I’m telling this story because there needs to be give and take in every marriage – and it only gets harder once you have kids. We had a furious fight over whether Jack was old enough / responsible enough to walk with his younger brother by themselves to the corner by the Lake. As I tell below, Jack had developed quite a good sense of responsibility even at a young age. Nick was climbing the tree and getting on the garage roof even before he was going to Kindergarten. It is a debate for the ages how much independence to give your children. I’ve read where at least one mother in NYC lets her 6 year-old take the subway alone to school. Because my mom didn’t drive, I walked to Kindergarten myself, even crossing a busy street at the stoplight, rather than get in on the neighborhood car pool. When I left home at age 17, my mom said, “You don’t need to call us everyday. We did our best to raise you to take care of yourself.”
On the other hand, I’ve witnessed ten year-olds on Jack and Nick’s block being told they can’t go to the park alone. Again, to Ellen’s ever-lasting credit, she’s let me win most the “being independent” arguments and we’ve so far – KNOCK ON WOOD – raised our kids to be independent and safe.
Now the real test is approaching. I’ve bought Mitzi, a Mitsubishi 5 speed stick shift on the floor, for Jack to learn to drive. Jack’s agreed to pay me 50% of the purchase price to have it be his own car when he’s 16. (He works as a “bagger” at the local grocery store.) Ellen’s agreed to let Jack get his license on his 16th birthday so long as he keeps up a B average in school. I conceded on no motorcycles until he’s an experienced driver (but read the story “How I Came to Be a Lawyer.”) Now the test I’m talking about: Will Jack be a safe driver and skillful driver or a risky driver and a bad driver?
For me, it’s just like Nick’s climbing roofs. If you let the kids find their own limits, then they’ll create their own safety zone – one they really know. But, if you tell them No, you can’t climb trees, then these are the kids who later fall and break their leg. For Ellen, it’s an innate mother-thing to be protective, and she’s right about that. So far we’ve traversed without calamity and with our marriage intact, even though El once went so far as to tell me that the neighbor lady had threatened to call child protection if she ever saw Nick on the garage roof again; to which I replied “Let her.”
Tomorrow: The Many Splendors