Tuesday, March 24, 2009

To the Mothers of 9-Year-Olds

At least two of you out there are parents of 9-year-olds. As I was raking leaves this morning a thought struck me. Just yesterday those 9-year-olds were new babies. Wasn't it this morning that they were learning to walk, to ride a bike, tie shoe laces, and heading off to kindergarten? High school graduation is a million years in the future. Right along there with the driver's license and college tuition.

Here's the bad news. By the time those wonderful 9-year-old children turn 18, they will be champing at the bit to be somewhere else. Anywhere else. How did you feel at 18? Yes, at least one of you wished at 18 that she had parents to go home to. At least one of you might have enjoyed a more traditional nuclear family. At least one of you was pushing out into new frontiers of independence. Ray and I used to laugh together and say that God gives us teen-agers so that when it is time for our children to leave home, we breathe a huge sign of relief and say, "GO!" Oh, we still love you. Nothing can change that. We want you to come home regularly, to keep in touch, to tell us how you feel and what you are thinking about. But we don't want you hanging about the house as irresponsible adults, either. So we teach our children to be independent, to think for themselves, to take responsibility for their actions, and to challenge those ideas, beliefs and practices they believe are unjust. Then we sputter and spit and shed a tear or two when they do just that! You will, too.

Consider. Nine is half of 18. If you have 9-year-olds, they are already half-way out your door. Cherish them. Guide them. Bribe them and compromise with them. Teach them about the logical consequences (positive and negative) of their behavior. What other important lessons do they need to learn in their second 9 years of life? Will they be as ready as they think they are? Never. As ready as they need to be? Perhaps. Missed at home? Always.

The other day I heard a radio piece about a mother in the southern US who allowed her 10-year-old son to walk -- alone -- to baseball practice. Son begged and pleaded to be allowed this privilege. Parents had taken all the proper precautions at home. He knew the way, had walked it several times with family. He knew not to get into a car with strangers. He had a cell phone with him. Mom would run one errand and arrive at the ball field about 15 minutes after the start of practice. I don't remember if they had told the coach he was walking alone. Several adults saw him en route. They called the police, who responded and drove the child to the ball field. Mother, when she arrived, was thoroughly chastised and accused of child endangerment. Who were the responsible adults in this case? The parents, who allowed their son to exercise a bit of independence? Those who called the police? The police? I don't know. I tend to support the parents.

Never again will a 3-year-old and a 7-year-old get on a bus together, ride to the end of the line, go to the zoo, and then catch a bus home. Too bad. I have fond memories of those trips. My brother and I did it more than once.

Give thanks for children -- ours and those who touch our lives. Don't forget to pray!

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