As a parent I’ve noticed something strange and exciting as the pandemic has worn on. Children roaming, unfettered, in the streets.
“Honey, two kids just rode their bikes past the house with no adults anywhere in sight!” I’ll yell over the top of my newspaper. (Okay, I’m lying. I don’t really call my wife “Honey,” and they don’t print newspapers anymore.)
But the phenomenon is real. Ten months into the pandemic, many kids, including ours, haven’t darkened the door of a schoolhouse since March. If kids aren’t in school, they certainly aren’t participating in afterschool programs designed to keep them safe from the dangers of the streets. But let’s face it, in the winter of the pandemic, my kids might be safer crossing US-19 at 4 p.m. than they are asking me for their eleventh snack of the day.
If there are positive things to come out of the pandemic (and there are a few), it’s the movement away from overscheduling our children with too many activities and instead offering them a little independence. For instance, the other day some neighbors who are “COVID careful” and wear masks asked us if we wanted to come down and play badminton. The answer to that question would normally be, “Of course not! Who plays badminton?”
But our answer was, “Of course! It’ll be just like one of those Jane Austen period movies where the characters play some old fashioned sport no one really understands!” Then, we sent our kids down ahead of us.
And we didn’t move. We sent them four blocks away, unsupervised, and just sat in our quiet house for a solid 30 minutes. And no one kidnapped our children. They crossed streets safely. And they played with their friends, not wondering where their parents were.
Okay, I lied about that last part. In reality they kept texting us asking, “Where are you?” No, they don’t have phones. But we did give them each a “Dick Tracy” watch that allows us to know their location on a map and lets us call and text back and forth. It was really a gift to ourselves. Thanks to modern technology we can give our 11-year-old and 8-year-old a little freedom, thus giving ourselves a little sanity. You’re likely to see my wife and I at a sidewalk cafe having a cup of coffee together without our offspring in sight. I daresay it’s more fun than paying a teenager $15 per hour like we did in the olden days. In the era of COVID, without places to go at night, I may never pay a babysitter again!
I acknowledge that a lot of parents can’t leave their kids at home because they’ll end up killing each other. Some siblings fight like cats and dogs. In the pandemic our kids have become the sweetest of best friends. A long time ago I taught our kids that they need to be each others’ allies, and it has had a huge impact on the peace in our home. Sure, they can argue, but they’re too smart to have an argument without a parent there to crown a winner. Otherwise it’s a wasted fight.
For those of you with children who are too small to leave unattended – or worse – THREE or more children, it’s simple. Wait seven years, or until the oldest one can babysit. But take heart in knowing that everyone was already social-distancing from you anyway.