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.