That damn Cozy Coupe pickup truck…how the boys all coveted it from the moment we dragged it out of the box. It belonged to our nonprofit indoor playgroup and resided in the church basement we rented for members. My friends and I went there most dreary Oregon mornings to socialize while the toddlers ran off their steam. Naturally, our boys would race to take possession of the truck. If squabbles broke out, we ordered the current owner to surrender after a few laps; otherwise, we ignored all whining and tattling, kissed boo-boos, and nudged our kids back into the fray. When bad choices led to bonked heads or falls, we told our children, “You won’t do that again, will you?”
At this playgroup, we heard the first whirrings of what everyone now calls the Helicopter Moms. These women hovered over our sons in the Cozy Coupe truck, telling them to play fair and let their kids have a turn, intervening instead of letting the natural order play out. They spurned our coffee klatch and instead got down on the floor to direct their kids’ play. They nagged all the children about sharing, being nice, and using indoor voices. My friends and I watched and exchanged lifted eyebrows.
“Who has time to play Valkyrie for their kids all day long?”
Their whirring grew louder. The floor-bound mothers never spoke firmly; they admonished misbehaving toddlers not to “hurt Mommy’s feelings.” They obsessed about cleanliness, though we board members bleached our hundreds of toys every Friday. Once, when a four year old sustained a small hurt, his mother invited him to suckle her breast. Our eyes bulged in horror.
“If he can talk in full sentences about Mommy’s boobs, he’s cut off,” a friend muttered under the deafening drone of helicopter blades.
We couldn’t understand these parents. We parented as we ourselves had been parented, lovingly but with an emphasis on making good choices. My kids went about half-naked, even when temperatures dropped into the 50s. “If they’re cold they’ll put clothes on,” I informed a concerned neighbor. They rarely wore shoes, and the boys had license to pee in the bushes. They walked half a mile home from school, crossing eight streets all alone, by the time they were first graders. I took them to doctors only when a fever dragged on or the bleeding was severe or a body part had turned an abnormal color. I didn’t obsess about their welfare, and in return they learned how to apply basic judgment.
Through it all, I heard the louder and louder whirring of rotors. Other moms walked their kids to school or bus stops, sheltering them with umbrellas. They filled their afternoons with organized activities, leaving my one-activity kids no one to play with. Play dates, a term I’d never heard in my life, were the only way to get kids together. Moms came to my door and barged in to look around and discuss play plans and snack time. I felt offended by this obvious lack of their trust.
The choppers’ engines grew louder. Other parents clearly composed their kids’ papers, designed and conducted their science fair entries. My kids won their ribbons with hand-written posters and crudely-done models. Other parents hired tutors; I assured my kids that standardized tests were no big deal. Other parents sent handmade gifts to the teachers while my kids brought hastily acquired gift cards. I infrequently helped out at school. I wanted my kids to experience it as a place where they could express themselves without my gaze, and where the authority came from somebody else.
Only twice have I played the raging Valkyrie, but I never denied when my kids did something wrong. One boy served on 5th grade safety patrol to earn a trip to Wrigley Field but went missing during an educational field trip the day before the big game. His furious teacher declared he could not go see the Cubs. Going against all I espoused as a laissez faire mom, I demanded an audience with the principal.
“You can give him detention everyday from now until June, but he earned that game by standing outside all winter. His playing hooky is a whole separate issue.”
The principal agreed. The boy sat in her office the following morning, then boarded the bus for Chicago. Not, perhaps, the punishment he deserved, but that part was unfortunately out of my hands. Twelve years later, he chortles when I mention the incident. He no longer recalls how he felt about my intercession but says it’s one of the rare times I saved his behind. By no means would he call me a Helicopter Mom.
I believe children benefit from experiencing their own natural consequences, and as such I’ve tried to raise a trio of free thinkers. Indeed, studies support me. Psychology Today cites a study that measures the percent of post adolescents who’ve reached adulthood by age 30, based on benchmarks such as finishing school, finding a job, and starting a family. The figures for both sexes have dropped more than 30% since 1960; in short, kids are taking a lot longer to grow up, perhaps in reaction to having been robbed of their childhoods.
There’s no way to know whether my refusal to hover has produced stronger children. I do know, however, that all three of them have fended off bullying without my help. All three have counseled troubled peers. They all avoid cliques and keep closer friends. They don’t expect rescuing from all situations, and they certainly don’t always get what they want. By letting them navigate their own way in the metaphorical Cozy Coupe of life, hopefully I’ve given my kids an advantage. Hopefully, they learned long ago how to play nice.
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