Home Alone

I schedule work during my home days very, very rarely. I’ve really improved in my separation of work and home.  However, due to the pressing nature of a particular meeting, I suggested that I could do it today, during those two hours when both boys were in school.  Therefore, it goes without saying that Baxter immediately fell ill and had to stay home from school today, does it not?  Yes, strep throat does require a doctor’s visit, and so off we went.

After the doctor’s office and the requisite trip to Walgreen’s for Amoxicillin, Baxter was looking tired.  While we hung out at home afterwards, I had to figure out what to do with him when I went to pick up Lyle from preschool.  Although it’s just a few minutes away, I hated to take him out in the cold all over again for such a short jaunt.   A friend who knew Baxter was sick actually called and offered to get Lyle and bring him home for me when she picked up her daughter, but I hated to ask her to do that when she had done the afternoon carpool in my absence and will have to drive her son down to school tomorrow in my place, due to Baxter’s continued recovery.

And so I did it.  I left him home alone.

Now, before anyone freaks out, let me point out that my neighbor across the hall – a mere 5 steps away – was home and more than happy to be available if he needed anything in the half hour that I’d be gone.   There were also three locked doors in our condo building between him and the outside world.  But I wasn’t worried; I was actually really excited about it.

You see, I’ve been wanting to find ways to give Baxter more freedom and responsibility.  I believe strongly that as a nation we have built a culture around fear that has pervaded our parenting norms in a very bizarre way, much of which is driven by the media (which is one reason I don’t watch TV news), and that we are seriously over-protecting our kids much of the time.  I feel that we need to make wise decisions about their safety, of course, but sometimes we also need to step back and ask ourselves, “Is there an actual danger here?”  One blog that I particularly enjoy reading on this topic is Free Range Kids and here is a good introductory post (go check it out, there’s major food for thought in that post!).  And so I felt there was no actual danger in leaving my competent 8-year old at home, for goodness’ sake – he can use the phone (I left my cell phone number and the phone next to him), he knows not to answer the door or phone when I’m not available (thanks to lots of practice when I’m showering), and he’s just a great kid.  He deserves to be treated in ways that make him feel trusted and, well, older.  Because he is, but by not treating him that way, I can’t expect him to develop the qualities I’d like to see in him as he grows up.

It is a rare occasion when Baxter would be here without Lyle, and of course Lyle is too young to be home without supervision, a fact no one would refute. So I jumped at it.  It was clearly more monumental to me than to my child, who – although he flashed me an appreciative grin when I said good-bye and reviewed the rules – spent the half hour watching the end of “The Incredibles” and was probably so wrapped up in it that he forgot he was home on his own. No biggie.  Utterly forgettable.

I always tell the boys that the way they behave guides the way we treat them; that the more mature and responsible they act, the more leeway we’ll give them.  It makes me incredibly happy as a mother that one of my kids is able to handle this and that I saw the opportunity when it arose.  Such a small thing in many ways, but a huge one in his step towards indepedence from us.

And as far as I’m concerned, ultimately, that’s my job.

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8 responses to “Home Alone

  1. So cool that it went so well. Because Sam’s only 7 and we legally can’t leave him alone on his own for another year, this isn’t something I’ve thought about a lot yet. But Sam really likes the idea of staying home alone. He can’t wait. I’ll have my fingers crossed that it goes as well as with Baxter.

  2. Wow. You did that? I’m impressed.

  3. Whoa! It never occurred to me that there’s a LEGAL minimum age for this! Wonder if I just broke a law in IL?! Then again, that appears to be a state requirement- maybe I can share a cell with the Governor!!

  4. That’s great that you were able to do that; even better that it was not a big deal to Baxter. Now the next time won’t be so hard! 🙂

  5. We’re working up to that. For now, Miss M does things like walk down the block to mail a letter for me (while I watch a block away) or pays for things at the grocery store (while I slurp coffee at the Starbucks kiosk)

    I feel that independence is SO important and SO good for their self-esteem.

    Your son is supremely capable. Good kid. Good mom.

    BTW, what IS the legal age?

  6. I love Free Range Kids even as I struggle with the execution of it. Thanks to you I now know that I spent every Monday night over the summer breaking the IL law. I would leave the boys for a meeting – fed with stove off, dog pre-walked and door locked (even in the summer). Stuart would be another 30-60 minutes from home calling them incessantly en route. Levi loved it at 11yrs (the age that I was babysitting for money), Noah 9yrs., was a bit nervous. It really is case by case. How is it exactly that our kids will learn how to fend for themselves? I notice that necessity is once again the mother of invention.

  7. Thanks, everyone…what Lisa is referring to is that I posted this link (http://www.latchkey-kids.com/latchkey-kids-age-limits.htm) to the Latchkey Kid laws for each state on Facebook. In IL it’s illegal to leave a child alone until he/she is 13! (Although I feel that when one’s neighbor is 5 steps away and in the same building it’s a different story!)

  8. My first reaction to this post was to be completely impressed that you could do this & to say that I am in agreement with you about finding opportunities for responsibility. Makes me think about my sister’s kids who can walk through an airport while carrying their own bags, they never think someone else will do it for them. Or how clueless many of my friends were when they got to college and had never done anything on their own, like laundry or cook a meal. What a disservice their parents did by not giving them those opportunities beforehand!

    Then, I read about the law-breaking and I am kind of laughing, b/c 13, is ridiculous! Some kids babysit at 12! But they probably have to have that law b/c otherwise there are too many particulars: how long were you away? was there an adult on stand by close by (like your neighbor)? were you reachable? etc., etc.

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