Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Get Ready, Get Set, Don't Go

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Remember Lenora Sknazy, the New York columnist who allowed her nine-year-old son to make his way to the subway and ride home alone with only $20, a subway pass, a few quarters and a transit map?

I’ve been thinking about her message a lot lately. Right now, Addy’s father and I are holding a pretty tight reign, though I realize the time is approaching when we’ll have to handle things differently. But so far we are not there yet—we have not reached the point where we allow our 11-year-old to traipse off completely alone and unsupervised.

Nevertheless, we are preparing ourselves—and more importantly her—for the time when she will be given much more freedom. And we both understand that time is fast approaching.

Country music and TV star Billy Ray Cyrus wrote a song, Get Ready, Get Set, Don’t Go about his real-life daughter Miley. On the Disney TV show Hannah Montana Dad Billy Ray tells his TV character daughter played by Miley she cannot perform at an out-of-state concert. He can’t join her and believes his 15-year-old daughter can’t handle the trip without him. Although she would be accompanied by an adult escort, he wasn’t ready to let her go. At a critical point in the show, TV character brother Jackson reminds Billy Ray he raised his children to be strong, powerful people. “Miley can handle it because you taught us how to take care of ourselves. Maybe it’s you that can’t handle it.”

This is the question I repeatedly ask myself when I want to say no to Addy’s request—“Is it me or Addy who can’t handle it?” I work hard to check my motives.
Sometimes I have really good reasons—like when I still say no to Addy having a Facebook account. Other times I wonder if I’m being a little like Billy Ray—saying no because I can’t let go.

And then I hear a story about the Abernathy Boys who trekked from Oklahoma to New York City on horseback in 1910. It wasn’t the only long-distance trip they made. The boys took five such trips alone. On the trip to New York, Bud (age 6) and brother Temp (age 10) rode some 2,000 miles to visit with President Teddy Roosevelt. The story goes the boys were attempting the trip simply to see if they could do it.
Wasn’t that Lenora Sknazy’s line of thinking, too? Her son wanted to try and she let him. There was no other reason for the choice but to let him feel a little grownup. She said, “He was nine and had been begging me to please let him find his way home from someplace—anyplace—on the subway, by himself.”

Yes, I have some thinking to do. I know my daughter is reaching a point where she too needs to feel more grownup and allowed to do what any 11-year-old should do. But still I believe I’m looking at things from the best perspective. Addy is being trained to be self-reliant and make choices for herself. She will simply be doing so with us looking over her shoulder a little bit longer.

Children don’t come with instruction manuals, and let’s face it, Lenora, we live in a scary world. The good news for Addy is that I am more aware and will take time and effort to evaluate requests, which means checking my motives. But for now, I’ll err on the side of precaution and safety.