816 North Opinion

July 6, 2014

Susan Vollenweider: Happy Independent Kids Day!

How long have the kids been moving toward an independence day of their own? Why aren’t we celebrating that?

Last week we celebrated our country’s independence from British rule. In honor of the day that the Continental Congress told King George III, “You are NOT the boss of me!” we lighted fireworks, ate grilled food and wore the most horrendous red, white, and blue outfits that our closets could produce. Freedom came at a very steep price but that day was a milestone step worthy of celebration all these years later.

“Mom,” Luke told me a week before the first sparkler was lighted, “we got fireworks on the way back from fishing, and we’re all going to Grandma’s for the Fourth.” He then proceeded to tell me what I was to bring and the details of the holiday. I didn’t have to make the family playdate.

Actually, I haven’t had to make a playdate in a very long time.

How long have these kids been moving toward an independence day of their own? Why aren’t we celebrating that?

They came to me fully dependent, soon became mobile, but in need of constant parental eyes. During the Pinball Phase — toddlers bouncing from one object to the next with very little rhyme, reason or caution — herding them nearly tore out my stomach through my heart.

But one day I brought a clipboard to the front desk at the pediatrician’s office and when I returned to my seat tiny Bekah was exactly where I had left her. She smiled at me as I sat back down, cautiously picked up a magazine …

... and then she climbed into my lap because Mommy reading meant Mommy was going to read to Bekah. It was a start toward independence but I didn’t think to celebrate it.

One day I raced through a much-needed shower, emerged partly dried off a whole 30 seconds later — and Luke was still in his room playing with cars on the floor. “Hi, Mommy!” he said implying, “Crazy woman, you’re dripping all over my road.”

I should have celebrated it.

Little moments of independence followed over the years — the first time I could trust they wouldn’t run into the street and the related first time I didn’t have to say, “Hands on the shopping cart!” I was too busy to celebrate them.

I easily remember the feeling of freedom when they first fixed their own breakfast (followed by the first time they ate a key dinner ingredient for lunch). Nice trick, but did I celebrate it? No.

I will never forget the cautiously liberating moment when I first left Bekah, recent graduate of Babysitter School, with her two younger brothers so I could dash to the grocery store. There was no celebration of the development of that trust, only a rapid change of me getting used to not having to drag them with me. Life became a series of drop-offs: drop off at sports practice, drop at the pool or at a movie with a friend. I may have giggled as I drove off alone but that was the only celebration.

It was hard the first time a friend picked them up in a car with no parent at all. Instead of celebrating the independence, I was overcome with that toddler-running-in-the-street feeling all over again.

“Mom, can I go to …,” became, “Mom, I am going to ….” Subtle, but significant change. No celebration.

Independence in a child’s life is the goal, and while there are years ahead before I can declare them fully independent, maybe it’s time to stop and celebrate the steps we have all taken.

Happy All the Little Steps Toward Independence Day, Kids!

(I’m still sorta the boss of you.)

Freelance columnist Susan Vollenweider lives in Smithville. For more of her writing, visit thehistorychicks.com.

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