Last Friday night I headed over to my sister’s house for din with my 3-year-old son while my husband took our older son to the baseball game. My parents were there, too, and it was a lovely, laid-back vibe: my sister’s baby fast asleep in the swing, her 3-year-old and mine playing quietly in the next room, and the adults enjoying a glass of wine.
“Where are the boys?” I asked no one in particular when I could no longer hear them in the next room.
“Don’t worry, they’re probably just outside playing in traffic,” joked my dad (that’s totally his humor).
But guess what? He was right! Well, thankfully, they weren’t actually playing in traffic, but they were indeed outside on the front lawn. The boys, both 3, had managed to unlock and open up the front door and slip outside without anyone noticing. Sure, we heard the chime of the house alarm â€“ it makes a beeping noise every time a door opens â€“ but we all figured it was my brother-in-law, who had been barbecuing out back.
But the boys were outside playing tag dangerously close to the road (just so you know, my son is one of those kids who darts for the road and thinks it’s funny). Once my heart started beating again, I swooped up my little guy and brought him inside. “You cannot go outside without a grown-up,” I told him sternly. “It is very dangerous. Do you understand?” He stared at me blankly. “You cannot go outside without mommy or daddy â€“ or another grown-up,” I told him again.
The very next day, a girlfriend came over with her newborn and 3-year-old son. We were chatting in the kitchen, the boys were running up and down the stairs â€“ from the playroom to the bedroom to the kitchen and then back to the playroom. Every two to three minutes they’d jump in front of us to show us their “bad guy” costumes, or to pretend to kill us with a sword, or simply to complain that the other wasn’t sharing.
We were marveling at the fact that they’ve reached an age where they can actually play together and where we, the moms, could actually have a conversation. But then it became eerily quiet in the house, and so I went down to the playroom to check on the boys. They weren’t there. “They must be in the bedroom,” I shouted up to my friend, who headed upstairs to check on them. As I made my way back up the stairs, I could hear children laughing outside â€“ a common sound in my neighborhood that’s filled with kids and families. Only this laughter was coming from my own child, who once again decided to go outside without me.
I ran to my front hallway to find the door swung wide open and the two boys running barefoot on the grass. I flipped! Now, before you accuse me of being a helicopter mom and overly protective and all that, know this: my son turned 3 just last week, and he does not yet have a sense that if you run onto the street a car can hit you. It’s something I’ve been trying to teach him since he was old enough to walk, but he’s still the kid who finds it hilarious to dart onto the road (or parking lot) without an adult. He thinks it’s a game more than anything, and it freaks me out. I’ll let him play in the backyard, the park â€“ any fenced-in space, really â€“ without hovering. But I know my child, and he’s not nearly mature enough to play out front without an adult present (though are any 3-year-olds, really?).
This time I whipped him up to his room, where he sobbed for a good 10 minutes. I once again explained â€“ sternly â€“ that he is not to go outside without a grown-up. (The best is that he blamed his friend.) I think I got through to him this time, but you can never be too sure. I will now be placing a deadlock on our front door. Oh, joy.