Hands Off, Heart In

The girls spent last week attending town camp. We love that camp. It’s $35 a week, the girls have friends there, and it’s conveniently located so that they can walk to camp all by themselves.

J, in nightgown and bare feet, chases M on her way to school before I rein her in.

One part of town camp that I’ve missed this year is pick-up and drop-off. The girls have walked before, but they were only allowed to do so gradually because there’s no crossing guard and they walk in different directions. Pick-up and drop-off is a hassle, but it’s also social. Too social, really, because a task that should only take ten or fifteen minutes stretches to 30 or 45 by the time you’ve greeted everyone and chatted people up. This would drive me crazy in years past, because it cut into precious “me” time, but now that I’ve dispensed with going, I miss the sociability. It’s also a convenient check-in with friends. In fact, on Friday I showed up at camp just to try to confer about evening plans with a friend, and M barely restrained herself from pushing me across the street. This is her turf, and my unexpected intrusion was not appreciated. We had to have a little courtesy lecture later that day.

There’s a certain amount of standing around and watching the kid interact at the start and end of camp that’s valuable, too. One day, a friend stopped by my house and reported a Second-Grade Girls Drama incident. I was happy to hear that J played peacemaker, but when two more moms complimented me about J, I ended up second-guessing myself.  All of these mothers have a much more detailed picture of the 2nd grade socio-political outlook than I do.

This echoes the situation with M. When she became friends with her current crowd, I was amazed by how much the mothers knew about the social life at school. One mother eats lunch at school occasionally and receives a full report on just about every friend issue from her kids. My kids don’t really want me to come for lunch (“Thanks anyway, Mom”), and they’re unlikely to disclose any interesting social tidbits unless they’ve been lulled by a back rub at bedtime.

So I’m conflicted about this. Part of me feels like parents get way too wrapped up in their children’s social success, so that it almost gets to be a stage mother thing. When I was in high school, one of my friends’ moms was always pumping us for the latest gossip  among our little group. We’d answer her questions as minimally as possible, then roll our eyes and snicker, “Why doesn’t she get a life?” My parents–and most of the other adults we knew–seemed removed and somewhat disinterested unless somebody was Up To No Good. And even then, they feigned indifference, and  suspicions and concerns were hidden, except if there was a crisis or talk years later. I think that there’s a level of dignity for the parents, and privacy for the kids, in remaining a bit reserved.

On the other hand, I’m dying of curiosity. Of course I want to know if there’s some little boy with a crush on M, and I want to know if there’s a girl in second grade who’s a meanie so that I can keep my antenna up for problems with J and point out how important it is to include whoever is left out. I get this information, but it’s always second-hand, from some mother who’s telling me because her child told her. I worry that if something really big comes up, my kids won’t tell me.  I’ve read all that parenting advice about being the house with the great snacks and the relaxed vibe so that the kids will all hang out with you, and you can keep tabs on everybody, but I don’t quite know how to make that happen. And gathering information from my kids absolutely doesn’t work when I do obvious thing like, I don’t know, ask them questions or appear curious about their lives beyond their little family circle.

I’m making it sound like it’s worse than it is, really. M and J do tell me things. And whenever other adults talk to me about my daughters, they almost always say good things. On the other hand, would anyone tell me if there were bad stuff? Probably not. It’s ironic because M, especially, was unusually clingy for the first 3 or 4 years of her life. She wanted to be held constantly, she was so unhappy at my one serious attempt at daycare that a daycare worker said, “I’ve never had a baby like her” and another one said, “If I were you, I would just quit my job.” I  have worked hard cultivating these girls with a strong independent streak and plenty of self-sufficiency, and intellectually I know that it’s good. That they‘re great. But when I see some of their friends or hear about their interactions with their parents, I’m envious. On a purely emotional level, I want my kids to climb into my lap for a cuddle and tell me Every. Single. Thing. that happened in their time away from me. And the unlikeliness of this ever happening feels like a Parenting Fail.

So I chit-chat with the other mothers who marvel at my girls’ independence. I smile and accept compliments, while imagining that these mothers must be secretly grateful to have children who tell them everything and are willing to hug them in public, or that they’re aghast at the liberties that I allow my children. I don’t know, really. The trouble with parenting is that it’s difficult to know whether you’re doing a good job until 20 or 30 years later.


  1. Matt

    Ha ha, I could count on two fingers the number of reports of social activity I got on H——- school this year from my own 2nd grader. I expect its a girls and boys thing. Come to think about it, I heard more about my own kid’s doing there from the girls in his class this year than I did from him.

  2. I have a feeling that my own M is going to be the same way. At almost-4, she’s already telling me that I can’t watch through the window at her dance class…

  3. June

    Miss Katie,

    I feel your pain. I always felt that other parents knew way more than I did. And as someone on the Other Side of the parenting journey, in the end, it didn’t really matter. My kids always wanted their privacy and appreciated it when I didn’t butt in too much. They knew (and still do) that they could come to me with any problems, but when I’d press them on social issues, they would always demur. They are strong, independent people now who know how to navigate the world. Don’t judge yourself by overly-clingy, too-involved parents.

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