hiding the baker’s chocolate


I know great things are expected of me on these pages, but I just got off a flight where not one, not two, but ELEVEN KIDS were shrieking at the top of their lungs, one of whom was yelling “AGGIE!!! AGGIE!!! AGGIE!!!” as loud as she could while kicking the back of my seat. Apparently “AGGIE!!!!” meant “I’d like some eggs, please” but her mother was in no hurry to get her any, as she had two other kids to contend with.

I turned around and asked her to please tell her wonderful little child not to beat the shit out of my chair – and the mother was very nice about it – but the whiplash continued about fifteen seconds later and lasted 4 1/2 hours. I would have turned around again, but by this time, my Xanax has kicked in, leaving me in that liminal state where I could feel annoyance, yet lacked the strength to do anything about it.

The rumor among the adults without kids was this: Passover had just ended, and all the Hasids were now free to move about the country with their endless array of children. It occurred to me that’s where my LDS forbears got the idea, as Mormons will do pretty much anything if the Jews did it first. The Hasids also share another thing with my cousins: everyone is content to let their babies float around any social event, as it allows the parents a few minutes to do something other than, well, tend the baby.

At my family reunions, cousins are always carrying around babies that don’t belong to them, especially the 10-15 year-olds, who consider it second nature. Likewise, Tessa held one of the babies on the plane for a few minutes, and Lucy made the little girl giggle incessantly. I mean, we’re all in a tube 34,000 feet in the air, how much trouble can they get into?

This contrasts sharply with the hyper-protectivism of most modern parenting, when your baby is looked after every millisecond, and followed around like the lead singer to a hot band. Obviously, there’s a happy medium in there somewhere – while it does “take a village” to keep you from going batshit, we are certainly not going to make the same mistakes our parents did, i.e., taking a valium and letting us play with the soldering iron.

Which leads to a good CODE WORD question: those parents out there, how much do you monitor your kids? And for those without kids, how monitored did you feel as a child?


Sean and me, in lavishly-constructed swimming pool, Iowa 1971

0 thoughts on “hiding the baker’s chocolate

  1. Salem's Little Sister

    I am pretty much a helicopter mom right now with Ben. He’s only 4, so self-control and good decision making are still in development. At home, he’s off the leash and if we are at a friend’s house, as long as everyone is getting along, I’m happy to sit my tired fanny down with a large glass of wine and let the kids play on their own. Outside events, playgrounds, places with “strangers”, I’m comfortable with a 50 ft. radius of freedom and Ben seems to be comfortable with that too. We are pretty strict about manners and respecting others, so on planes or out to dinner, Ben knows he has to behave. I don’t understand the parents who let their kids run amuck or disturb other passengers. I’d be mortified and somehow my mom would find out and I’d never hear the end of it. She’s now let my radius from her expand to 100 feet. It’s all about progress.

  2. Anne

    First, let me say how absolutely adorable that pic is! Ian, you have a mischievous look; what were you plotting?
    I think my husband and I tended to be a bit overprotective as parents. Our youngest son, now 16, told me the other day that he appreciates the fact that his dad and I got some of that hovering out of our systems; he perceives that we are more relaxed in parenting him. I’d never noticed, so that was interesting to hear.
    Parenting has been fetishized by the educated class, no question. I know some people loathe the psychologist John Rosemond because he refuses to rule out a swift swat to the rear as a last-resort disciplinary measure, but his advice (adults should put *their* relationships first — an old-fashioned adult-centric view of parenting; children actually feel more secure and empowered when adults act like adults and not like pals) is bracing and a good antidote to child-worshiping tendencies. In my anxious early days of parenting, Rosemond’s books and columns reassured me that I could say “no” without giving my kids a “complex,” as we used to say.
    And Rosemond is quick and direct in saying, above all: Love your kids. Love ≠ too many toys, the freedom to interrupt or dominate adult interactions, bratty behavior, etc. I does include respecting the child’s individuality and letting him/her figure some of life’s harder lessons out him/herself without a lot of meddling.
    OK, off to work! By the way, Ian (unrelated), in the car this morning as I drove him to school, I was discussing politics with said 16 year old son — a bright, articulate, sometimes unfocused, unrepentant LIBERAL politically — and he went on a rant about ignorant kneejerkers and racists that reminded me of you at your political fiercest. I am going to send him the link to Coastopia — the blog entry that brought me here in the first place.

  3. LFMD

    I love this topic! My brother and his wife just had a baby last July, and Brian (my bro) and I talk about monitoring/being protective all the time. Brian and me and our spouses all continued to work full-time after the birth of our babies, and we have concluded that our hyper-protective nature comes from the fact that we are physically away from our children for most of the day, hence the worrying and hyper-monitoring of the child care folks, etc. BUT, we laugh about the fact that our mom and most of the moms in our neighborhood did not work (this was the ’70s), were at home all day, and yet they did not monitor us AT ALL. We would hop on our bikes and go God-knows-where and did not return home until dinner time. Tramping through the woods that surrounded our community. We remember our neighbor, Jason, who would crawl down into the sewer drain and follow the tunnels to see where it all led, leading a bunch of neighborhood kids on this “adventure”. None of the moms knew where we were or what we were doing, really.
    I try not to be a helicopter mom. I realized that I needed to step back when Helen was 3 and we were at the playground. She said “Mama, I am going to play on that slide.” She waited a moment and said, “Don’t worry. I will be careful.” While I am calmer, my husband seems to have ramped his monitoring up a notch. He will not permit Helen to sleep over ANYONE’S house, unless it is a relative. He trusts no one and always wants me to find out whether there are “guns in the house” when Helen has a playdate. We really keep an eye on her playdates in which there are older siblings (the bad influences that they bring! Yes, I know, we are neurotic).
    Now that Helen is nearly 10 and nearly as tall as me, I am not hovering as much. We have survived the first ten years with only 2 trips to the emergency room, and she is a happy, healthy, well-adjusted child. I am gearing up for the teenage years and biding my time. The only time I have to get myself under control is during sports. Helen is really athletic and she is a very aggressive player. I never played sports as a kid, and I am afraid that she will get hurt, get some teeth knocked out, or have a blow to the head. During the last soccer match, she was showing off and bounced the ball off her head to pass it to a teammate! I nearly had a nervous breakdown, but I controlled myself.
    The bottom line is that my daughter is a confident, strong girl and I don’t want to kill her sense of adventure and self-challenge with all my worrying and monitoring. So, I save it all for my husband and drive him crazy with all my worrying . . that’s my parenting plan.

  4. Big Scott

    LFMD’s description of her interaction with her husband sounds pretty familiar to me. My wife is the worrier in our partnership especially as it pertains to our kids. To be fair, though, she’s learned through trial and error to limit her worrying just as I’ve learned to be a little less cavalier towards the dangers that presents themselves to our little chapter of the four feet and under club. When Ian talked about Lucy’s adventure with the tennis instructor, I was a little concerned that I fall much more in line with Blakey’s “tough as a boot” line of thought than with a tendency to be overprotective.
    The key to me (and it came as a complete epiphany) is to realize that each child needs a different line drawn for them. I’m a big proponent of rules and having them apply equally to everyone, but in the case of kids it just doesn’t work. At least it doesn’t in our house. In terms of being overprotective, I’m much less concerned with what Caroline (7) is doing at any one point in time than I am with what Wyatt (3) is doing and it really has nothing to do with age. It’s just that my son hasn’t really met, seen or experienced anything that he’s scared of yet. I’m OK with not being (too) overprotective with Caroline, because I’m pretty sure that before she does anything dangerous or scary, she’s going to come running to her mother or me for guidance/reassurance. Not so with Wyatt who is much more likely to launch himself into something that could end up with a trip to the hospital, lights on and sirens blaring.
    In retrospect, it seems to be a simple lesson to learn, but for me it wasn’t. Now I try to temper my tendency to shrug off the incidental dangers that my kids get into on a day-to-day basis, give them good general guidelines about what’s good behavior (as defined in our house, anyway) and let them go and do their own things — at least up to a point. But I still spend more time worrying about what Wyatt’s getting into and I still have more hugs, kisses, and encouragement for Caroline because, at this point anyway, that’s what they both seem to need.

  5. Ehren

    My mom was a bit overprotective, and I think it made me a bit fearful as a kid. My little brother definitely got more freedom more quickly than I did, and he was always more confident than me growing up. I was able to reverse this whole thing as an adult and would say that these days I’m less risk-averse, but I do think that I would very consciously try to let my kids make more mistakes than my mother allowed me.

  6. ms four

    Last summer I was THAT mom with THOSE kids on a flight from Cairo to JFK. It was awful for my fellow passengers, but I can assure you it was far worse for me.
    The flight attendants were terrible to us right from the start (thank you Delta!). It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. They scolded me for taking my 3 year old to the bathroom and not locking the door many minutes before take-off. They didn’t get my five year old a drink when he walked back to the back and asked for one. And when the drunk woman sitting in front of us kept complaining, they never once suggested her kids stop screaming at each other or she stop drinking. And they never said to me, “How can we help you?” and instead harassed me about how they could tell I usually had a nanny. My 3 year was crying for Green Eggs and Ham and instead of letting me read to him, the flight attendant continued to berate me.
    My kids were no angels, but at least they have the excuse of being kids–unlike the drunk passengers and cranky flight attendants.
    The irony? When we got off the plane, an older woman who had been sitting elsewhere looked at me and said, “I didn’t hear one peep from your kids–they must have behaved really well.”
    You may think you have it bad, but the parent has it worse!

  7. julie

    I try to be the happy medium (though I’m not sure that I’m completely successful at that). My kids have been day care kids since they were 3 months old. For our day care, and I know every place is different, it was what I would consider moderate over-protectiveness–which I thought was a good thing when they were young. Virginia seems to have stiff laws for the registered centers and is subject to at least two unannounced visits. In addition, our day care has its own accredititation and is subject to another visit quarterly. So, I thought both of my kids have flourished with both the ability to explore but be watched closely.
    At home, it’s a mixed bag depending on the situation and who is involved. When they were younger, I did not child proof like many other mothers I know b/c I followed them pretty much everywhere – they were rarely out of my line of vision (and when left it I went to find out where they had scampered off to). Now that they are older (four and six, both boys), they are allowed to do some things (like walk to a neighbor’s house to jump on the trampoline–with a net and padding) as long as they tell me where they are going. If more than my two are involved, or if older kids are around, then I tend to follow and watch from a distance. If they are playing at my house there is a ton of bickering, so I can’t police without going insane. So, the rule typically goes “Unless you are bleeding or can’t breathe, try to work it out yourselves.” If the younger one is screaming (which is his way of fighting back) for longer than normal, I do come in and play referee.
    My husband is more passive – he doesn’t really care except in two areas: tools and injury to the body. He is very watchful when the kids are around the tractor or power tools (we have a ton). And, he can’t stand blood or any disfiguring incident, even if it’s a scrape on the knee. Last summer, my younger one broke his leg and was in a cast for 6 weeks–my husband still blames himself (complete accident and there was no way to have prevented it).
    The one area where I know I’m neurotic is the manners. I want way more than my husband when it comes to this and it does present some issues. I feel it doesn’t hurt to say “yes/no ma’am or yes/no sir,” but he feels it’s archaic. And, I absolutely hate lip–I know I gave a lot of it to my parents and I react the same way now that they did then. I hope the outcome is the same; I think I turned out ok ;)

  8. la la

    wow, we were just having this conversation last night! lately, we feel like we must be over the top based on things our neighbors do, but is it possible our neighbors are all nuts?
    one, for example, leaves her baby in his crib while she goes out to run errands. like out, out.
    another is 9 months pregnant and confessed last night while she was drinking beer that she took a bong hit last week.
    we went to a birthday party saturday where the mom was screaming at the top of her lungs that the birthday girl would spend the entire party in time out if she didn’t stop whining (after the mom had just given her tons of sugar at 10am).
    so am i over the top for thinking that everybody else is crazy??

  9. Joanna

    I had free reign from an early age. We lived near a university dorm and my best friend and I loved hanging out with college students. I’ll never forget watching a televised Barry Manilow concert in the student lounge at age 9. And my parents had no idea.
    Still, I never thought my parents didn’t care. I believed they trusted me and the world in which we lived. So, I see the value of a very long leash.
    My six year old can be outside alone in our yard and can be in neighbor’s yards, as long other kids are present. We’ve practiced how to respond if a stranger approaches. I’m already thinking about helping him figure out the Chapel Hill bus schedule when he’s 12 so he and his buddies can explore downtown Chapel Hill independently.
    (very cute baby Ian!)

  10. Neva

    No, you are not over the top la la and your neighbor should absolutely be reported to DSS (the one who leaves her kid in the crib to go run errands). Where the heck do you live??
    I see an amazing array of both ends of the spectrum in my neighbors although mostly they lean toward the overprotective side. Interestingly I’ve noticed that the boys seem to get more freedom even at a very young age when to me they seem less mature than the girls.
    One of the best things about living where I do (on a flat culdesac where you can see every house) is that my 8 year old can have a good amount of freedom but be fairly safe and somewhat visible. Still – nothing like what I remember as a kid – exactly like you remember LFMD – complete and total freedom. We were gone for hours at very young ages and my parents had NO idea where we were. I have to laugh inside when I hear my MIL brag about how she “stayed home” with her boys growing up because she thought it was important. What that generally meant was she stayed home and kicked them out to go play told not to come back and get the house dirty until dinner time. Not quite the same thing as today’s SAHM who shuttles to playdates, stands within arms length, extensively interviews parents of playmates, supervises all after school lessons/classes (in case the teacher should want to abuse their child). I know this pretty much the norm around here..

  11. CM

    La la, they are nuts. Bong hit while six months pregnant? Oy vey. The crib thing is worse. The time out isn’t so bad.

  12. LFMD

    La la — are you making this up? Neva is right about DSS. It’s not legal to leave the baby alone like that!
    Neva – I laugh too when I listen to my mom . . . my mom and her ilk spent most of the days watching their soap operas while they “supervised” us at home. My mom in particular was hooked on “Another World”, “Guiding Light” and “The Edge of Night.” I love my mother dearly, but my brother and I could have been killing each other in the backyard, and she would not have noticed. Too busy with Mac and Rachel, and Alan Spalding and Roger Thorpe!
    Interesting thing is that now, thirty years later, my mother (and father for that matter) are such interactive grandparents! My daughter just spent her spring break with them in NJ, and they had activities planned every day. They are so attentive and engaging with her, and they are very overprotective whenever they venture out with Helen. Part of that is because they don’t want anything to happen to her on their “watch”, but it is as if my parents have developed a whole new set of parenting skills since I was a kid.
    Which makes me wonder. . . has the ideal of parenting changed in the past 30 or 50 years? I definitely think so. I remember being at a family function of my husband’s. His great aunt who was 90 at the time (which means her parenting was during the 1930’s – 1940’s) commented about all the “fussing” that her grandchildren were doing with their little kids. According to Great Aunt Louise, who raised her family on an Iowa farm, no one ever asked little kids about their thoughts/feelings, and there was not much interacting going on. You put the baby in a drawer or the older kids in a playpen and walked away to get stuff done on the farm.

  13. emma

    Leaving a baby in a crib while you go run errands is absolutely horrifying to me. By statute, DSS will not divulge the name of a reporter (at least not in NC). And once a report is received, DSS has a duty to investigate it. Please report it – if anything ever happened to that child while unattended, it would be a hard thing to live with if it went unreported.

  14. Kelly

    I’m curious Ian if your post is related to you reading Last Child in the Woods http://richardlouv.com/ — hope you’re enjoying it. I’d recommend it to other parents too, or anyone with an interest in nature and society, as it looks at the effects of limiting our kid’s time in nature alone, as it can be “dangerous”. After reading it, I consciously make an effort to allow my kids more freedom to roam in the back field, as long as they’re in shouting distance.
    My three year old twins can play in our (subdivision) back yard with their almost 7 year old sister “supervising” but our girl twin Erica is diabetic, wears an insulin pump with a sensor alarm, so she needs more supervision for her safety. I’m concerned I’ll develop into an overprotective parent out of sheer worry she’ll collapse and die if no adult is constantly on alert. Big Scott, I too have a three year old boy who is compelled to jump from high places with glee, while holding a pointy stick, no doubt. I agree it really depends on the child — I’d trust the girls to play on their own with out too much supervision, but Cameron + the girls adds an element of adventure I’m still figuring out how to judge.
    I am starting to let my almost 7 year old walk to school alone and within the subdivision to grandparents, etc. but she’s the only one of her peer group to do that. I’ve been referred to by a neighbor friend with a kid the same age as being more “relaxed” with Taylor but I feel some mild disapproval along with it — not support for giving my girl some responsibility and trust, but rather disdain for putting the idea in their young minds that they’re big enough to have a tiny bit of freedom.

  15. Sean

    1) Leaving your kid in the crib while you run errands is preferable to leaving your kid free to wander around the house. I’ve left Barnaby asleep in his crib and gone to the deli down the street.
    2) A bong hit and a beer isn’t gonna do anything to a final trimester baby. At that point, the kid’s basically just putting on weight.
    3) There is no scientific connection between sugar and hyper-activity, and unless you spent every single moment with both the parent and the child over the last few months, and know what behavior is acceptable to the parent, and what behavior can be modified in the child, then you have no right to say the parent was in the wrong.
    None of these things are perfect solutions, but unless you’re assuming they are the *best* solutions given the circumstances that you have *no idea about*, then you’re congratulating yourself for not sinking to these levels, and that, to me, is just HORRIBLE.
    I’m a little trigger happy, being a stay at home dad, but mostly I see every parent around me in moments when they are doing better than they should, and doing worse than they want to. This is not to single out any one person but…
    Look, you can talk shit all you want about what a person’s wearing or how much money they make or how bad their penmanship is, that’s all just knitting-circle nattering and it’s not all that evil. But the implication that any parent is half-assing it is as low as you can sink. The very idea that someone has had a child, but can’t bring themselves to *raise* that child perfectly for every second of that child’s life is implying a kind of laziness, a lack of love or care, and unless you know the vagueries that surround every second of the things that parent has given up, and the things that parent is trying to do, then your criticism is just disgusting.
    I assure you that, if you have kids, you’ve done it just as bad or worse, and if you don’t have kids then you couldn’t possibly know. We need to leave other parents alone and spend a LOT more time figuring out how we can do a better job of raising our own children.

  16. Amy

    I will ever-so-quietly agree with Sean here. I thought the self-rightous “call CPS!” comments were pretty hard to take.

  17. Anne

    Sean said (among many things):
    “But the implication that any parent is half-assing it is as low as you can sink.”
    While I agree that we should avoid being judgmental about others’ parenting styles and choices, there truly are instances (and not infrequently) in which parents act irresponsibly, place their children in danger, and cause lasting emotional harm by their actions and/or words. We have such a couple (drug-addicted with criminal records) renting a small house in our neighborhood, and several times we’ve called our state’s version of DSS. The police have advised us to *always* call if we hear signs of fighting, see the parent(s) speeding up and down the road with the children in the car, and other stuff. One more time, and those kids will be in DSS custody. And we’ll be relieved for them.
    Sometimes it really does take a village. Children can’t advocate for themselves.
    And please, Sean … I’m sorry to sound like a meddling nag, but I wish you wouldn’t run to the deli and leave your priceless child home alone! I’m a stepmom x 2, mom x 3, and grandmother x 1…. so, I have a little experience and am not an alarmist by nature. You would never forgive yourself if anything happened to your son in that short interval while you were down the block. Being a parent is often about being inconvenienced and toughing it out. /nag off

  18. Joanna

    We don’t have to question whether a parent is doing the best they can to question whether the care they’re providing is adequate for a child.
    La la, I think you’d be completely reasonable to call DSS regarding the crib situation. If the child is not neglected in general, DSS won’t interfere any more than to make the parents think twice in the future.
    Sean, get delivery!

  19. Joanna

    Maybe it’s as bad to appear neurotic as it is to appear ignorant, but please forgive my many grammatical errors!

  20. la la

    I wasn’t making it up but also don’t feel comfortable calling DSS. I have talked with her about it- the crib thing- b/c I worry about them. The bong hit thing just shocked me and I wouldn’t take that risk with my kid’s development. But they are my friends and so I dont know… that’s why we were talking about it b/c we were wondering if we were just over the top.
    As far as the yelling about time out… i have no problem with time out. i was just thinking that when you give 3 year olds a bunch of sugar, you should expect a certain amount of whining. It seemed like a cycle they were used to being in…whining then yelling then whining then yelling.

  21. Kjf

    I agree with Anne on this one. There are many instances where something happens to a child and no one reported it. To me if I saw a child in danger I would call someone. I know it’s hard to be a parent and people parent differently but leaving a baby alone is dangerous. I saw something on tv once where a woman left her kids alone in the car while she ran to do an errand and the car went on fire and the kids died. I know that’s a flukey thing that a car would go on fire but please don’t leave your baby alone. You never know what can happen.

  22. Neva

    It’s not self righteous one bit and it’s not wrong to call DSS. You are protecting that child. I work with children who have been abused and neglected and if someone had called and gotten those parents help sooner maybe they wouldn’t be where they are now and where they will likely be in the future.
    There are general standards of what is child neglect in this country and I think leaving your child alone in the house for long periods of time without checking on them may qualify. Reporting it is anonymous and DSS doesn’t do anything unless they can substantiate abuse. Sean, do you think DSS is self righteous too?

  23. bridget

    my son is only 8 months old (already!) but we’ve put some thought into this. my parents raised us (total of 6 kids) with general guidelines and values. They were really pretty strict compared to my friends’ parents. But they weren’t hovering over us either. We certainly were treated as children, not friends, not geniuses, not the center of the world.
    While there are definitely things I will do differently – that framework makes sense to me. I hope we give our kid the room to roam and find things out for himself. I hope we are always acting as parents. And I hope we’ve communicated our values well enough that he knows where the line is.

  24. emma

    “The implication that any parent is half-assing is as low as you can sink.”
    I used to think like that too. But that comes with the assumption that every parent is trying the best that they can and it is just not a universal truth and, in the event, that a child is being abused, is neglected or is dependent, that needs to be looked into. I am not saying that the lady with the crib is neglecting her child – I am saying it needs to be looked into by people who know what to look for. Hopefully, neglect would not be substantiated.
    But we live in a world where parents pimp out their children for drugs, where parents intentionally burn their children with an iron, where parents pour scalding oil down their children’s throat. A child died from exposure in a county two counties away from me last year because his parent tied him to a tree for two nights in a row as punishment.
    I used to represent parents in abuse, neglect and dependency cases. I had to stop once I had children of my own – not because it was so hard to see children being taken from their parents, but because more than half of the parents that I represented didn’t even care and wouldn’t even show up. Not only did they not care, they didn’t care that they didn’t care. It became too hard to see week in and week out.
    I am not a perfect parent. I make mistakes – I hope that I learn from my mistakes. I also like to think I am not a judgmental person. I don’t think one bong hit is going to rise to the level of abuse and I don’t have a problem with the third example. Feel free to call my opinions horrible and disgusting. I stand by my recommendation – not that the crib person has done anything wrong – only that it needs to be looked into. If she is telling lala that she does this – it is possible (I certainly don’t know – because I don’t have the facts and I don’t claim to know) – but it is possible that there are even worse things that she is not telling lala.


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