Out of all my friends and acquaintances I probably have the oldest child. She's thirteen. So I am usually the first one to cross uncharted territory in parenting. The latest threshold we've been crossing is independence and her having a "social life."
When I was her age the rules were a lot different for me than they were for her. That wasn't completely my grandparents fault either. I definitely contributed to their lockdown mentality by acting out which only makes them tighten the vise grip even more.
My grandparents were pretty strict by most people's standards. My grandmother walked me to the cheese bus until I was about eleven or twelve. I wasn't allowed to hang out after school like my friends. If I got out at 2:30, I had better be coming through the door at 3:10. I wasn't allowed to take the train. Only a very, very select few friends were allowed to come over and only for a little while (to my grandmother's credit she did feed them really well while they were there) and I wasn't allowed to go to any of my friend's houses. Especially if they had brothers. Or fathers. Or any males of any kind living in the house. That pretty much crossed everyone of the list. I couldn't go to parties and plenty of times I had arguments with my grandparents about listening in to my phone conversations. You would've thought they were part of Trujillo's secret police back in the day, their surveillance was so tight.
I never went anywhere with my grandparents other than the stores in the neighborhood or the supermarket. Very rarely were there trips to the park. We never went to the beach, the movies, a restaurant, a show, a concert, a family vacation or museum.
I don't want it to seem like they were bad parents. On the contrary, they were the best I could've asked for. I wanted for nothing. When I started to become clothes conscious like most teens and only wanted to wear Polo and Nautica, my grandmother scraped together money to make sure I had it. I always had my own bedroom, my own tv, my own computer. There was always food in the house and no one cooked better than my grandmother. She saved money from her retirement check to open up a bank account for me so that I would have money for college. Most importantly, they loved me and lived to make me happy. Their over-protectiveness has to be put into context. Not only was there a generational gap, there was a cultural gap. These were two people, in their sixties and eighties, who came of age when society had very strict rules and in a country where society was everything.
But I felt pretty stifled. So I acted out. In a very big way.
I cut my first class when I was twelve. And went to Brooklyn with a friend to hang out in her boyfriend's house. When I was thirteen, I was "going out" (I use that term loosely because at thirteen you really don't go any damn place) with the first of what would become a looong line of bad boys. I was drinking, smoking weed. I'd had a pregnancy scare (my dad had to buy me a pregnancy test which was mortifying for all involved). I was also pretty much going and coming as I pleased from my house, disappearing for a few days and being dangerously rebellious. My grandmother was not having it. There was room for only one woman in the house to impose her will and throw her weight around and it wasn't me. So she took me downtown the children's services office and put me in the system. She couldn't handle me anymore and my dad was scared to have me living with him since I was so unpredictable. Off to a group home I went. At the same age my daughter is now.
My daughter is definitely not me (thank you, God!). My approach has been to basically give her plenty of freedom. If she wants to go to the movies on a Friday after school, all she has to do is ask. I haven't walked her to school or picked her up since she was about ten. If she wants to hang out in the school yard after school for an hour, I let her. If she wants to go to a friend's house after school, she can. More than a few times, I've come home to one of her friends in the living room. On a warm day, I encourage to get out of the house and go to the park with her friends. I do make sure to tell her what the real world is like and how to watch out for herself and make sure she's not being taken advantage of.
So last week she tells me she was invited to her friend's house in the Bronx today. Her friend's family used to live in our neighborhood but they bought a house around Westchester Ave. My daughter really wasn't raised taking the trains and buses like other city kids. Her schools have always been within walking distance and until earlier this year I had a car so we'd drive everywhere else. She's as familiar as a tourist with the NYC transit system. So you can imagine what I felt when she told me she'd be taking the bus to the Bronx and back.
I didn't freak out (on the outside anyway). This is part of her having a normal social life and being a city kid, she'll have to take the trains or buses in about a year for high school anyway. She'd have a cell phone so if she got lost, I could always get her wherever she was.
Still. I wanted her home where it was safe. I didn't want my girl exposed to perverts and crazies in the world. I didn't want her to get lost or God forbid something dangerous happen to her. I can understand my grandparents a lot now.
I called her on my way home from work today.
"Hey. What're you up to?"
"Nothing. Watching tv at home."
"You didn't go to Lainie's house?" (Did a little dance as I took the elevator down to the lobby.)
"Nah. It didn't work out."
"What happened?" (Tried to downplay my sheer joy and sound as disappointed as she was.)
"I was supposed to go take the bus with Johandry but her parents didn't give her permission."
"Well, are you okay?" (Actually concerned.)
"Yeah. I was mad earlier but I'm fine now."
"Well, I'm on my way home. We'll grab something to eat and go for ice cream. Sounds good?"
I might've stepped back but I didn't have to let go. Not today at least.