Zach was mock whispering and rocking my nearly comatose body back and forth, hoping to rouse me so that I could answer an urgent question. I should have been up, but it was June and I was sort of hoping we could all just pretend that school was out for the summer.
“Mmmmm,” I managed to grunt.
“Momma, Bro and I want to go on an adventure today.”
“Can that wait until after I use the bathroom and get some coffee in me?”
The boys have learned that the surest way to avoid fractions and grammar and laundry is to tell me they want to go on an adventure. I’m a sucker for adventures. Like the boys, I bore easily. And like the boys, I have no great desire to spend the day trying once again to help Ezra memorize the seven times table or wondering again why it is that Zach is not capable of capitalizing the first word in a sentence.
The beauty of homeschooling is that you can always give in to that impulse jump in the car and head off for lands unknown. I suppose that very freedom is risky as well. But like I said, it was June, and Zach sounded so sweet, and I had a headache that did not bode well for long division. An adventure it would be.
“I think that you two should take the T by yourselves, and I’ll meet you in Harvard Square for lunch.”
The boys are nine and ten, and I’d been thinking they were ready to ride the subway without me. They already know far more about the stops than I do and, unlike me, they don’t get all turned around when they come up on to the street from the station below.
“But, Mom, what if someone tries to kidnap us!”
“No one is going to kidnap you. You’ll be together, and there are a ton of other adults who can help you if you need it.”
“What about all of the homeless people?”
“What about them? They don’t want to hurt you. And you come in contact with a lot more homeless people in Central Square than you will on the subway.”
Note to self: We need to explore their experience of strangers and homeless people.
They went back and forth, trying to decide if they were ready for what to a ten-year-old can feel as scary as heading off to summer camp. Eventually, we decided that we would all go to the station, and see how it went. On the way there, I suggested that we pray Maranatha, which is Aramaic for Lord, Come. We had been practicing a meditative version of the prayer, and I thought it would help.
Zach protested that he didn’t need God because he wasn’t scared.
Note to self: We need to explore their experience of prayer.
Ezra decided he was ready to give it a go, even if Zach didn’t want to. He would get on the first train, and Zach and I would follow in the second station. Once on the platform, though, I wasn’t comfortable with Ez riding alone. I told Zach that I would give both him and his brother $5 if they would ride in a different car from me.
That’s right, I bribed him. Outward Bound would not bribe a kid to do a ropes course. But I’m not Outward Bound, and I was hungry and wanted to get to lunch, and I wanted to encourage him and didn’t want to take the time to manipulate him more subtly.
They hopped on the train, holding hands. I got on the car behind them, and they waved at me through the windows. They beamed the entire way.
On the way home, they asked if they could have another $5 if they rode the train by themselves.
Note to self: Bad Mommy reaps what she sows.
After negotiations were completed, they again grabbed each others hands and took off. I had wanted them to wait for me on the platform at our stop. But they had assured me that they would be fine getting off the train and walking home by themselves.
When I got home and I asked how it was, they said, “No big deal.”
I still haven’t figured out the balance between encouraging your kids to take risks and supporting their own sense of boundaries. I’m sure that they would have soon decided on their own that they wanted to try riding the trains solo if I had just waited a few more months. But I didn’t, and they spent a very proud afternoon telling everyone how it was no big deal to take the train without me.
Final note to self: Sometimes even when you do everything wrong, the day turns out just lovely.