Last Sunday, we needed something to do. My husband took the toddler out for a bike ride using a hitched carrier we have, and I took the two older kids to run errands at the outlet mall. The bribe was that they could play the “Wizards Unite” game on my phone — an augmented reality by the makers of Pokémon Go if you’re not familiar.
When we arrived, the two of them clustered together, head down in the game, taking turns every ten minutes or so. I had several errands to run in the various stores, and knew that if I took them with me, I’d have to contend with the fact that they would not be looking up at any point. This would cause them to be slow and likely bump into other people or displays. But that was the deal: a trip to the outlet mall with me, in exchange for playing the game.
The outlet mall is an outdoor mall, and we arrived just as it was opening for the day. Shoppers were beginning to appear, mostly casually strolling on the early Sunday, versus the frantic bustle that I see as the day heads into afternoon and it becomes more crowded.
My kids are 9 and 7. Outside of each cluster of shops is a seating area. I hesitated. I could tell them to sit, while I ran into a store. The shop’s windows would mean that I could easily see them if I wanted to, but still I hesitated. I finally said “You two can continue to play the game while I run inside. Stay right here and don’t talk to strangers.”
I had to talk myself into reality. Reality? Most of my stops were five to ten minutes in length. My kids were old enough to know not to talk to anyone who approached them. Someone attempting to forcibly take them would do so in front of other casual shoppers, and my kids would not go quietly. They were going to be fine sitting there, and I had to trust that to be true.
Reality was also wondering if someone could see my kids and take it upon themselves that my children were “unattended” and call the police. It’s something I read over than over… rather than teaching children to be independent and be comfortable on their own, people are all too quick to contact law enforcement on grounds that children aren’t being supervised. I wonder when I will ever be able to let my kids ride their bikes to the park alone, without having to worry about a supposedly well-meaning passerby.
Reality is that I want my children to know that I trust them. Stats show that there aren’t more kidnappings or anything of that nature in today’s world….we’re just more aware of the stories than ever because of the 24-hour news cycle and social media. It is re-wiring my own protective brain, as well as encouraging theirs to grow in a way that is not built on fear. The way that I grew up.
Friends of ours recently told us that they want their 10-year-old to start biking to the library by himself. And, outside of worrying about “other people” I was impressed with how much they were encouraging their son’s independence.
The first store that I went into, I could tell that I was tense. I kept repeating the realities over and over to myself: they will be fine.
By the third store, I had calmed. When an understaffed checkout line kept me inside for a bit longer, my 7-year-old looked up from the game as I approached and said “What took you so long?” I explained, and he shrugged and went back to his turn on the game.
Our total trip was only an hour, most of it walking the huge expanse of the outlet mall in-between stores. But by the end, I was proud of myself and proud of them. Though I didn’t mention anything to them — I didn’t want them to think that sitting outside of the store for a few minutes by themselves was anything other than “normal.”