This week Riley took a big step. Just two weeks past her fifth birthday, she took a step into a high school gymnasium and stayed there. By herself. No, no. Not totally by herself. She was in the trustworthy and very capable hands of a group of high school cheerleaders. She was participating in the clinic that they were hosting, which would teach her beginner cheerleading and culminate in leading cheers on the sidelines as the high school football game that Friday.
I’ve been told that it is a phenomenon of my generation of parents that moms stay for their kids’ practices and activities. Perhaps kids are just starting activities younger and they need us there. Perhaps that’s just what we tell ourselves. Alas, staying for practice and the horror that is parent participation activities is all I’ve ever known. It’s all Riley has ever known, and now there she was, my baby, heading off for an activity without me.
Am I being dramatic? Yes, I am. But how can she be trusted to take care of herself? What would she do if there was an emergency? Are high school girls really all that responsible? We had to prepare. She’d need to know things we had never really explicitly talked about before. Our address, my phone number. Goodness, I didn’t even know if she knew my last name. We needed practice.
And what better place to practice than the dinner table.
“Riley, what is the first number in your phone number?” I asked.
“Well, nope. Try again.”
Am I being dramatic about my worries of leaving her alone? I think not. How will the police officer be able to sort through her answers to know who her mother is and where she lives? Worse yet, how many times can she say “poop” or “fart” before an abductor can’t take it anymore?
While I worried about safety and the inevitability of an emergency occurring, Riley, in true daughter fashion, was worrying about my fitness as a mother. As I explained to her that Maddie and I were not allowed at practice, she told me with all certainty that moms always stay for practice. The underlying tone left no question that she thought I was trying to get out of it. She was feeling slighted that I wouldn’t want to stay with her, and I was feeling increasingly frustrated that she had no interest in learning basic safety measures. Oh, the age-old dance of child-rearing — both parties trying to lead, and neither trying to follow.
Despite the reservations on both ends, she took that step alone into the high school gymnasium and I took the steps out of the door. When I returned to pick her up, I was relieved to see that she was still there and could easily see that she was having a great time, making new friends, and having new experiences.
There is only so much a child can grow as a person with her mother present. Riley has officially entered the stage in her life where she needs to have solo experiences, and I will only be privy to the ones she wants to share with me. It’s a nerve-racking but also exciting place to be as a mom. If only she would take some interest in safety basics.