When I was a child and wanted to do something that was not allowed, my mother would say to me, "It isn't you I don't trust. It is the rest of the world."
Oh how I hated that answer. "If you trusted me enough you would know that I could take care of myself!" I would retort.
Because surely it was reasonable to be 11 years old and want to ride my bike to the public beach and hang out there all day all alone while my mother was at work. She was so unreasonable.
Now that I have a child who is old enough to ask to do completely ridiculous things, I find myself tempted to say similar things. But the fact is that I don't trust him. At 12 years old he is not mature enough to handle himself unsupervised in all situations. Are some 12-year-olds? Maybe, though I doubt he is more immature than other children his age.
I know that my 11-year-old is much more capable in many situations. He was the one who ran and got the fire extinguisher when I caught our oven on fire recently. He is the one who will take the initiative to solve a problem he sees. It is a combination of his personality and a growing maturity.
Last weekend we were, where else, at a baseball game. My 11-year-old's team was playing. It was a sweltering hot day. They practiced for an hour warming up and then the game began. About a half hour into the game one of the players on his team started crying. None of us parents watching knew what was wrong and his parents weren't there at the game.
A minute later my son came over to the fence. "Mom, can you buy Nick a water? He is crying because he is thirsty. He forgot to bring his water."
The poor kid. I immediately jumped up and got him a huge bottle of water and all was well in the world.
But it got me thinking. Nick did not ask for help to solve his problem, even though there were plenty of grown-ups to ask. Nor did he ask any of his friends to help. He had mentioned that he forgot his water, but none of the other kids thought to mention it to the coach or their parents. Until he started crying and then my son was the only one. At 11 years old you would think that they would know what to do in this situation.
I think that this speaks volumes as to their level of maturity. The fact that they don't really know when they are above their heads, often until it is too late. And that they don't know how to solve problems that would seem to be non-issues.
I have role played with my children, and usually I am shocked by some of the answers that they give me. Often they seem to believe that they are equipped with super human strengths.
As they physically grow bigger, there is the temptation to allow them more freedom simply because they appear to be older and more mature. A child in the body of a man, one of my friends calls her teenager.
And so I say to my children, "I am sorry but I don't trust you to make all the decisions regarding your own safety. And I love you enough not to put you into situations that you can not handle."
The road to freedom is paved with baby steps. And while I am not standing there in front of them with my arms outstretched anymore, smiling while they walk their shaky steps toward me, I am behind them ready to catch them or at least break their fall.