I'm a hoverer. I admit it. I'm coming out of the closet. I'm getting a T-shirt made. In this free-range age, being called a helicopter parent is anything but a compliment. In fact, it seems like supervising your kids and trying to keep them safe and secure is something to be ashamed of. But I'm not. Not at all.
And it's not because I live in the Bronx, either. I live on a leafy street where the neighbours know each other's kids by name. Michael Moore famously found doors unlocked on this side of the border. But I'm not complacent. I like the err on the side of caution whenever possible. The playground at the end of my street is set into a ravine. A runner's and dog walker's paradise, the park quickly became a helicopter mom's nightmare the other week. Let me paint the scene: an unaccompanied woman was lifting a boy off the slide when his distracted older sibling ran over.
Police descended on the park in minutes. But of course the woman had fled. Last year it was a creepy man with no kids of his own hanging around the playground... I'm not paranoid or deluded enough to think that everyone out there is an abductor- or pedophile-in-waiting. Still, it makes me break out in a cold sweat when I see kids running around with no visible guardian. For various reasons.
In the blink of an eye, a child could slip into the ravine and drown. Before you roll your eyes, consider this. Life and death are close cousins. I vividly remember a close encounter in a busy public pool once upon a summer. The lifeguards were busy being narcissistic teens. My cousin, meanwhile, was slipping under somewhere just before the deep end. My aunt, who was knitting at the time, happened to glance up. I will never forget the image of her diving into the water fully clothed—sandals, sunglasses, long skirt—and saving her daughter.
Kids are our most precious commodity. We say this, yet we take their wellbeing so lightly sometimes. The line between fostering independence and ensuring safety is often dangerously blurred today, no thanks to this Manhattan mom. Yes, in our day we ran around like feral cats till dusk. But these are different times, and I fear that many parents are missing the point and failing to strike the right balance. Like the dad who conveniently dropped his kids off at the park while he headed to the gym and a spot of shopping. For two hours.
Maybe I will relax (a bit) as I get older and my son gets wiser. Who knows. For now, though, I will continue to hover. For my son's sake and mine. All it takes is one split-second judgment call, one turned head, one slip of his foothold. I don't know about you, but I don't fancy the emergency room guilt trip over a fall that could have been avoided with a little vigilance.
I will continue to encourage him to be active and to try new things, but I will be there to catch him when it doesn't quite work out. After all, every acrobat gains skills and confidence from knowing there is a security net.