Free Range Kids

It’s summer, a time for running through sprinklers and jumping in pools and devouring ice cream and cold lemonade. It’s also a time of panic for parents. Why can’t we have just six weeks off like some European countries? Who thought seventy days with no school was a good idea? I’d like to meet this person and have a conversation.

In truth, I’m lucky because I set my own schedule. This does not mean I get to read books pool-side all day while a cute cabana boy brings me fruity cocktails. What it means instead is that I’m responsible for everything – every deadline, every new submission, every edit, every step forward. There is no unassuming colleague to whom I can forward this week’s action items and then skip off into the sunset free of responsibility. Wouldn’t that be nice?

So here we are. Me, the kids and the deadlines. I’m sitting at the kitchen table, basking in the bluish glow of my Mac when the kids (nine and eleven) deliver a proposal. Let’s call it the ‘mom is totally not paying attention – let’s go for broke’ proposal. In short, they want to go off on their bikes, gather friends and do unspecified ‘things’. I’m paying enough attention to ask for specifics. My daughter wants to spend a gift certificate she got for her birthday. My son wants a Jamba Juice. Okay. Nothing too crazy there. But before we can dig down into how this is going to work, when they plan on returning, what route they will take on their bikes so as not to get run over, my phone rings and it’s my writing partner and we’ve been working really hard to get a submission out the door and, well, I get distracted. When I look up, the kids are gone. I drift out to the garage. The bikes are gone, too.

My kids have officially gone free-range.

I don’t panic until my brother calls and we have this conversation:
Him: What are the kids up to?
Me: They’re out.
Him: Where?
Me: I don’t know.
Him: What does that mean?
Me: Just what I said.
Him: Oh my God, that is so 1970s!!!

I immediately start to worry about the other kids they’ve rounded up and led astray. There will be parental judgment. I refill my coffee cup for the four hundredth time and think about it calmly (except for my twitching left eyelid but that’s the caffeine, right?).

We try to teach our kids right from wrong, how to make good choices, how to ask for help when needed, how not to fear new or unfamiliar things, how to be kind and thoughtful and deliberate and joyful.

And I realize we do with our children what I do with characters in my novels, which is the best I can until they seem to do it on their own.  There’s a moment when a character clicks, when she feels fully actualized, as if I could walk out my front door and find her standing there and not be at all surprised. It’s a moment to savor.

The kids eventually come back with amazing tales of their adventures. They’re flushed with freedom, telling me all about how they walked across the busy intersection and waited for the slower bikers and pooled their collective pennies for ice cream. And for a moment, it feels just a little like throwing that door open to find something wonderful on the other side.

What’s your biggest summer challenge? (and does it involve fruity cocktails? I have got to stop talking about fruity cocktails) I’d love to hear about it. @bvam,  FaceBook/BethMcMullen or go crazy and email me at beth@bethmcmullenbooks.com