My 9-year old had to stay home from school today because even though he seems totally fine, he’s had a stomach ache for a few days and I wanted to make sure he’s not in danger of infecting the whole school! Kind of me, I know! But his being home presented a new problem for me (well not really a problem, but more of a decision) – when I go walk the dog, do I leave him at home for no more than 15 minutes by himself? Is he ready? Am I ready? I really struggled over what to do. I know I could have brought him with me and leave this decision for another day, but as he is 9 and pretty responsible as far as 9 year olds go, I figured now was as good a time as any to figure this out.
Now, when I was his age, I had already been left home alone more times than I can count. I can clearly remember being home alone for an hour or two when I was 6 years old. By the time I was in 4th grade (so only slightly older than my son), I had my own house key and walked the .7 miles home from school on most days. Having a sister 5 years older than me, I guess she was doing her own things in middle school, so she wasn’t home when I got home. I spent a lot of time home alone until my mom got home to take us to swim practice.
I even remember how, when I would forget my house key, I knew how to break into my house so that my mom never found out I was being irresponsible with my key (if you’re reading this now, mom, sorry!). After letting myself into the house through the front door, or the kitchen window in the back of my house, I would make myself a snack, sometimes even using the (gasp!) oven or stove. My mom and dad had created a signal for my sister and I to use to know when they were calling us (ring once, hang up, and then ring again – we always knew it was then), and if the caller didn’t use the signal, then we wouldn’t answer the phone. We knew everyone’s emergency contact number, and we knew which neighbors we could call on in case of emergency.
Of course, these were the 80’s and I think it probably was a lot safer than it is today. Even though we had moved to South Florida right around the time Adam Walsh was abducted and murdered, I have to imagine my parents weren’t overly terrified of child predators lurking in our very nice suburban neighborhood. Or maybe they were terrified and didn’t let on, I don’t know. Maybe it was the fact that parents of my parents’ generation weren’t inclined to helicopter parent – they knew that to raise a responsible kid, you had to give them the chance to be responsible at an early age.
Whatever it was that made it a no-brainer to leave me home alone with such great responsibility, times are very different now. As much as I want to let my son walk to and from school by himself (and believe me, he asks ALL THE TIME), I’m not ready yet. Which is crazy, because A) our neighborhood is right across the street from the school and it’s not very far to walk (if he hops over the fence behind the next door neighbors house, he’d be at the school in less than 5 minutes; if he walks the legit way, he’d be there in 11 minutes); B) if he rode his bike, he’d get home even quicker; C) he wouldn’t be alone, my 6.5 year old daughter would be with him and a number of other kids his age walk home by themselves (strength in numbers); and D) our au pair would be at home waiting for him to arrive at home, so he wouldn’t even be home alone.
But knowing all of this, it still makes me nervous to let go even a little bit. The closest I have come to leaving him (and his siblings) home alone is taking the dog across the street to toilet where I could see them the entire time. I made them stand by the windows in front of the house and I didn’t turn my back for one second. And I guess I am letting go a little more because I let him and my daughter ride their bikes alone (gasp!) around the block (gasp!). It was hard and I was practically in a hyperventilating panic the entire time. It took everything I had to sit in the front stoop and not jump into my car and go follow behind them.
Maybe I am overly paranoid, but I’m just terrified of child predators, especially since I know they live in every single community in America. I get alerts when there is a new registered sex offender in my zip code and I memorize their faces. I am scared that he (and all of my children) are too trusting because they live in such a sheltered, affluent, gated little existence. My kids just don’t understand the first thing about real danger because they haven’t really needed to. I’ve spoken them about bad people who try to snatch kids, but I don’t know if they fully grasp my fear. So, I continue to keep them sheltered and have a hard time letting go.
So, today. My au pair had taken the little guy for a walk and the dog was wailing because she really needed to go to the bathroom. I asked my son to get on his coat so we could go walk the dog, but he wanted to stay at home to finish his homework so that he could relax and enjoy the rest of his sick day. He promised he wouldn’t burn down the house (“Mom, I won’t put socks in the oven like Colton did“) and said he wasn’t going to do anything but work on fractions on the computer. He told me he knows my phone number and would call me if there were any problems (“which obviously there won’t be, Mom“). He assured me that our au pair would be home with the little guy before I even got back home, so he wouldn’t even be home alone for very long (“It’s only 10 minutes, Mommmmm“. And of course he threw in a little guilt (“why don’t you trust me, Mom?“). As I was struggling (in my head) over whether or not it would be okay for me to leave him alone for 15 minutes while I walk the dog, it hit me that, at 9, maybe it’s time to loosen my grip just a tad. I know him to be responsible, as he has never tried to turn on the stove or flood the house by closing all the bathroom sink drains and turning on the water like his younger brothers have already done several times, and he never tried to leave the house to come look for me at the dentist when daddy wasn’t paying good attention like my daughter did when she was only 2. And I knew that our au pair would be back before I did, so I would be leaving him at home for maybe 10-15 minutes at most.
As scared as I was, I pulled the trigger. I went out, and he stayed in. YIKES!
I ended up cutting the dog’s walk really short because I was obviously very nervous and distracted (which probably was perfectly fine with the dog – she is getting on in age and doesn’t enjoy long walks like she used to). As I approached my house and didn’t see an ambulance or a police car, and no one had called or texted me saying anything was wrong, I breathed a little sigh of relief. And when I opened the door, my son was there to greet me and he gave me a big hug and kiss. “Thank you for trusting me, Mom.”
I guess he’s ready (in small doses). I’m not sure if I am, though.
(Of course, now that I have trusted him a little, he thinks he’s ready to make his own lunch (under supervision). Give them an inch…)
FOR MORE RESOURCES ON ASSESSING READINESS FOR HOME ALONE SITUATIONS, CHECK OUT MY PINTEREST PAGE: