I know that my job is not so much to protect my daughters from the big bad world as it is to prepare them to tackle it increasingly independently as they grow. Despite the urge to wrap them in a protective cocoon of parental control, I force myself to let my nearly 7-year-olds experience the world and fight their own battles, within reason.
For Easter, my daughters received small kites from their father and stepmother. We live on a quiet suburban street, so when my daughter J begged to fly her kite on the sidewalk while I cooked dinner last week, I agreed, trying to hide the knot of fear in my throat. I watched her from the kitchen window. She raced up and down the sidewalk, never going more than two houses away, never getting too close to the street, laughter pouring out of every pore.
The next afternoon, J’s twin sister M joined her, although they were back in the house in minutes. The kite had landed in a tree, fortunately within my reach. The grilled cheese sandwiches and apple slices I was working on didn’t take too long, so there wasn’t time for any more kite flying that day.
On Thursday, when I arrived to pick my children up from after school care, there were three police cars parked at the intersection where I turned to park. I asked the caregivers what was going on. They shooed my daughters away to retrieve their backpacks and quickly told me that a man had attempted to abduct a boy at that intersection. The boy got away, but was injured. No one there was sure how badly he was hurt, but a policeman had stopped by to talk to the after school caregivers, to tell them what was going on and to ask questions. The would be abductor had escaped.
I briefly considered not telling my daughters what I’d just learned, but decided that they needed to know that vigilance was important. They’re outgoing little girls who befriend others easily, and lack the instinct to distrust strangers. I told them what I knew, leaving out the part about the boy having been injured, and told them that I was going to ask them not to go out of the house without me, except to our fenced back yard. I promised to take them kite flying in the park after church.
J’s questions were about the boy and what the police were doing to catch the bad man. She walked around our house with me to ensure that all our blinds were closed before bed, and was generally satisfied with our safety. M refused to be in any room without me that first night, but has since relaxed.
I don’t think I’m overreacting. My kids still spend all day at school and after care without me. I still let them let go on my hand on the way to dance class or church or stores once we’re out of the parking lot. I’m just not ready to let them out of the street unless there’s a trusted adult with them. Eventually, though, I’m going to have to let them explore the world without me. I can only pre-screen their peers, teachers, and mentors for a little longer.
That terrifies me.
Sadia is raising her 6-year-old identical twin daughters in the suburbs of Austin, TX. She is divorced and works full time in higher education IT.