Elizabeth has her own house key now- a black shiny one with pink sparkle hearts on it. I handed it to her last night- heavy with the gravitas of it, the importance of it- the acknowledgement that she has crossed a threshold. I realize that this is the first key in a long line of keys for her. And I was very aware that I’ve just traded one set of worries for another.
Because of an understanding supervisor (and let me just say- wow!), my schedule is such that I can leave and be home at 2:45 when the children get out of school. They walk or bike home with a huge group of children, and I can be at home to meet them. I have grading and planning and emails and other “stuff” that I have to do- but I don’t have to be at the office to do it. My classes are over, my office hours are done, and my afternoon is “free”. Which means that, for the first time ever, I have been able to get home, help with homework, make dinner and just be there. It means that we’re not paying a million dollars for afterschool care, that homework is getting done without fighting and that we’re eating healthier. It’s made an amazing difference for all of us, and although I’m up late grading and planning and writing, it’s worth every minute.
But… it doesn’t always work that cleanly. I have to leave my office at 2:10 at the latest to get home in time, and while my boss is accommodating, other factors are not as easy to navigate. Today, for example, I had a meeting that was scheduled from 1:00-2:00. Should have been no problem. But… the meeting ran late. I was caught up in a discussion that if I had left, would have gone a different direction from the way it ended up. I love my job. I want to be able to shape it. And so I stayed. Only 10 minutes, but 10 minutes that meant the difference between getting out at 2:10 and getting caught in the college traffic as the 12:45-2:15 classes let out. I didn’t get home until 3:00.
This has been an issue that happens about once a week. It’s 10-15 minutes, that while not huge, means that my children would sit on my front door steps. Sometimes, they went over to a friend’s house. Sometimes, their friends sat with them. I live in a neighborhood, that luckily, has children EVERYWHERE- that has stay-at-home parents EVERYWHERE- so sitting on our front steps for 15 minutes is a regular means of socializing. But I don’t like it when it’s a necessity.
And Elizabeth IS 9 1/2 years old (She tries to claim 9 and 3/4, but that’s not for another 2 months!). She is VERY responsible. She follows the rules- to the letter. So, we made a schedule for her to follow. It’s posted on her door. It has visual cues. We practiced it. She is to come in the house, and call me IMMEDIATELY. She is to let the dog out to the back yard. She is to get a snack from where we keep snack. She is NOT to cook. She is NOT allowed to let Emily or any friend come in the house. She is not allowed to leave Ray alone in the house. She is to wait for me because I will only be about 10-15 minutes late.
This is a runup to the day when she turns ten- an age that she knows is the magic age when she can be at home by herself; 10 is 1 year away from the age of babysitting. She has often told me “When I’m 10, I don’t have to go to the grocery store with you… When I’m 10, I don’t have to go____ with you…. When I’m 10… when I’m 10.” She’s testing those waters of independence- 10 to 15 minutes at a time.
I was laughing with my mother that I’m so grateful at times that she is who she is. That she IS limited in imagination. That she is so rules-oriented. That she has such a hard time lying. It means that I can trust her to follow the plan. It means that I believe that she can handle it.
Which also means that she’s growing up. Which also means that I can begin to let her go- but only for 10 minutes at a time. She’s still my baby… and 10 minutes is all I can handle.
And I’m not even letting myself THINK about when Ray gets close to 10… Ray, who has imagination. Ray, who does lie easily. Ray, who figures out how rules can be bent. Ray, who has already figured out that because he is not allowed to be alone in the house, Elizabeth cannot go back outside to play with her friends unless he also wants to go outside- and so has realized that he holds the power of where Elizabeth can be. Ray… will never be allowed to be by himself until he’s off to college.