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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Free-Range Kids -versus- Helicopter Parenting

What has this world of parenting come to? Lenore Skenazy can’t be the world’s worst mom, despite the fact that she allowed her 9-year-old son, Izzy, to ride the New York City subway on his own.

She can’t be the worst, because I am already the worst. Not in the laissez-faire sense. No, I am on the other side of the spectrum. I do not hover, but I have enough safeguards in place to model our family life after the security measures of Alcatraz, with Fort Knox thrown in for extra measure.

Skenazy defends a lot of the parenting choices in her book, “Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts”. The title I totally get since parenting with a child’s safety or well-being in mind nowadays can definitely flip one out: Do not pass go, here’s your parent’s hallpass to the looney bin.

Case in point: We’re visiting the grandparents this week. That in itself could send all of us over the edge, but more on that at a later time. Never mind if not all of our kids speak English, we impress them that when Babushka Rose speaks, you listen.

No, instead, Pasha starts talking over the top, in a world of his own. I give him snake eyes on his side of the dinner table, while smiling engagingly at this side of the table. I am a schizo-mama and believe I must be this way to raise reasonably-well-adjusted children.

Leave the kids to their own devices? I think not.

After a long pre-visit discussion regarding how we would joyfully sample Babushka Rose’s Italian meatballs and gingerbread cake, Sashenka declares that she will try anything on the table EXCEPT for those big things in the bowl with tomato sauce. I am thankful that Babushka Rose cannot understand Russian as I instruct Sashenka that she will indeed eat one with a smile on her face and warm feelings of love in her heart.

Then Mashenka overcompensates by taking piles of food and then proceeds to leave half on her plate.

“Nee hatchoo,” (I don’t want it), she explains, making it a rational move in her estimation.

“And you know what? That’s not an option,” I make my own rational retort.  “You take a pile, you eat a pile. Who told you to take so much?”

She then turns down the gingerbread cake, a piece that measures all of 1 inch by 3 inches, just to push my buttons. Naturally, it was handmade by the grandmother.

Fine. I refuse to “bite”. More cake for me.

I think of the practical ploy of reverse-psychology. But don’t you know the one time I might suggest that they do the opposite of normal, civilized behavior, they would be sure to agree with me.

At my father’s house, all is undertaken in Russian in our mini-Moscow setting. Better, you think? No, even worse.

“What a beauuuutiful koo’klah!”  exlaims Sashenka, eying a doll her own size that my mother bought once upon a time, no doubt waiting for us to have a girl to whom she could bequeath it.

“Oh, the vol’osee, oh, the odezh’dee!” she admires the hair and the clothes.

“Would you like it?” Babushka Tamara swoops in. “I’ll check with Dedushka.”

I’m horrified. I see Pasha head off to make a sweep of the house, intent on making his own comments in an effort to extract gifts to his liking. I head him off at the pass while gathering the others.

“We have discussed this. You are not to touch, admire, or stroke anything in your path. Sit and smile sweetly. That is your mission. Period,”  I intone, knowing that I am probably scarring them for life with such heavy-handedness.

No doubt it would be much easier to let them run around and around the house, breaking everything in sight, stuffing their pockets with the odd collectible, and eating like pigs at the table.

“Sulfet’kee,” I remind, and all of the napkins go on their laps in unison.

“Close your mouth, please,” I direct toward Petya who is our bright star in the midst of an otherwise gloomy presentation. He helps with the dishes, fixes a Cuisinart, and fills water glasses.

Priceless.

All of the grandparents comment about how well-behaved and well-groomed and well-adjusted the children are. Of course they are. It’s their mother that’s the basket case, hissing the random instruction under her breath, carrying extra Chapstick, handwipes, bottled water, and ziplock bags for any eventuality.

I don’t consider this helicopter parenting. In my book, being on the job 24/7 used to be part of normal parenting. Only in present times can you turn a blind eye and get away with it. My kids will be writing thank yous, shoveling snow for the elderly neighbor’s walkway, and holding a door for anyone coming behind.

I discuss with Benedetto the issue of free-range kids versus going nuts trying to keep them on the straight and narrow.

“It does make you lose your mind to have to instruct and remind the kids over and over…” I comment.

“Right,” he says, “and if the parents don’t tell the kids how to act, then the rest of us suffer and have to lose our minds when confronted with such awful behavior in public places.”

The other day, he and the kids went into a store and listened to a boy tell his mother, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll get over here now!”

And the mother DOES IT, as our children stand there gape-mouthed and aghast.

Delightful.

When we take plane after plane and navigate countless airports on this trip, our children do their schoolwork, or chat and relax. All electronic games have been left at home. They will focus on the lovely scenery, brush their teeth when possible, keep their clothing neat, and their hair combed.

People actually come up to us, “What a lovely family.”  “Your children are so well-mannered and polite.”  “It’s not often that you see children who are well-dressed.”  Flight attendants slip us extra snacks, while museum docents give us extra attention. Our parents praise us, which is probably the acknowledgment we’re looking for in the first place. Best of all, the kids beam with pride, knowing that they did well.

It’s not all performance-based approval, either. There’s the process of learning that when we mess up, we are loved anyway. Might not get any TV or an extended bedtime, but we know how to say we’re sorry and move on from there.

Is it easy to constantly stay on top of things, ten steps ahead? No.

Is it worth it? Yes, if you want a pleasant child who will be a positive contribution to society.

While visiting Benedetto’s mother, the six of us stay at a mountaintop cabin, a very loose term in many respects. The kids decide that they are going on a small hike out in the fresh air. I see no reason to deny them some time to explore and be creative, as they discuss building a fort and panning for gold.

I instruct them to keep the red roof in their line of sight, possible for quite some distance. If they should encounter a moose or a bear, they are to… well, whatever it is that one does:   run; climb a tree; make yourself look bigger. It’s different for every animal, so there’s no use in reviewing any information that they will immediately forget anyway. For all I know, “stop, drop, and roll” may work just fine.

See, I’ve learned how to choose my battles.

Taming table manners, yes. Taming wild animals, no. When the kids start acting like wild animals, that’s where I draw the line. I wish other parents would, too.

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