Don't Try This at Home--When Mom's Not There

As a parent, there are many scary moments. That day you have to bring your son to the ER with a 104-degree fever. That moment when you let go of his hand for a second and lose sight of him at the big box store. The time you let him drive off for the first time and it starts to snow.

Now that my son is 18 and officially loosed upon the world, I am sure I could have done more to prepare him. I could have been better at teaching him to save his allowance. I could have given him more responsibilities around the house. I could have spent more time talking about the tough stuff. I could have shot more pucks on him in the Mylec goal in the basement of our cabin in the woods.

For five years, my son D. and I lived in a cabin on the Piscataquog in New Hampshire. It was a very rustic, peaceful place. But there was limited well water, teeming with iron—turning our shower stall a rust color. So we couldn’t do our laundry at home. For years, I made D. come with me to the Kelley Street Laundromat every Sunday, and we would be there for two hours, listening to the hum and thump of the machines and watching whatever movie they had on an endless loop in the VCR.

D. was exposed to many PG movies that were probably beyond his years during that time.

But one day, he begged me to leave him home alone during laundry time, and so I agreed—he must have been 9 or 10. I told D. to sit on the couch and not do anything—other than watch TV—and not to eatanythingI didn’t want him to choke, after all.  

I drove to the laundromat, about 15 minutes from the house, and dropped our clothes and soap in the washing machine. And then I drove home. Being away for 40 minutes was enough—I didn’t want to wait another hour for the load to finish.

When I walked in the door at home, I was relieved to see D. sitting on the couch watching Cartoon Network. But the minute he saw me, he flew over to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door.

“I made myself a snack,” he said. “But I didn’t eat it yet.”

Oh, that’s so smart, I thought. He listened to my rules, and didn’t eat while I was gone, but he prepared himself a snack!

“What did you make?” I asked.

“Cut-up banana in yogurt,” he said, and he sat down with his bowl on the couch to eat his snack.

Cut-up banana? And how exactly did he cut that up? I thought.

Just then I saw my Pampered Chef hand food chopper in the sink. I flashed back to before I left, when the food chopper was disassembled in the dish rack, sitting since I had diced some vegetables the night before.

“D!” I shouted. “You used the food chopper?”

He looked over at me, surprised at the urgency in my voice.

“You could have cut your finger off!” I said. “You even assembled it! Do you know how sharp those blades are?”

“I was careful, Mommy,” he said.

I shook my head, fast. "How do you even know how to assemble it?” I asked, my voice still shrill.

Here the kid had put the thing together, cut up the bananas, dropped them in the yogurt, and then put the whole concoction in the fridge because he wasn’t allowed to eat while I was gone.

“Sorry, Mommy,” he said.

But then, I softened. “That’s okay, D,” I said. “I am glad you didn’t eat it, that was really good. And that you figured out how to put it together and use it safely. I am proud of you. But just don’t do that again when I’m not home, okay?”

“Okay,” he said, and turned back to the television.

At that moment, I was so proud. And so scared.

That pretty much sums up what being a parent is about.

Now, that very kid is 18 years old and off at college, assembling sharp objects and cutting things up to his heart’s content. And his mother can’t control any of it. I can’t tell him what to do anymore. So I now understand why many parents tell their college-age children, “I just don’t want to know. Don’t tell me until afterwards what you are doing.”

And when he doesn’t answer my texts or phone calls for a few days, I just remind myself of that day with the food chopper, and trust that all is well. If nothing else, at least he is not going to choke.