Today Lucy goes on her first field trip. She and the rest of the kindergarteners are going to a restored theatre in a nearby city to see a production of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Presumably the story has been embellished somewhat, or the play would be about four minutes long. Lucy is no stranger to the theatre – we went to the Nutcracker Ballet just last weekend, in fact – but this is different. She’s going with her classmates, not her brother, and her teacher, not her parents. She has been excited for weeks.
On the one hand, I am delighted that the school is taking the kids to any play, but this play at this theatre in particular. On the other hand, I have only recently gotten used to dropping Lucy off at school and leaving her there. It is just in the last few weeks that I have not compulsively turned on my cell phone the moment I leave her at the door, in case they need to call me before I get home approximately ten minutes later. So the idea of having them take her somewhere else is a little… unsettling.
Now, my husband and I like our grownup time, and we have been leaving Lucy in the care of other people for entire weekends since she was three months old. Granted, those other people are her grandparents, or, on one memorable occasion, my brother and sister-in-law (heavily pregnant with their own first child and thinking, I suppose, that they needed the practice.) She’s also had babysitters in various capacities for just as long. So why does this seem so different? I guess it’s that the field trip is yet another manifestation of her growing independence. When we leave her with a sitter, I tell the sitter when to show up, and what to do, and when to leave. Even when we leave her with our parents, we make all the arrangements and all the decisions. But with the field trip, it’s out of my hands. What time are they leaving? I don’t know. What time will they be back? They didn’t say. Will they eat lunch before they leave or when they return? It’s not up to me.
I met a woman recently who told me that she has to restrain herself from emailing her daughter’s kindergarten teacher every day. At first I found this commendable, but then it became clear that she restrains herself not because she wants to give her daughter some space, but because she is afraid that the teacher will become annoyed and stop answering her. I’m not sure if this is funny or sad, but I do know that this is the same parent who will check her daughter’s homework every night until the child leaves for college, and will then call (or maybe email) the college professors to intervene when the daughter has a problem. I think parents who do this call it “being an advocate.” I call it refusing to let your child grow up, and it scares me to think of a world in which kids who never learned to be their own advocates are running the show. As a friend who is a retired educator put it to me recently, “thank God I’ll be dead by then.”
All parents worry about letting their kids go. It’s part of our job to worry about it. But the kids aren’t supposed to know that we’re worried – that just teaches them that we think they can’t make it on their own, a self-fulfilling prophecy if ever there was one. The difference between the parent who lets go anyway and the parent who can’t was evident to me at a recent visit to the playground: two toddlers, about the same age, were climbing on equipment meant for somewhat older children. Both mothers were right next to them. One mother was admonishing her child to be careful, hold her hand, not climb too high. That child got scared halfway up and had to be helped down. The other mother was silent. She stood behind the climbing child, spotting but not touching. I’m not sure if the child knew she was there or not. That child climbed to the top and went down the slide. True story.
I guess it's obvious which kind of parent I want to be. I’m looking forward to hearing about the play when Lucy gets home, mostly because I know she’s going to love it, and only a little bit because then I’ll know she’s home safely.