He barges in the door after riding his bike home from school. Tossing his backpack to the side, he starts rummaging through the snack cabinet. “Mom, is my watch charged?” he asks. “I talked to some kids at recess and we are going to meet up at the park. I told them I would be there in ten minutes.” I have a million questions: What friends? What park? What are you going to do there? How will I know you are wearing your helmet? What is your plan if someone gets hurt? But instead of asking them, I take a deep breath and remember that despite all my attempts at slowing time down, he is turning 10 next month. And with the weather getting warmer and summer fast approaching, it might be time to start letting him fly.
Of course, by “fly,” I mean very slowly flap his metaphorical wings with a tracking device securely attached to his wrist, providing a direct line of communication back to me — but hey, I’m trying. Because all of a sudden, it seems a lot of his classmates have been unleashed. Many live on adjoining streets or in nearby neighborhoods and are suddenly all hopping on their bikes and making their way from house to house, even stopping at the store for a snack or two. And while I stand white-knuckled watching him ride off into his new afternoon freedom, there’s gonna be a learning curve for both of us.
One day, he arrived home from school ten minutes later than usual with three other kids in tow, asking if they could all bike down to a nearby store for some snacks. After reading him the riot act about coming straight home after school, I asked the other kids if they had permission. All the boys agreed that their parents were okay with it, as long as they weren’t alone. I confirmed with a parent via text and decided to let my son go too.
We went over the rules in detail and I slapped the tracker watch on for good measure. He packed his wallet in a backpack, fully equipped with his GreenLight card (a debit card for kids, policed by their parents) which had $34 on it — earnings from two grandparent Easter baskets and a molar tooth. And like that, he was off!
Twenty five minutes later, they returned. (Seems browsing is a big part of the process — which, as a consumer myself, of course I understand and appreciate.) I watched as each boy de-biked and unpacked their goods. One got a Twix bar and a Gatorade, the other a bag of chips and a Coke. Then there was my gangly, over-excited little guy. With an ear-to-ear grin I watched him unpack a three pound bag of Troli Gummy Worms (the size I imagine a Costco might sell), a bottle of Sprite, not one but two king-sized Milky Way bars, and — wait for it — a full gallon of vanilla ice cream. Not what I would have let him pick if I’d been there, but he was absolutely thrilled with himself.
In short, we survived, but with a few kinks to work out.
Since then, this little crew has gotten together a few more times, independent of their parents. Once at the school playground, then in a friend’s yard, and another time in an open field at the end of a neighborhood. Each time, he’s learned a different lesson — not to forget his helmet somewhere, to call me once he arrives at his destination, to pack his water bottle so he doesn’t get thirsty, etc. Now he says his plan once school gets out is to “bike and hang with friends all summer.”
And thankfully I have some great support systems in place to curb my unrelenting worry so I can allow him to explore a little independence in a safe way for both of us. I have a group parent text going for all the “they are here!” and “they left!” updates. Of course the tracker watch, with messaging capabilities is a real help.
This summer I will slowly let him explore some close-by adventures without me. He has grown up so much, and I know he is ready. He no longer needs me hovering over him, ensuring the correct decisions are made. He needs a little trial and error, in a safe space, with his peers. For me that is where a lot of my biggest lessons were learned.
So here’s to a safe, healthy, happy summer for our independent, not-so-little babies. May they be filled with long-lasting watch batteries, good decisions, and a few gallons of vanilla ice cream.
Samm is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot. Find her on Instagram @sammbdavidson.