July 14 11

“But, Mama, when you were my age, you were FLYING across the country by yourself.”

“It’s true, Emily. But, times are different now.”

“That’s always your answer. Times are different.”

“But it’s true. When I was a kid, we rode in cars without car seats. I mean, baby, we rode in cars without seatbelts.”

“I know, I know. And you never wore a bike helmet and rode around the neighborhood alone and didn’t have to come home until dark.”

—————————————

I am absolutely gutted. The death of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky has hit me so incredibly hard. It has shocked me to my core.

He was walking home alone from camp and made the mistake of taking a wrong turn and then asking someone for directions; asking a monster. Because while Leiby’s mother was waiting in their agreed-upon meeting spot, this monster was keeping Leiby Kletzky inside of his home and then later dismembering him and  hiding his parts in a refrigerator and inside a suitcase in a  nearby trash bin.

Surveillance video pointed authorities to Levi Aron, 35, who allowed the police into his home and pointed them towards the kitchen, where they founds parts of the boy’s body. In Aron’s written confession, he claimed that he panicked when he noticed all the fliers up around his Brooklyn neighborhood, so he killed and dismembered the boy. People in their close-knit Orthodox Jewish community know Levi Aron and described him as shy and a little odd.

He was almost nine years old; he wanted to feel like a big boy and not a little kid. He begged his parents. This was the first time they let him come home alone.

A parent’s worst nightmare.

—————————————

Horrible things can happen any time and any place and they are out of my control.

I know this.

Just last weekend we watched a man open his car door and mistakenly knock a girl right off of her bike. She seemed okay, although I was concerned that she was clutching her un-helmeted head. We hear of car accidents resulting in kindergarteners’ deaths. We hear of babies drowning in pools. We hear of children choking on whole grapes, resulting in brain deaths. We hear of children dying before their second birthdays. We hear of 8-year-old boys getting abducted and dismembered by someone he possibly knows.

Tragic. All of them. Gut-wrenching and tragic.

So, while my Mama Bear urges tell me to grab my three small children and hold on to them for dear life and never let them out of my sight, I realize that this helicoptering is doing them an incredible disservice. As a parent, I know it’s my responsibility to provide my children with the tools to become independent, happy, healthy, functioning members of society.

But I struggle with the independence part.

How do I give my children the freedoms they require and so desperately want, but continue to guard them and keep them safe?

I read something recently about there being two kinds of parents. The first set of parents see that their child is about to trip and fall. They race to their child’s side and swoop her up quickly before she has the chance to hurt herself, keeping her safe and smiley. The second set of parents, too, see that their child is about to trip and fall. They allow their child to fall and then when the child cries, they swoop in quickly, wipe of her knees and assure them that even though the scrape hurt a bit, she is 100% okay and the parents are there to help.

Interesting, isn’t it?

The first set of parents avoid the hurt altogether, but there’s no room there to teach the lesson that “Yes, you *can* get hurt in this life, but we are here to support you and to help take away the pain.” 

—————————————

I stood on the front porch and watched my 10-year-old look both ways and then cross the street. I watched her walk to our mailbox, slide the key in, and grab the stack of bills and fliers. I watched her look both ways again and then cross the street again. I watched her skip up the sidewalk and onto our front porch.

“Gosh, Mama, you don’t have to watch me.”

“Yes I do, baby. Yes I do.”

“I’m not a little kid.”

And yet.

She is my little kid.

As are her brother and her sister.

Maybe I’ll hold their hands just a wee bit longer.

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  1. I’m one of the “let them fall” set of parents… but there are some things that you can’t pick them up after; those are the things I’m terrified of.

    My grip might get looser as they get older, but I’ll still be holding on.

    [Reply]

    Jen replied on

    You took the words so completely out of my mouth.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Jessica on July 14, 2011
  2. My mom and I had this same experience when Polly Klaas went missing. My mom sat me down to watch her televised funeral together. At the end of it she asked me if I had questions which I did. And then after I was done she said “baby this is why I am so protective” and you know what?I got it.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Sensibly Sassy on July 15, 2011
  3. That story rattled me too – deeply. I’ve been thinking about it way too much. A girl was kidnapped and killed an hour from here not too long ago and these stories really make me afraid.
    BUT.
    I am a parent who lets her kids fall, among other things. I love this post – it really validated lots of my own fears and feelings on the freedom of our kids. Great writing, Ali.
    p.s. Not to take away from the sentiment, but are they being punished in this picture? ;)
    p.p.s. Thank you AGAIN for the hand holding idea – my boys hate it but it totally works.

    [Reply]

    ali replied on

    Thank you.

    I am definitely the second type of parent…the one who lets her kids fall. But, it’s something I struggle with, knowing that there are monsters out there. Parenting is so hard…SIGH.

    PS. They *were* being punished here. Heh. All I wanted for my birthday was to take the kids to that old house and take photos and they were being non-cooperative. So I dragged them there and forced the hand holding. Heh.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Karen Sugarpants on July 15, 2011
  4. I had just heard of the story of Lieby right after I’d allowed my 9yo son to bike around his school with his 2 buddies — the farthest away he’d ridden from the house — for the first time.
    My heart was in my throat until I saw them ride back up to the house.

    I will hold on to him and his sister as long as I can. You’re right — times are different.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Nenette on July 15, 2011
  5. My own four now grown, I am blessed with four “grands” and this issue only gets thornier. Though I’m all about independence, I still ask my grown kids to text me when they arrive safely after a long drive. There’s no easy answer, and there have been many sleepless nights. It’s the life of a water bug, living on that thin skin of tension in between.

    Best advice is also what I tell the kids; trust God, but don’t jump in front of a train.

    [Reply]

    ali replied on

    I know it sounds funny to say, but I’m almost comforted by the invention of the cell phone. I feel like it’s a way to keep your kids “with” you, even when they aren’t.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Vickie on July 15, 2011
  6. I think it’s the hardest part about being a responsibly parent.

    When do we let out the slack on the strings?

    [Reply]

    Comment by Angie [A Whole Lot of Nothing] on July 15, 2011
  7. I struggle with this all the time. I’m good at letting them fall (though it’s tough), but I don’t know how I’ll let them cross the street when they’re big enough. These stories are heart-wrenching.

    [Reply]

    Comment by NotJustAnotherJennifer on July 15, 2011
  8. These are the things I think of when I’m convinced I want to have children and then I’m like “I don’t think I can do it. I don’t think I’m strong enough.”

    Shit, these stories in the news make me worry enough about children that aren’t my own, I can’t even imagine what my stress levels would be like if I had my own children.

    [Reply]

    Heather B. replied on

    Exactly Kristin. I want to be a parent but when I read things like this I don’t think that I could physically and mentally handle all of THIS. It’s not about being selfish it’s about the fear of loving something so much that were the unthinkable to happen…I…I just don’t think I could do it.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Kristabella on July 15, 2011
  9. This is beautiful Ali. I think I’m a combination of those parents, though I strive to be the one who lets them learn and then swoop in to let them know I am there.

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    Comment by Jana A on July 15, 2011
  10. I will be implanting one of those GPS tracking devices in each of my children this week. Then I will bubble wrap them before they go out and play.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Marianne on July 15, 2011
  11. This is such an incredible post and all too true. I, too, understand the needs to teach independence, standing on their own and blah, blah, blah. But, the world we live in is SO far from the world I grew up in and because of that, I’ll hold my gals hand as long as I can, even when it’s not wanted. My mom was hand holder, I can still remember being in high school, holding her hand in the mall & thinking nothing of it. And the same, when I was in my 20s. She’s gone now, and I would give about anything to feel her soft, delicate hand in mine.

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    Comment by Spring on July 15, 2011
  12. Have you ever read “Protecting the Gift” by Gavin De Becker? It’s all about protecting kids but the guy is an expert in assessing the risk of violence from various sources, etc. It was an amazing book and it helped me figure out what I needed to teach my kids in order to feel confident that they know how to assess the danger of various situations or to keep themselves safe, learning to trust my own instinct, and where the real danger is in our world. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It really helps you figure out what things are actually worth worrying about and how to best protect yourkids.

    [Reply]

    ali replied on

    I have never heard of it. Off to Google now. It sounds like something I’d find VERY useful. Thanks so much for the recommendation!

    [Reply]

    Comment by Shannon on July 15, 2011
  13. I had no idea about this story, and, well, I have no words about it beyond everything you’ve already said. It’s unimaginable amounts of horrible. There is so much heartbreak in this world.

    And oh so thankfully there is so much joy here, too; there is unimaginable amounts of hope. And parents who love their kids the way you love yours, who daily strive to balance the scales of injustice and cruelty just by loving and teaching and (metaphorically if maybe not literally) hand-holding their kiddos to the very ends of the earth.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Kerri Anne on July 15, 2011
  14. I have been so saddened by this story, and last night, while watching Anderson Cooper talk about at length, and get into the details, and show the little boy walking, I burst into tears. Because ever since I became a mom I die a little every time I hear about stories like this. I am a very protective mom, and I don’t know when I’ll allow my children to even go to the park on their own. I need them near me at all times. It is a scary world, and it makes me sick to think about what this little boy went through. I also can’t imagine (Or, rather, I can…) imagine the grief the parents are feeling. I would simply die.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Loukia on July 15, 2011
  15. Oh, me too. I made the mistake of reading all about it late last night and couldn’t get to sleep. It’s been haunting me.

    Hugs to you, mama.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Maria on July 15, 2011
  16. I let mine fall as long as I’m watching. It seems you can do all the right things and still lose a child. In other words, a lot of this parenting shit is totally out of ones hands and control.

    [Reply]

    ali replied on

    Exactly, Shana. EXACTLY.
    So much is beyond our control. So, what’s the right balance..that’s what I’m trying to figure out…

    [Reply]

    Comment by gorillabuns on July 15, 2011
  17. It’s not just parents who are shaken by brutal happenings like this. I have no children, but I am very close to my friends’ children and we love them in a way I never knew I could love a kid. Yes, the world is inherently a risky place, and anything can happen at any time. That makes it scary, but I agree there’s a balance to be struck. How a parent decides what that balance is, is beyond me. I always say that I grew up in the days when nobody wore seat belts, bike helmets and we all stayed outside and played until well after dark and walked or biked alone to wherever we wanted to go. That was then. This is now. If I had a kid now, nobody would ever know because she’d be chained to the floor and never leave the house!

    By the way, Gavin de Becker has another book called The Gift of Fear which is also excellent, about tuning in to your intuition and learning from your own body what to do in a time of crisis. Good stuff.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Monica Ricci on July 15, 2011
  18. Such a heartbreaking story about Leiby. The monsters in our world are so scary. It’s something that no child will understand until they are older and the monsters of their generation are worse than … I hope it never gets worse.

    Gavin de Becker’s books are such a great read. I just finished “The Gift of Fear” which teaches about how to use your instincts as survival signals to prevent yourself from violence. It’s amazing to learn how much we are subconsciously on guard, even though our conscious minds are preoccupied with the on-goings of our day-to-day lives.

    I am glad there are parents like you who care about and love your kids so much, but understand that independence is part of growing up (as hard as it is). Hi 5 to awesome parents like you!

    [Reply]

    Comment by K-Tee on July 15, 2011
  19. This is an issue in our home with our oldest. I want to let the leash out and I have. I trust him to make good choices. I have to trust that I have done a good job teaching and guiding him down the right path toward good choices and judgement.
    I think what is sticking with me from this story is that this poor child got lost. He did not 100% know the precise way home. He got lost. And the rest of the story is horrifying. I am sick at the thought of what his parents must be going through. The image of his mother waiting 3 blocks away…
    I hate that we are all a little bit more vigilant now. And it is because this child was murdered.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Christine on July 15, 2011
  20. There is a difference in protecting them from scrapes…and trying like hell to keep them safe from the unimaginable.

    Last month a little girl was kidnapped here. Nine years old, alone in an alley near her house. Kidnapped, assaulted and then? He let her go. (Maybe because of the Amber alerts flashing everywhere within minutes. Who knows?) She went home that night. Changed forever, but still…home. Nine years old. The same age as my oldest daughter. We call it a miracle here. That he let her go.

    My mom always had a group rule. You could walk home, you could go to the park on your bike, but never, never alone. (Of course I did grow up in Los Angeles. So even in the 80′s my mom was paranoid.)

    I’m not blaming a single parent who does allow it…but I won’t. I just can’t handle the what-ifs. There is no way I’d let my nine year old walk anywhere alone. There are ways to give them independence and keep them safe all at once. There just has to be.

    I am not a helicopter parent. My kids play outside. We have a trampoline in the back yard. They ride bikes in the street. But I won’t let any of them go out alone. Not for years to come.

    [Reply]

    Kristen replied on

    I totally agree. I think we need to find a middle ground between the concepts of helicopter parent and free-range. Some hurts can be soothed – others can’t.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Issa on July 15, 2011
  21. This is the first I’ve heard of this story and, wow. Here I am with Graham off at camp and I’m extra antsy to go pick him up tomorrow.

    Hugs, Ali. You’re doing a great job of loving your kids and teaching them in the way they should go and it letting them fall and picking them up.

    xoxo

    [Reply]

    Comment by Angella on July 15, 2011
  22. I’m not a parent, but I will be the ones who let them fall, then make things better…I have no idea how I’ll be when they want to go off by themselves to ride bikes, or to the play ground, or God forbid, wants to go to the mall with friends at 14 or 15. I will watch my 10 year old walk across the street…and may follow her with my car to the bus stop if she wants to walk.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Crystal on July 15, 2011
  23. Brave, haunting and (to borrow what Karen said above) fear-validating post, Ali. I made the mistake of watching Dateline last weekend, and it made me even more anxious than I already am as a parent. I can’t handle this kind of horrific news.

    I’m the second type of parent. I’ve seen some extreme helicopter parents in the schoolyard and it’s not for me at all.

    And, as you said in the comment above, cell phones are so reassuring.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Haley-O (Cheaty) on July 15, 2011
  24. We live on a residential street far from the city. I grew up here and rode the streets with my friends from 8 yrs old on. I still can’t let my 10 yr old ride the streets by himself, the cars go to fast (50 instead of 30km/hr) .. when will I let him ride his bike alone? I don’t know either .. but, I think when it’s the time we WILL know. So until then, lot’s more hand-holding in this household. Just as I would not let my son go to any waterpark or amusement park outtings with a school or daycamp .. the chance is just too great for drownings etc. I still think 8 yrs old is too young to walk any length in a city. But I’m sick about this story too, gut-wrenching and devastating to say the least.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Sarah on July 16, 2011
  25. I’m right there with you. My little one is just two, so starting to fight for independence, but still rarely out of my sight. I know that will change – I will have to let her out of my sight. I’m also torn by how to raise her to understand and respect danger, yet not live in fear.

    [Reply]

    Comment by CoffeeJitters on July 17, 2011
  26. “I’m not a little kid.” – yeah.. they always say that.. even when they are 2 years old lol

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    Comment by sapir on July 17, 2011
  27. Beautifully written, Ali. I feel the exact same way. Life is a scary place for us mama bears.

    xo

    [Reply]

    Comment by Shauna on July 18, 2011
  28. I pretty much never want to let my son out of my sight. This just made we want to keep him even closer. Parenting is hard.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Holly {Artist Mother Teacher} on July 18, 2011
  29. I have this debate with my 9 year old all the time and I don’t want to freak them out but the fact is there are a lot of bad people out there and you never know who they are or where they are. It’s a fine line between giving freedom and not being the helicopter parent. I fear I’m veering more on the helicopter side but I think it’s better in the end. I think.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Tracie on July 18, 2011
  30. Ditto. To all of it.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Meghan on July 18, 2011
  31. Ali, I too sat and wept for Leiby Kletzky. The horror that entered my hear upon reading about him will not go away. Your post is spot on – I don’t know what the right approach is either? and i struggle with it daily.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Amreen on July 18, 2011
  32. [...] read Ali’s words on protecting her children. She sees stories of young children being abducted and violently [...]

    Pingback by I don’t think I can on July 18, 2011
  33. Oh Ali, just yes. exactly.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Rachel - A Southern Fairytale on July 20, 2011
  34. I found this via Stumble and shared it on Facebook, but I had to comment,too. My son is 8. And I’m the same kind of parent as you. I want to help my kids transition into independence, too, but I want them to be safe above all else. I want to give his mama a huge hug.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Sue Rissel on November 16, 2011
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