Archive for the ‘CocoaMamas Posts’ Category

Childhood Independence and Child Murder

July 29, 2011

A few weeks ago, my son asked for permission to walk around the neighborhood by himself.

When pressed for details about where he wanted to go, he couldn’t state his planned route, and couldn’t name the streets and avenues he would be walking.  I encouraged him to lower his sights from taking a stroll around the block to just walking to the corner, crossing the street by himself, going to the next corner, and coming back home

Even this abbreviated route gave me pause. I live in a very busy section of Harlem. My teenage daughter goes out alone with her friends, but my son, at 10, is not nearly as street-savvy as she is.

But I let my son go on his excursion. The joy on his face when he returned, safely, was palpable.

“I did it!” he shouted.

The illusion of independence fell with the news of Leiby Kletzky, the 8-year-old Brooklyn child who was murdered and dismembered by a stranger the first time his parents let him walk home alone from summer camp. My son greeted me with the news when I came home from work:

“Mommy, a boy my age was taken and killed.”

My son knew all the details of the case. He even compared it to the case of Etan Patz. A family friend, Lisa Cohen, wrote the book After Etan, about the abduction and murder of 6-year-old Etan Patz in New York City in the 1970s. My son learned of the Patz case through Cohen’s book. Two cases, a generation apart, sharing eerily similar details.

My son made the connection.

“Guess I can’t go out by myself anymore,” he said.

My son is two years older than Kletzky and four years older than Patz, but he sees the two little boys as “his age.” As a mom, it’s hard not to hear a story about an abducted and murdered child and not think of your own.

Cohen wrote an op-ed for the New York Daily News, in which she encouraged parents not to change their parenting solely because of the Kletzky case. Because I know Cohen not just as a writer and filmmaker, but as a caring mom, I spent a few days thinking about her op-ed. I thought about how scary news stories about child murder help parents explain “stranger danger” and many other evils.

When I was in middle school, an old perv in the apartment across the street from my bus stop would shake his penis out his front window at us schoolgirls waiting for the morning bus. We told our parents, and for a few weeks, our dads waited with us for the bus. But we had to keep taking the bus to school. We had to learn how to deal with it – and to stop looking.

And so I decided Cohen was right. Kletzky’s death, though tragic, was no reason to stop letting my son go out alone in the neighborhood. I talked to my son about not living in fear. But I also decided he needed to know his surroundings better.

Now, I make him listen to and repeat subway announcements. I point out to him the subway express and local stops. I grill him on neighborhood landmarks. I have told him how to know when he is facing north (uptown) and south (downtown).

Recently, I let him go to the neighborhood drugstore by himself. I made sure  he knew what to buy, reminded him to count his change, and gave him responses to some basic “what to do if” scenarios. I was nervous until he came back safely, with correct change and no horrible experiences to report.

It’s too soon to let him go completely. He admits he’s not ready to take public transportation by himself. We have time to prepare.

The best we can do as parents is arm our children with information and the tools to develop good judgment. We have to teach them to be responsible, and ready them for independence. We can’t always protect them from the consequences of their choices.

And we can’t destroy ourselves with guilt if the bad thing we are afraid might happen, actually does happen.

This post was originally published on CocoaMamas.com.

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Single Mommy Blues

April 16, 2011

It seems we mothers spend a lot of time – and ink – talking about how hard it is to be a mother.

Numerous books, parenting blogs and websites are devoted to the topic. On playgrounds and playdates, mothers huddle together and talk about how incredibly difficult this motherhood game really is.

And yet the voices of some of us mothers mostly remain unheard.

The point of this post is not to compare notes to see which moms have it worst. Mothering is hard. It’s hard whether you’re single or married, whether you’re successfully co-parenting with a cooperative ex, or doing it all by yourself, whether you have the help of a village or only the help you are able to pay for.

But I want to talk about the special hardships faced by single mothers who are doing it alone. Really alone. Without the help of a reliable spouse, co-parent, or a network of friends or family members who pitch in whenever possible.

For several years after my divorce, I sacrificed having a personal life for the sake of my kids. Weekends were consumed by soccer, gymnastics, baseball, softball, tennis, golf, ice skating – you name an activity, we probably tried it. Dating? Hah! I wasn’t ready. Focusing on the kids was a great way to avoid thinking about how badly I’d flubbed the whole “picking the right partner” thing.

I didn’t become SuperMom because I wanted to. I did it because I lacked an alternative. I live in New York City. My family is in Michigan. My ex-husband was – and is -absent and uninvolved.

I had the help I was willing to pay for. I paid full-time rates for part-time babysitters to ensure I had someone to pick the kids up from school and care for them on half-days and school holidays. The extra expense killed my budget, but my work schedule was too demanding to enable me to rely on afterschool programs.

Recently, I tried co-parenting with my ex-husband, an experiment that now seems short-lived. His last overnight visit with the kids was New Year’s weekend. He is too unreliable to keep a regular visiting schedule, and I don’t have the energy to deal with the litany of excuses.

Although single parenting would be tough even if I worked at home, my demanding executive job makes the juggling even more difficult. Plus, in addition to my day job, I do speaking enagements and lectures. I write, for this blog and others, on my own time.

I even finally started dating again.

The writing, the dating, the lecturing, and some occasional exercise are things I do for myself. But they take away from the time I spend with my kids. I can no longer devote every weekend to their activities. And I feel incredibly guilty about it.

For example: my son is a natural baseball talent. Yet I don’t have time to take him to a baseball coach to work on his skills. I don’t have time – or a good enough pitching/throwing arm – to take him to the park and help him work on his catching, fielding and hitting. I haven’t found time to have him try out for a travel team – and even if he did, I’m not sure I would be able to haul him around from game to game.

His father, who played baseball in high school, takes no interest in his son’s baseball development. I get angry about this sometimes, and then I realize being angry is futile.

Well-meaning friends tell me to stop beating up on myself. They tell me to focus on the fact that, all by myself, I have raised smart, independent thinkers who are thriving in some of New York City’s most competitive schools.

I do acknowledge my blessings. But still, I’m tired. So please forgive me for indulging in a bit of whining.

Mothering is hard for all mothers. It is especially hard for us single women who are parenting completely by ourselves. And because we’re so used to doing everything all by ourselves, we don’t ask for help easily. Or always know how to accept it graciously, without constantly thanking the person who agreed to step in for us. Or apologizing for being burdensome.

So if you know a single mom who parents by herself, maybe you can offer her a little help. If your kids are friends, maybe you can offer to pick her kid up from school and host a playdate at your house. Or you can invite her kid to a weekend playdate or sleepover. Let her be the last parent to pick up her child from the birthday party. Because whether she says it or not, she values every single moment she gets to spend by herself. But she may not feel she has the right to ask for that time.

And try not to get too annoyed when she keeps saying “thank you.”

First published on CocoaMamas.com