It has been warm and sunny the past few days, but we've had a lot to do and haven't really had the opportunity to enjoy the weather. This morning, the older kids asked me if they could go outside for a while. I agreed, as long as they behaved during my morning meeting. Miracle of miracles, they actually were pretty quiet and well-behaved while I sat on the phone, so I kept up my end of the deal and let them go out. With the screen door open, I continued to work.
There's a rule that was once spoken, and is now understood, that the kids can play outside by themselves as long as they don't leave the deck. When the new deck was built a few summers ago, we had a gate added at the top of the stairs of the deck explicitly for this purpose. It's great, except apparently the latch doesn't hold perfectly, and if you jiggle the gate just right, it opens up, allowing passage to the staircase. Instead of getting a new latch, D, with one of his handy DIY fixes, placed a bungee cord around the gate, but apparently it rotted out over the winter, and we had not noticed to replace it.
For fifteen minutes, all was well. And then DM made a break for it. (He's my adventurer, the child with no fear when it comes to anything and everything.) I had suddenly heard LE screaming, "No! Come back here!" and I knew we were in trouble. When I got to the gate, LE was halfway through the yard, and DM was all the way to the tree line. Thankfully, he ran toward the woods and not toward the road. I yelled abruptly to "Get back here!" which scared them just enough to turn tail and run back to the deck.
I practically dragged them both inside, which didn't take much effort because they knew they were in huge amounts of trouble for leaving the deck. At first I started to freak out -- "There will be no more going outside if you cannot follow the rules!" -- and all the ranting and raving that went along with that comment. And while I did this, I emailed D to see if we have extra bungee cords in the garage, or if he can pick some up from the store on his way home tonight.
Then something made me stop. I don't even know what it was, but something in my brain just clicked and thought, "Wait, is this really a terrible thing, or is there something I could do differently here?" It occurred to me in that moment that LE is almost five years old. At five years old, I was definitely playing outside by myself. I was even running into my best friend's yard to go play with her. Sometimes we even crossed the street to see our other friend. It was never the end of the world. In fact, it was our way of life.
I took a breath, and then I sat the kids down at the kitchen table. I apologized for yelling, and explained that I only did it because I was scared. Then I asked a simple question, "Do you want to play in the yard, instead of on the deck?" They both nodded so quickly, I thought they might actually be bobbleheads. So we set up some ground rules -- no going into the front yard, no going past the trees, stay away from dog poop, and stay out of the rocks. The next thing I knew, LE and DM were practically bolting down the staircase, with huge smiles on their faces and the dogs racing right behind them. They stayed out there for almost two hours by themselves, with me periodically checking in through the window or yelling out the screen to make sure they were close by. And minus a scraped knee (the crying of which lasted all of thirty seconds, which is amazing for my kids who like to dwell on their physical ailments) and one more minor incident of rule-breaking (when DM poked around the side of the house to see where one of the dogs ran off to), we all had one of the best mornings that has been had in a while.
A few years ago, before I was even a parent, there was an article titled "Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone." From what I can recall, the author got a lot of flack for this. Heck, I was probably one of those people who thought, "What the hell is wrong with this mother?!" And while I'm nowhere near ready to let my kids be alone in a city like that (and they're not old enough yet, by any means), letting them run free in their own backyard felt good and it felt right.
When I emailed D back, to let him know that the kids and I had come to an understanding with some new ground rules, I was a little surprised by his response.
"Yeah, but if you can’t have your eye on them at all times, what’s to prevent someone from just running into the yard and kidnapping them? Are the dogs out there with them at least?"
I laughed. I normally agree with these kinds of emails, but today, I laughed. My kids mean everything to me. And I know D feels that way, too, but he also expects them to be more grown-up than they are a lot of the time. So I responded.
I told him that yes, the dogs were with them. I told him that I had the windows and screen door open so I could hear everything, and I was talking to them regularly, even going outside occasionally to actually watch them. And then I reminded him that we used to play outside when we were their ages, too.
"At some point, we have to cut the cord. (I really thought you'd have to have this talk with me, not the other way around.)"