Last week my post discussed the start of the football season and what that meant in the lives of coaches’ wives. Well, football ain’t the only thing kicking off in August. The start of football season signals the start of school for many kids and families. Back-to-school for me and my grown children is very different now than the experiences we had when they were younger. Over the last couple of weeks, I have talked to friends with young ones headed back to school. Watching them gear up for school and everything that comes with the school year brought back memories of the decisions and the planning families engage in to survive each school year. What to wear? Which activities? How much will this cost us? Who can pick them up? Who planned these bus routes? Too many concerns for one blog post so I will do this in parts.
My kids were four years apart and that turned out to be a good thing for me when it came to scheduling. It just meant that there was generally no free time in my schedule. By the time I watched one get on the bus before sunrise it was time to drag the other one out of bed to get to the next bus stop on time. I think the staggered school schedules worked when they were middle school and high school age because they were old enough to hang out at home or wherever and manage until I could get there.
Recently, I had a discussion with a friend about kids managing at home alone and how you decide when they are old enough to stay home alone. We agreed that there does come a time when you have to trust them to stay home alone even though you think that they are somewhat immature and prone to spontaneous decision making in ways that make you nervous. (As a parent of grown children, let me tell you that this phenomenon might present itself over the course of many years so take deep breaths and carry on.) I praised my friend for the strategic after school plan she developed then I told her about one of my experiences.
When I thought my son was old enough to stay home alone, I tested my theory with a short trip to the grocery store. I only needed a few items and the store was a fifteen-minute drive from the house, one way. I figured he would be glued to the television watching a movie or playing video games so my absence wouldn’t be felt. Before leaving, I gave him a list of things not to do. I said, “Don’t’ answer the phone unless it’s your dad or me calling. Don’t open the door for anyone. Don’t go outside. And, call me if you need me.” Then, I reminded him that I was putting the cordless phone right beside him. The rules seemed straight forward enough. He affirmed that he understood with a head nod and probably his normal, “I got it, Ma.”
Taking deep breaths, I got into my car, said a little prayer, and headed to the store. Those who know me well know that I can get a little distracted in stores by whatever the new, bright, shiny thing might be that draws my attention, but not on this shopping trip. I was super focused. I arrived at the store and made my way through the aisles at almost an anxious speed shopper pace quickly grabbing the items on my very short list. I praised myself for staying on task as I got back into the car and headed home.
I arrived back home relieved that I had not received any distress calls and proud that he was not outside shooting baskets in the driveway. Everything looked good so far. The creative, impulsive one seemed to have successfully managed his inaugural home alone experience. I opened the door with my bags in tow and shouted out, “Hey, I’m back. How’d it go being home alone?” He said, “Good.” (Note that “good” for some reason is the go to response of adolescent children for every question asked by an adult person.) After he assured me that he didn’t take any calls or answer the door or go outside, he said, “Guess what?! I baked us some cookies!”
You know that smile you give when you want to appear excited although your heart is sliding in slow motion to your feet? Well, that’s the face I think I showed him. Clearly, I must have disguised my alarm because he excitedly reached to open the oven to show me the perfectly baked chocolate chip cookies. “How thoughtful,” I said with my inside sarcastic voice. I hurried into mama mode, gently snatched the oven mitt away from him while flashing that same “oh my gosh I can’t believe this just happened smile.” I took deep breaths and forced myself not to get caught up imagining all of the possible awful scenarios that could have happened in my kitchen when the impulsive, creative one decided to hone his master chef skills in my absence. After we put away the groceries, we sat down and enjoyed the cookies. Parenting always provides teaching moments for me too and that day I learned a valuable lesson: Don’t forget to tell them not to cook when you are trying to test whether or not they are old enough to stay home alone.