My nearly 6-year-old son is something of a perfectionist and almost totally a rule follower. At my first-ever-elementary school parent-teacher conference, my heart burst with pride when I heard what an extremely respectful and sweet boy I was raising. Score: He says, “Yes, m’am,” when I’m not around. He hates to disappoint grown ups. He’s a pleaser. He colors in the lines (as best he can) and he wants to get it right.
As a mother who vividly remembers, I mean down to what I was wearing, the one and only time I got in trouble in elementary school (it was the first grade; I was talking too much), I can understand where he’s coming from. But I don’t understand what happened this past weekend when my rule-following, respect-showing, good-choice-making child did everything opposite. Sooo opposite.
When it was time to leave our neighborhood park for the afternoon (as we’ve done 800 times before), I handed out my usual five-minute warning. I could see that my son was wired; he was with a buddy who tends to bring out the wild side of his tidy and ruled personality. Together they are loud and silly and often over-the-top. Together they usually get disciplined for screaming too loudly (yes, that is possible, even during play) or making other kids characters in their imaginative play without those other kids’ permissions. (Turns out, most kids don’t like to be told they are robbers and subsequently chased down in a game they aren’t even playing. Go figure.)
So, when the dynamic duo took off on their bikes, I sort of had an inkling they were going make our departure more difficult than it had to be. I pictured back talk. A regressive tantrum, at worst.
So it’s sort of funny that I nevertheless envisioned unmarked white vans and bloody car accidents, when not two minutes later, there was no sign of the boys. Anywhere. Vanished. People on the tennis courts reported seeing two boys on bikes go “that way.” Great. What were they wearing, I actually thought.
We live in bike-riding distance of the park, sure. When I was a kid, I went three times as far on my bike with instructions only to be home for dinner. True. But this isn’t my childhood. I am armed with too much information about tragedy, and my rule-following boy KNOWS he is not to leave the park without me. He is not to leave anywhere he is supposed to be without asking. He is not supposed to cross the main road without a grown up. He is not yet supposed to roam the streets of our neighborhood unaccompanied. He KNOWS all these things. And, he is armed with information about strangers and their danger. He was even sent to a summer safety camp, for the love of everything holy! He. Follows. Rules.
While in the back of my spinning head, I pictured an out-of-control teen running over the boys as they failed to look both ways at the blind spot on the curved hill, I stood firmly planted at the center of the park with my 2-year-old, so I could see if the boys approached from any direction. I quickly called the best mom I know, my sister-in-law, and asked her to think of a fit punishment for her nephew who I suspected had run off on his bike to avoid going home. Then I hung up. As she texted me to find out if he had been hit by a car or kidnapped (See, we can’t help it. Our brains go there.), my husband headed toward our house and returned several long minutes later with both the boys. The very CLUELESS boys – think as ridiculously dim-witted as Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels in Dumb and Dumber.
The first words out of good buddy’s mouth were asking if he could stay at our house and play. Um, no. No, you may not. Because your mom is going to kill you now. You know, since you didn’t get run over by a car and you weren’t taken by a lunatic in a van. (I comfort myself with the van scenario by believing anyone who took our boys would quickly throw them out of the van again upon discovering that they are physically unable to stop talking for more than 10 seconds. Even with duct tape.)
What I find most disturbing about the entire situation is the boys’ complete level of shock over facing the consequences of their actions – because I still have to explain why those actions were wrong. Even though we’ve been going over it for years. Years.
Our sons lost all their privileges for the remainder of the day (no TV, no video games, no computers, no bedtime stories, no fun) and for this entire week they will each go without their beloved bikes.
My son likes to tell me he was just following good buddy. Fabulous. I’m wondering now if they’ll hold hands as they plunge over Niagara Falls together.
How would you handle a similar situation? How do you teach your kids the seriousness of safety issues? Brooke Bernard clearly doesn’t have a handle on it – and no, it’s not because of the wine.
Brooke Bernard writes most Wednesdays for http://www.mamasagainstdrama.com.
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