do the same thing. I'll let them go to the park by themselves, although if they have friends over, especially friends whose parents I don't know, I consider this to be verboten and impossible. I feel like I'm leading a double life, sometimes.

Erin said...

We too had WAY more freedom as kids. I remember staying home all day with my siblings and two cousins (6 of us total), ages 6-12. Which seems wild but also totally normal?

That last paragraph really got me. I'm gonna have to think about that a lot more.

andidiehn said...

14?! Geesh.

This summer, due to my own funky work schedule, I decided nobody would sign up for anything so I wouldn't have to drive anyone anywhere. And it's awesome. We go to the lake. We go to the pool. When the boys are cranky I send them into the woods to build dams. Everyone's happier than usual. True, no one's improving their swing or stroke or ability to tie dye a t-shirt, but so be it.

Love your blog.