Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Clean up, Clean up, Everybody Clean .... Oh, Wait

"It's not fair!" whined The Girl to me last week. I had asked her to put away the toys, clothes, books and art supplies that she and a friend had dragged--and left--out after that day's playdate. Although this plaint is commonly issued from The Girl's lips, as I helped her to put away these things, I realized: she's right.

It's not fair. But how did we get here? When The Boy, The Girl and The Tot were younger, I preferred to pick up the detritus of play myself. In our tiny Chicago foursquare, doing it myself was expeditious. But now that my children are bigger, and their toys are smaller, space efficiency is less important to me. And after three kids, the concept of "a place for everything and everything has its place" is considerably less important to me. But, I'm still working out how -- or whether -- to broach this subject with my friends and my children's friends. The subject has never really come up.

And it's an interesting question for which there is no one answer. Like common sense, the only thing common about it is the diversity of approaches. When I was a child, my parents and most of their friends were firmly in the "clean up before you go home" camp. But their attitude was not universally shared, even by neighbors or friends. To wit: as a child, I remember becoming incensed with a neighbor child who suddenly had to go home every time it came time to clean up. It seemed so patently unfair that I once physically blocked the doors until she agreed to clean up. (She didn't. My mother intervened. She wasn't allowed to come over to my house anymore. In full disclosure, she was two years older than me.) OK, so blocking her from leaving was wrong, but even as an adult, I don't understand why didn't she have to follow the rules?

Admittedly, the rules of engagement are different for my children than they were when I was a child. The only time my mother accompanied me to a playdate was when it was outside the neighborhood. While drop-off playdates are now the norm for The Tot, The Boy and The Girl, the rules for clean-up have not yet been established. Maybe now is the time to start laying the groundwork for play. House rules, if you will.

What do you think? What have you done? Do you have established rules for clean-up and playdates at your house? Do your children follow a certain protocol?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Urbanism and Child Safety

I've never really thought my parenting "style" or outlook was very different than the norms for my age, socioeconomic group or educational background. Sure, I made some parenting decisions that were a bit different than the national norms (cloth diapering, breastfeeding beyond 3 months) and even familial ones (ahem, circumcision). But after nearly two years on NPN, an active paid community of Chicago(land) parents, I've come to the conclusion that my point of view on parenting topics, especially as they relate to child safety, is outside the norm.

My neighbor, an avid reader of the same site, recently congratulated me on my status as "worst mother in America," as judged by our fellow NPN mothers. I leave my children in the (non-running, locked) car for less than 10 minutes while I drop off my dry-cleaning, pick up their sibling from a playdate at a friend's house, and even when I desperately need a caffeine shot at my local Starbucks. My opponents contend that such practices are dangerous. Something could happen to the car while I am gone. "Something"could happen to the car while I am in it.

Don't misunderstand me: I am not a risk-taker by nature, and I am utterly horrified by violence or abuse to a child (or anyone). I've been fortunate not to have experienced it firsthand, and that may guide my perspective. But I refuse to live in fear and I don't want to make my children unnecessarily anxious either. I have not yet read Gavin de Becker's The Gift of Fear; I understand that his point is that you should trust the sense of fear or uneasiness you get about some people or situations. I totally understand that, and think it makes sense. But I refuse to look for it, especially in situations where it may not be there.

Recently, two separate NPN posts asked about related issues: how long can you take your opposite-sex child with you into the restroom in a public place, such as Target? And how long can you take your opposite-sex child with you into the locker room at the pool? Note that the questions were worded in this way, which suggests that this behavior (taking opposite-sex child with you) is desired, versus the way I would have asked them: At what age is it OK to allow your opposite-sex child to use the restroom in a public place and/or use the opposite-sex change room?

The prevailing view on NPN was that it's OK until your boy is age 9. Nine? Are they kidding? That's the same age that Lenore Skenazy's son was when she left him at a Manhattan Bloomingdale's with $20 and a subway map.

The Boy is 8. He's been peeing at the local Target since he was 6. And I've been saying the same thing every time he goes in: don't talk to anyone, don't let anyone touch you and scream like hell if someone tries to touch you. No one ever has.

While stories like this one are frightening, I wish more parents would take it for what it is: fear-mongering. Yes, it happened and yes it was horrible, but it's also exceedingly rare (or statistically insignificant) for children to be molested by strangers (in a bathroom or otherwise). The data does not support the idea that something was likely to happen to The Boy today when we found ourselves at the end of an L ride in the Thompson Center with full bladders and a cross-town appointment in 10 minutes. While using the restroom in the basement of the Thompson Center has never been my top restroom destination, you get what you get sometimes. Our experience bore out the stats: no problems.

What do you think? How tight should we keep the reins on our children? Is the risk of harm greater for city kids? Does it depend on where in the city?

Saturday, April 09, 2011


Well, that was fun while it lasted. By choice, I'll be back on the SAHM circuit on Monday. It sounds clich├ęd, but this really is the right thing for our family. Between childcare costs and taxes, I was taking home 8 cents on the dollar. Yes, you read that right.

I have mixed feelings about it. As I said last year, working full-time in a rigid job is a killer.  Everything from going to school functions to cooking to doing laundry is a hassle. But the flip side is the intellectual flat-line that often accompanies spending 14 hours a day in the company of 3 children who all want your attention, right now. When I told my co-workers that I was leaving to return to the SAHM life, most expressed envy. As The Dad said, there is such romanticism about staying at home.