Small victory in Rhode Island – DENIED!

Well, well, well.  It seems that the original link (far below – Common Sense in Rhode Island), which reported that the RI “kids in cars law” had quietly gone away, was a bit quick on the draw.  Unfortunately, some new reporting, linked just below, tells us that the ridiculous bill is, in fact, moving forward.

Rhode Island common sense? NOPE!

I sent the below email to Senator Raptakis yesterday, and have not received any reply.  No surprise there.    If you would like to send your own email, you may send it to:
Sen-Raptakis@RIlegislature.gov
My email of yesterday:
Senator Raptakis,
     Good day, Sir, I hope this finds you well.  I find it difficult to express the deep disappointment I experienced this morning, as I read the below-linked news report regarding children left in cars.  Just days ago, I was happily celebrating the emergence of some legislative common sense in RI, as I had read a report (evidently erroneous) that this bill had been quietly put to rest, as it should be.  Unfortunately, that report set me up for a monumental case of emotional whiplash this morning.
     Five minutes versus ten minutes?  I get the sense, now, that the passage of “anything” with regards to this issue has now become the acceptable measure of success, rather than the creation and application of reasonable and necessary law.  Sadly, this state of affairs often emerges as the political reality of bad legislation, when challenged.  The reality for competent parents, however, will not change.  They will now be subject to criminal punishment for making safe, reasonable decisions regarding the safety and welfare of their own children.  A very sad, disappointing day for American jurisprudence.
    I wish I could say that I wish you luck.

http://turnto10.com/politics/ri-lawmakers-target-parents-who-leave-kids-alone

Best regards,
Brian Wetzler

 

The below entry has evidently been rendered NULL and VOID.  Too bad.

Common Sense in Rhode Island?

Well, according to recent reports at Free Range Kids, linked above, the proposed bill in Rhode Island that would have criminalized leaving children in cars for any reason, has died a slow and silent death. Thank God.  Well, I perhaps could rephrase that to, thank all of the energized parents, and non-parents, everywhere who took up the effort.   You can review my January archive and read “Outgoing Rounds” and “More Outgoing” to get a small sense of what Rhode Island law makers were getting in their inboxes regarding this proposed law.  Congrats to all others who may have reached out and taken action in this particular case. Nicely done!

Go love your kids!

BW

Who has heard of the National Association of Parents?

Busy-body calls 911 over 2-year-old’s tantrum

Well, I had never heard of these folks (National Association of Parents) , which sort of surprised me.  I need to do better research!  I just joined their organization.  Anyway, their name caught my attention while I was reviewing the comments from the above-linked article, from Free Range Kids.  By the nature of their brief comment, it appeared that they were as riled up as I was, and wanted to get in on this fiasco. You need to read the link.  It is an account of a nanny being grilled by the police for 30 mins, after a busy-bastard called 911 over a 2-year-old’s tantrum at a local park.  The encounter is complete with “we need to talk to the kids alone.”  Yeah, over my dead body, officer.  I have a request in for more specific information, as to be able to reach out to the police department directly, and perhaps get an interview with the responders and/or identify the 911 source.  That may not be easy, but I’ll give it a try.  Watch for updates.

Go love your kids!

BW

Shameless echo chamber

Lenore Skenazy’s New York Post Article

Perhaps many readers will recognize the name Lenore Skenazy.  Linked here, is an article she penned for the New York Post. Ostensibly, it is about the recent Oscars “show”, or whatever they call it, but extends far deeper into our parenting culture.  Of course, I wouldn’t be caught dead watching the Oscars, so I’m very happy I got to miss the “oh…my…God…” feeling that may have emptied my stomach.  So, as the title of this post hints, here is my shameless echo of her insight.

Amen, sista!

Go love your kids!

BW

What are they doing?

STAND ALONE SERIES Ondine Jevremov, 12, center, balances on a unicycle between her parents Zoran, left, and Daphne Jevremov during the 2014 NYC Unicycle festival, Sunday Aug. 31, 2014 on Governors Island in New York. In its fifth year, the event brings together first time riders, as well as recreational riders and world-class performers. "It's one of the few things parents and kids try," said festival director Keith Nelson. "When you see families doing things together it's beautiful." (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Recently, I joked with a friend that I should try out a new drinking game:  while watching kids at the playground, I’d have to drink every time I heard a parent say “be careful!” or “good job.”  Immediately, I realized that I may as well just plug into a beer IV.

Almost every time I go to a playground with the kids, I have to wonder whether I’m the only one who sees this incredibly bizarre phenomenon as a bad thing.  I know that the vast majority of parents are well-meaning, but watching two parents follow a 5-year-old kid around like shadows, chattering at him constantly, just depresses the hell out of me.  Parents, what are you doing?  No, stop and think about it.  What are you actually accomplishing?  I hope you thought this through.

What they’re doing, it seems to me, is, at the very least, destroying any opportunity for their 5-year-old to engage in spontaneous play with anybody else.  They are, in essence, the parental Secret Service, making sure that nobody gets to their child with anything dangerous, like a new game, a challenging idea, or, God forbid, something that looks dangerous…like monkey bars.  I know from observing my children, at least, that they generally steer shy of kids surrounded by a security detail.  I don’t think we give our kids enough credit for picking up these vibes, but they learn at lightning-fast speed how to read patterns like this.  Kids with hovering parents aren’t really free to play, and, after all, there’s grown-up competition for their attention.  What fun is that?  Now that I’m a famous blogger 🙂 I’ve been daydreaming about doing some actual research on this issue.  I really do want to know what thoughts, if any, are behind certain parental behaviors at the playground.  Yeah, I know that it seems all holier-than-thou and “who the hell do you think you are?” – ish, but my curiosity is genuine.  Of course, asking questions like that would probably get me a dirty look to start, and then, perhaps, a discreet photo posted on Facebook with the caption, “this is the creep who was asking me completely inappropriate questions at the park today.”  Then, the comment line would fill up with venomous “how dare he!” stuff, with at least one comment saying, “next time you see him, call the cops!”  You laugh…

The other day, I saw two parents literally break into a run because their twin 6-year-oldish boys had just arrived on-scene, saw a particularly cool slide, and started running towards it.  It was as if the parents couldn’t allow more than a 10-foot gap to open up between them and the kids.  Both parents, mind you.  What is that?  Does that absolutely baffle the shit out of anyone else, or is it just me?  I would absolutely loooove to find out if their brains had engaged at all, or whether they were just suffering from some sort of evil parental auto-pilot.  Yeah, I know, it’s always easy to judge while you’re sitting in the cheap seats.  Wait a minute, I’m not sitting in the cheap seats!

While I make these observations, I always have a 6 and 5 year-old running around somewhere, Sydney normally trying to out-daredevil herself somehow.  So, no, I’m one parent minding two kids, watching two parents hang all over one kid.   You’d think it would be more difficult for me, no?  But that’s the bizarre point, what is the difficulty!?  What are they doing that makes it look so difficult and anxiety-ridden?  Well, when I think of it, the answer is pretty obvious.  If I had to stay 5-feet behind my kids at all times, and climb all the stuff they climb, and follow them through the tunnels, and go down the slides with them, and ride the little springy pony thing, and squeeze into the swing next to them, and do all of the other shit that parents shouldn’t be doing, I’d have a tough time as well.

So, I’m wondering how to do this.  Do I bring a clipboard and look like a researcher?   Dress it up as a survey?  Yeah, yeah, this isn’t a good idea.  How about I just write about it on a blog, and leave it at that?  Sounds good.

I’m still curious though…

Go love your kids!

BW

A Time to Say Nothing

One of my favorite leadership quotes comes from Colin Powell (or at least it has been attributed to him…you know how quotes work):  “One of the most difficult things about leadership is to know when to do nothing, and then do it.”  I recently had a parental parallel of “doing nothing”, and I wanted to tell you how it worked out.   Just to warn you, it’s another New Orleans story.

So, there we were, set up in a rental property in the middle of Uptown.  We were in it for only one night, actually, awaiting our “permanent” property to come available the next day.  In the morning, we would be moving two blocks down the street.  Carson (6) and Sydney (5) were sitting on the sidewalk outside, watching the goings-on.  It was about an hour before sunset.  They noticed three kids on bikes riding around a school parking lot across the street, and immediately tried to get their attention.  They knew enough to not step into the street, so they looked like dogs on leashes, leaning forward over the curb, calling out to the kids: “Can we play with you? Can we play with you?”  I heard them calling, and stepped out onto the gallery, which had a commanding view of the entire scene from the second floor (and also immediate access via an outdoor stairway).  Bottom line, I could be next to them, if I had to be, in about five seconds or less.  I noticed the kids across the street – two girls and a boy, a bit older, maybe 9 – 11 or so.  They were circling on their bikes, running over an empty plastic water bottle, and seemingly having quite a time of it.  The boy and one of the girls were black, and the other girl was white.  No parents in sight.  Well, let’s see how this works out.

I stepped back from the gallery, but kept my eyes on what was going on.  I was having flashes of my city-living instincts: city kids – bad. City kids are trouble.  I watched.  At some point, the boy grew curious enough to ride over to the curb and stop in front of my kids. They were very excited.  “Hi, I’m Dominic, what are your names?”  He got off his bike, and I bit my lip just a bit, waiting for something bad to happen, and tensing for a dash down the stairs.  There was some small talk about where everyone was from, and then someone said “you want to play?”  They chose hide-and-seek.

Luckily, there was just enough space under the gallery/stairway, and along the sidewalk, to support a small-scale version of hide-and-seek.  It equated to hiding in plain sight, but they didn’t seem to care that much.  I remained out of sight, and silent.  Still tense, but growing calmer.  They moved to “tag.” They were having enough fun to finally pique the curiosity of the two girls who had remained across the street.  They showed up at the curb to investigate.  After brief introductions, they decided that running over the plastic bottle was more fun, and they headed back to the parking lot.

For my part, I kept thinking about saying something, but couldn’t come up with anything truly productive or instructive to say.  “Know when to do nothing.”  I did.  The only thing that I “did” was to step out and catch everyone’s eye at least twice, to ensure that everyone knew I was close by.  Other than that, I just let it all unfold. Eventually, my kids came running up the stairs to report that Dominic had gone home, but said he was coming right back.  I just assumed he was gone.  The kids returned to the sidewalk.  Lo and behold, a couple of minutes later, Dominic rolled up with a Nerf football in his hands.  They proceeded to play a mini game of football along the sidewalk.  They were having a blast, and Dominic seemed to be quite the football guy.  In later conversation, I even found out he was a Patriots fan.  Bonus points.  🙂  I had to lean over the railing twice to remind the kids not to chase the ball (or the pass) into the street.  Other than that, I was silent.

There was one moment when I heard the distinct “I’m hurt” cry, and headed out to the gallery to see what was up.  Sydney was coming up the stairs, followed by Carson and Dominic.  “What happened, Girlie?”  Carson said that he had pushed her a little bit too hard, and that she had fallen on the pavement and hit her nose.  Hit her nose?  I remained cool and calm, and took measure of her nose.  I also officially “met” Dominic, who was very gracious.  Turning back to the nose, sure enough, there was a raspberry right on the tip of Syd’s nose.  Everything else seemed fine, and she was already calming down (which she tends to do quickly).  I cleaned up the wound, gave her a kiss, and sent them back down the stairs.  There were smiles all around, and Sydney was ready to run a crossing pattern, I’m sure.

The girls visited a couple more times, but football wasn’t their thing either, I guess.  As it was getting dark, I eventually went out and announced a five-minute countdown for coming in.  The kids came in, very excited about their play time.

While I was trying to sum up and evaluate what had happened, I was overcome by a wave of optimism.  What I had just witnessed was simply awesome, not to mention a very rare thing these days.  Two kids had initiated contact with other kids, without a trace of parental guidance, influence, or intervention.  They had introduced themselves, decided to play, made up their own games, and had a complete blast.  Not a single word from a parent, and right in the middle of the city.  Though poised to intervene, I resisted my own “worries”, and did the right thing: nothing.  Not only was I proud of my kids, I was, I admit, just a little bit proud of myself, for having effectively bitten my lip, and stayed out of it.

It turned out, Dominic found us at the “new” house, a couple of days later.  He became a somewhat regular visitor, and was welcomed into our house to play as well.  We even had a couple of trips to the local playground together.  Also, one of the girls from the first night turned out to be his sister.  Her name was Seina (SAY-na).  We saw her again too.  They were both very nice, and even used the word “sir.”  Crazy stuff!  🙂  We never met their parents, and decided that it wasn’t really that important that we did.

I am very happy that our kids had this opportunity.  It doesn’t mean, of course, that I’m now going to release my kids into the city and say “see you later!”  Many parents still seem to think that I’m crazy enough to do that.  The kids don’t see this as anything but completely normal, and I will endeavor to keep it that way.  After all, what is this blog all about anyway?  Kids living the lives of kids – making friends, learning their way, and scraping their noses if they have to.  🙂  Pardon me if I see this as a minor victory in the Free Range battle.

Go love your kids!

BW

 

The Tale of the Sword

I realize that most people reading this would not normally think of Mardi Gras and “parenting” in the same sentence.  However, this place is actually a giant parenting laboratory.  More on that later.  In the meantime, a good friend, who is staying with us here in New Orleans, told me about a parenting moment he experienced with a parade float a couple of years ago.  Those familiar with how Mardi Gras parade-throws work will understand this best.  My friend’s 9-year-old boy, Max, approached a parade float while it was being staged for an upcoming parade; there was a rider aboard, prepping his “throws.”  Max was interested in one particular item that he could see on the float (a cool sword thing…), and asked the rider to throw it to him.  While Max was having this dialogue, another 9-year-old boy wandered over and took interest in the very same sword.  The rider then threw the sword from the float, and Max caught it.  Max’s dad was watching this all from about 50 ft away. Just as Max began admiring his “catch”, the other kid’s dad (presumably) approached him, took the sword out of his hand, and gave it to the other kid.  He said something about “that was actually meant for [him].”  Like many former Marines, my friend has a grizzly switch that can trip quite quickly when it comes to protecting family (not to mention The Constitution… :), and he can be quite an impressive grizzly.

As he described it, he could have gone over and possibly lit off a big mess with the other dad, or he could just chill out and let it pass.  He chose the latter. The way I see it, he made the correct choice.  This was a classic match-up between “protect!” and “it’s just not worth it.”  As in all such match-ups, tamping down the grizzly is absolutely necessary if you want to take a cool, measured look at your options. Folks from my trade will recognize “wind the clock.”  I like to call it, “master the first five seconds.”  The Grizzly, on the other hand, just charges in, teeth bared.

So, as my friend exhaled a deep breath, he explained the reality of unkind folks doing unkind things; taking measure of conflict with a clear head; etc.  As for the sword, well, where there is one “throw”, there is always another.   Max went over to the rider, explained what happened, and, lo and behold, another sword fell out of the sky.

Even as I write these words, I am daydreaming about how satisfying it would have been to take that other dad down a notch or two.   OK, yeah…to what end, exactly?   There are times you should release the grizzly, and times you shouldn’t.  I only hope that I will command the same serenity of mind that my friend did, as to allow me  to see the difference.

A Stark Comparison

Earlier today, my kids and I were touring “Mardi Gras World” – the place where most of the floats for New Orleans Mardi Gras parades are designed and built.  It is an awesome operation.  Anyway, while the kids and I were wandering around the massive warehouses,  and gawking at all the floats awaiting the upcoming Orpheus parade (Harry Connick’s krewe), I caught a glimpse of something interesting.  As I walked by an older gentleman on the tour, I could have sworn he was wearing a ball-cap with a picture of the Iwo Jima flag-raising on the front of it, accompanied by the words “Iwo Jima Veteran.”  I was already five or six steps past him, on the way to the exit, actually, when my brain formed the question:  “Was that man an Iwo Jima veteran?”  I stopped, looked over my shoulder, and thought “I have to go check”. The kids and I did a 180, and I relocated the man in question.  I discreetly maneuvered for a better look at his hat and, then, there it was:  “Iwo Jima Veteran .”

I approached, with my best manners, and asked if he was, in fact, a veteran of that famous battle.  “Yes, I am.”  I extended my hand and said, as I often say, “thank you for your service.”  We spoke for ten minutes, or so, about his experience.  Obviously, I was quite familiar with the general narrative of the battle, but it was truly riveting to hear a personal narrative.  As we were finishing up, I asked the man if he would pose for a photo with my children.  He happily obliged.  I got a couple of nice shots and, again, extended my hand in thanks.  He said, “wait a second.”  He unhitched an Iwo Jima pin from his collar, and turned to Carson: “This is for you, young man.  You’ll learn about what this is later, but I want you to have it now.  It’s been a pleasure meeting you.”  Carson took it in his hand:  “thank you.”

As we parted ways, I was deeply moved by the whole idea of what had just transpired.   Carson looked up and said, “Dad, are you crying?”

“Actually, I am.”

In the five-or-so minutes it took us to clear the warehouse, I was imagining the scene: an 18-year-old Marine caught up in one of the hardest-fought campaigns in modern military history.  Amazing stuff.  However, when the kids and I finally crossed the street to the parking lot, I was brought back to Earth with a thump. Enroute to our car, we had to walk across an active railroad track that fed the port of New Orleans.  The kids asked if they could walk on the rails and play train.  I looked up and down the rails, evaluated the situation, and declared that it was safe to play “train.”  They proceeded to walk on the rails (like balance beams), blow their whistles, and say “look out, Daddy, train coming through!”  This “game” probably took them 100 feet, or so, along the track, away from the “safety” of the pedestrian walk-way.  Trust me, there was no way a speeding bullet-train was going to sneak up and ambush us.  If you’ve ever been to this particular place, you’d know what I mean.  Anyway, a few minutes into their play, a woman in a car, crossing the tracks on the road, leaned out of her window and said, quite loudly, “that’s not a good idea!”

Really?

Moments before, I had been hearing about an 18-year-old American kid who had gone to war, and run up against some of the fiercest fighting in our history.  Now, I was facing a busy-body who thought it was her business to lean out a window and tell me, in essence, that kids walking along a railroad track was dangerous.  Worlds colliding with a huge crash.  I wish I could have taken her inside the warehouse, and introduced her to the extraordinary Marine whom I had just met.  The most distressing part of this whole affair is the idea that it would, perhaps, have made no difference at all to the busy-body.  “Iwo what?  Who cares about that?  What does that have to do with child safety?”  Can you say “missing the point”?

So, should I be preparing my kids to tackle Iwo Jima, or should I be focused on keeping them off the railroad tracks, and away from all things dangerous?   I think I’ll aim for somewhere in the middle. What do you think, busy-body?

BW

 

I’m 18; can I talk to strangers now?

I just stumbled across this posting/video from the Today Show, which evidently aired last week.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear what the featured guest had to say.  Link here:
Some parental common sense
Of course, this is all common sense but, these days, can be peddled as some cutting-edge parental insight.  That’s fine with me.  As long as it’s reaching the audience of generally brain-dead morning TV, I’ll maintain some hope that it will sink in for a few parents who might have been watching.  Better than nothing.

So, get this.  The number one item on the list of things that 18-year-olds need to be able to do:  Talk to strangers.  EIGHTEEN-year-olds!  Let me say that again:  EIGHTEEN-year-olds talking to strangers!  This should be amazing, but I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that an entire generation of college-age kids is having trouble with this fundamental human skill.  Considering the fire-hose messaging on bad strangers, could this genuinely surprise anyone?

Another particularly interesting item for me was how this whole ‘list’ was packaged, i.e., “If we want our kids to survive without their phones…”  Again, can any clear-thinking human being be surprised by the role of “the phone” in the decline of people skills?  It brings to mind an incident I witnessed here in New Orleans just a few days ago.  We were riding on the St. Charles street car, heading Uptown from The Quarter.  A group of six or seven 20-somethings got on board, clearly on a tourist outing.  Maybe a 4-3 gender split or so.  Each of them had his own phone out, and the group was collectively discussing how to navigate the street car, and where they could find a good restaurant along the way.  They were in their own little world of “phone-ing” their way through the issue while, I’m guessing, four out of five people seated around them were locals, and likely had a lot of good information to offer.  While one of the men was thinking out-loud about where Napoleon Ave was, Beth turned to me and said “should I tell them?”  I said, “no, let them do their phone thing.”   Driving my “leave them alone” response was my very strong belief (I’m convinced I’m correct here, by the way) that no level of local input was going to sway them from their phone-ing.  Emeril Lagasse could be sitting next to them with street car directions and a restaurant recommendation, but if they didn’t find it on Google Maps or Yelp, they simply weren’t going to give it a thought.  Bummer.  Perhaps I’m wrong, and I hope I am.  Maybe we’ll say something next time, and see if they can actually have a conversation with a stranger!  🙂

BW

 

Pedantic Over-Helping

While spinning through a recent article published in The Atlantic (linked below), I pulled out a particularly poignant passage that I thought I would share, along with some commentary, of course!  🙂  If you are a parent, you owe it to yourself, and your kids, to read and digest the entire thing.  Right now, I will focus on the single paragraph below.  It struck upon one of the main tenets I studied and applied in counseling grown-ups.  In essence, don’t put thoughts in someone’s head that aren’t there.  Everything is open-ended.  All comments are crafted as invitations for the person to talk, explain, reflect, etc., without having to process an implied judgement or expectation.  The below passage is a perfect example of how a well-meaning person/teacher/parent can step in and confuse the shit out of a kid by thinking for him.  Likewise, a well-meaning, “helpful” comment in therapy such as, “wow, you must have been devastated.”  Can instantly degrade your credibility, and impact the comfort of your client.  “No, I wasn’t devastated; I was happy as hell.  I freakin’ hated her; I’m glad she’s dead!  Should I be devastated?”

Think in terms of “tell me more”; “what happened next?”; “What is it that you’re making/drawing/doing there?”;  “tell me about that”; “What do you think about that?”; “help me understand that”; or, you can just repeat his initial comment to keep him moving: “A house, huh?”  You can make up the rest. In essence, the drawing isn’t a house until HE says it’s a house.  What happens in his made-up story is what HE says happens, not what you think should happen, driven by the “blanks” you feel necessary to fill in for him when he hesitates for five seconds.  Speaking of hesitating, let’s talk about silence.

In therapy, with adults or kids, silence is an art you must master.  As a parent, try to provide your kid as much silence as he needs after you have posed a question or comment.  “Tell me about your drawing.”  Then, shut your freakin’ mouth!  Ten, twenty, thirty seconds of pure silence is not a bad thing.  It may suck for you, but bear it, and give your child a chance to process his thoughts.  He is CREATING, don’t interrupt.

All right, that’s my morning rant.  Take a look at the link below, and the pulled paragraph.

Pre-school boot camp

PASTED TEXT:

“Consider the difference between a teacher’s use of a closed statement versus an open-ended question. Imagine that a teacher approaches a child drawing a picture and exclaims, “Oh, what a pretty house!” If the child is not actually drawing a house, she might feel exposed, and even if she is drawing a house, the teacher’s remark shuts down further discussion: She has labeled the thing and said she likes it. What more is there to add? A much more helpful approach would be to say, “Tell me about your drawing,” inviting the child to be reflective. It’s never possible to anticipate everything a small person needs to learn, so open-ended inquiry can reveal what is known and unknown. Such a small pedagogic difference can be an important catalyst for a basic, but unbounded, cognitive habit—the act of thinking out loud.”

AMEN, BRUTHA!

Big Boy Missions

Greetings, All,

As has often been said, talk is cheap.  So, how does one effectively put action behind his words when it comes to allowing children the space and opportunity to explore, learn, and gain confidence (and, more importantly, competence)?  In my opinion, you can’t start early enough.   I just watched my five-year-old daughter carefully cross a (non-busy) street, access our curb-parked car, retrieve several items, and safely return to our rental house here in New Orleans.  It was easy, safe, and, just for those who may be gasping with horror, 100% in-sight.  She returned with a smile that said, “I just climbed a mountain!”

For quite some time now, my children (6 and 5)  have been performing what we affectionately call Big Boy Missions.  They are simple and safe, but also exhilarating.  After all, they are missions!  Each mission is supported, of course, by basic safety training, and awareness of the operating environment.  That’s all been built over years and months.  For example, I would never have sent my daughter to cross a street unless I had trained her to do it, and then witnessed her do it on her own,  competently, 100 times before (literally, 100).  By the way, I’m sorry if  much of my terminology sounds very military; that’s because, well…it is.  OK, moving on.  When we go to the grocery story, for example, the kids are active participants.  There is no “sitting in the grocery cart” here.  They drive the cart, they search the shelves for regular items, and they empty the cart onto the check-out counter when we arrive.  My six-year-old now scans all the items with bar codes, and is working on how to weigh and scan the produce, etc.  They’re active participants, and they love it. The most exciting Big Boy Missions (in the grocery store, at least) are the unaccompanied missions to fetch something specific. For example – “Go get the biggest box of Cheerios you can find.  Go!”   The first Cheerios mission began while I was standing 50 feet away from the Cheerios.  After a few successful trips, I crept into the next aisle, and, finally, to wherever I was in the store, completely out of sight.  They can now traverse the entire store, from wherever we are, to the Cheerios and back.  Ditto for the granola bars, cool whip, milk, apples, bread, and a list of other items.

What if they get lost?  What about those creepy strangers laying in wait to kidnap my poor children from the produce department? Good questions.  Whenever we’re out of sight, or even when we’re wandering within sight of each other in a store, we establish what we call a “rally point.”  If the kids turn and don’t see me, or can’t find their way back to where I was standing, they have a 3-step procedure:  Look out; call out; and go.  If they don’t see me, and I don’t answer their call outs, they proceed directly to our rally point.  If the kids don’t show back up in a reasonable time, I head there too. I always make the rally point a very prominent feature of the store (or wherever we are) normally near the front:  The giant red umbrella hanging from the ceiling; the huge ice cream sign; the giant stack of chocolate; whatever is big, visible, and unmistakable.  By the way, this also works when you’re at a zoo, park, parade, flea market, or anywhere you might find a crowd.  In fact, we actually had to invoke a rally point during a Mardi Gras parade last year.  When I arrived at the rally point (the front stairway of a prominent building right behind us), my 4-year-old daughter was standing there with a big smile:  “I went to the rally point, Daddy!”  Good work, Girly!  Yes, kids are capable of this.

The kids are also well-versed in stranger procedures. That is, they can absolutely speak to strangers; most of them are very nice.  In fact, the vast majority of strangers they encounter are simply trying to help them.  They are allowed to ask them for directions to something, or for help in reaching something on the shelf, or to ask them to read a label they don’t understand.  That’s all in-bounds. The important rule is, they simply never go anywhere with them. That’s it.  The rule is simple and unbreakable.  We review it quite often, and even play “who could you go with?”  “Could you go with Uncle Neil?  Yes!  Could you go with Auntie Val?  Yes!  Could you go with the nice lady from the bakery?  No!; how about our neighbor Joe?  No!”, etc.   And if someone lays a strong hand on them to force them to go somewhere?  (I show them what that looks like).  Bite, kick, scream, and become the scariest monster you can imagine. They get it.  Just to let you know, my rant on Stranger Danger is long and “spirited”, and will be preserved for another posting…or six.  You can get a sense for it in my very first blog posting, from Dec ’15:  “Stranger Danger Craziness.”

I’ll close with this:  Big Boy Missions can happen anywhere, and I often don’t have any plan for them until I see one in the making. “Hmmm, how about an unaccompanied trip up and down that department store escalator?   Why can’t he walk down to the hotel front desk and ask what time breakfast starts?   Go speak to that store worker and ask her where we can find the towels.”  Many of them “require” contact with another human.  I always send them off with a reminder – “Best manners.”  That includes the entire spectrum of “please, thank you, excuse me, etc.”, and they’ve become very good at it.  Amazing what some latitude, training, and opportunity can do for their self-reliance.  Easy stuff, but awesome in its impact. Try designing your own big boy missions, and watch the kids ask for more.

Until next time.

BW