With a son in high school and another in middle school, we’ve been flirting with the idea of letting all three kids stay at home alone without adult supervision. I know it might strike some as ridiculous that this would even be an issue at this point. As an eleven year old still in elementary school, I was babysitting infants. As a “safety patrol” armed with nothing but a frayed vinyl orange belt and a cheap badge slung over my scrawny little shoulder, I was in charge of a whole bus stop full of kids far from the watchful eyes of any of our parents. But that was a very different era. These days in our peaceful little neighborhood nestled in the bucolic countryside, I sometimes see parents waiting at the bus stop with their high school-age kids.
The last time we asked the boys if they would feel comfortable staying home alone and in charge of their little sister, they looked at us wide-eyed with fear and vigorously shook their heads. Could it have been the fact that we began the discussion with exhortations to hide if they heard anyone at the door, to NOT answer the phone unless they recognized our number, and to call 911 IMMEDIATELY if their sister so much as coughed a little? Could it have been the scenarios we role-played in which evil sickos disguised as sweet old grannies would plead with them to open the door, because their car had broken down and they were hurt and needed to come in to use our phone and by the way they had a cute little puppy and sacks full of candy too? Possibly.
We were very close to finally taking the plunge last week when the fairly modest snow we got here in Charlottesville shut down the school system for an entire week. Every day last week I would get a text from the county announcing that school would be closed for another day. Like clockwork, the next text I would receive shortly thereafter would be a one word expletive in response from my husband, who would be losing yet another day of work to stay home with the kids. Towards the end of the week, his one word text bombs would literally make me LOL.
We just couldn’t quite bring ourselves to leave our nine year old daughter home alone last week, even in the care of her older brothers, and despite the fact that my son has openly acknowledged her superior level of maturity. And so my husband and I traded our daughter back and forth throughout the entire week, while we fulfilled our various work obligations. This kind of shuffling has been going on for years. Once when my husband didn’t get back home in time to take over parenting duties, I was forced to bring my infant to a class I was teaching. I’ll never forget having to change my son’s diaper in the middle of my lecture on Russian literature. I’m sure the students will never forget it either. More recently, the kids have had to spend many a snow day or sick day sitting in on their dad’s political theory lectures. I’ll be so bitterly disappointed if after all this, they don’t have enough credits to earn their B.A.s by the time they get their high school diplomas.
It snowed again late last night and early this morning. School was cancelled for all three kids, but alas NOT for the parents. This morning we debated back and forth about how to handle this latest development. Finally, we decided that it was at last time to cross the Rubicon. We would leave all three kids at home.
A little while after getting to my office, I called home to check up on them.
“Mommy?” my daughter asked as she picked up the phone.
“Yes, it’s me!” I answered, “Oh YAY! You haven’t burned down the house yet!”
“MOMMY!” she replied. Did you know it’s possible to actually hear the sound of rolling eyeballs?
“Have you gotten any homework done?”
“Yep! I’ve done some math and I’m going to do some word study.”
“And what are you guys going to have for lunch?”
“Actually, we’re in the middle of lunch right now,” she replied.
“Really? Already? It’s only 11:20…”
“Yeah!” my daughter replied, “We’re having a big fat cooking showdown.”
My heart sank.
“Big fat cooking showdown sounds really scary to me. Are you guys making a big fat mess?”
“No. So, N and T both made me dishes and I’m deciding which one tastes the best.”
“What are the dishes?”
“T made me macaroni & cheese and N made me some delicious noodles.”
I guess I know who won the showdown. I have to laugh as I imagine the boys microwaving the ready-made macaroni & cheese and pouring boiling water over the instant noodles and then presenting their “dishes” to their sister with a flourish. I should probably start planning my outfit for the James Beard Award Ceremony.
I also have to laugh as I envision my daughter dispensing judgement upon her loyal subjects. It reminded me of the time a few years ago when I took the kids swimming. Eventually, I noticed that the boys were not frolicking and splashing about as one might expect two carefree kids on vacation to be doing. Instead, they were assiduously taking turns giving their little sister rides on their backs and then anxiously asking her to rate their performance. It turned out that my daughter had ruthlessly pitted her brothers against each other in a “Best Brother Contest.”
“Well…I’d say you’ve got a 7.5 so far. N gave me a smoother ride, so he gets an 8.2, but maybe you could improve your score by giving me a longer ride.”
More bitter disappointment is coming my way if that girl doesn’t become Ruler of the Universe in my lifetime…
Until then? I’m pretty sure they’re all going to be just fine.