Is the toast burning…or is your house burning?

I have a whole bunch of blogs bookmarked that I take in with my morning coffee, and Free Range Kids is the top of the list. Today her blog featured an article that should have been a story of a little girl’s resourcefulness and a community’s strength. Instead it was made sensational news under the headline “A Parent’s Worst Nightmare!”

Now make no mistake – if your kid is not where he or she is supposed to be, your heart goes into your throat. You can’t help it. And I’m not saying it’s not a scary thing. But let’s step back and look two independent facts:

1) FBI Statistics reveal that there has been no increase in crime against children. Your child is more likely to get struck by lightning than be abducted. Furthermore, the majority of abductions are committed by people the child knows, not strangers.

2) The world is an imperfect place. Mistakes are known to occur. People are human. Shit happens.

Yes, it is frightening when your child isn’t where they are supposed to be. In this case, yes, the school, on its second day of the session, in the chaos of sorting out who goes on what bus, missed that this little girl boarded the bus for daycare instead of the bus for home. Yes, the little girl arrived at an empty house and was upset, but through her tears she had the wherewithal to go to a neighbor’s house. Calls were made. The grandmother was sent for. Cookies were served. Everything worked out fine.

And the mother went to the newspapers.

What. The. Fuck.

Look, maybe I’m in the minority here, but this is overreacting. If she had to seek out fame for her “ordeal”, then it should have been spun as a positive story. Because it was one! The child regrouped and went to a neighbor! Great job, honey, that was smart thinking! And the neighbor took her in and gave her a snack and called the mother. Mrs. So-and-So, I am so grateful to have you as a neighbor, thank you so much. A mistake was made but it worked out fine. Yes, Ms. Principal, it was a little scary for a few minutes, but all is well. Under the circumstances, I can forgive the mix-up, I’m sure it won’t happen again. And hey, I’m glad she knows what to do when things like this happen, that’s really the greater lesson, isn’t it?

No. A parent’s worst nightmare! This is unacceptable! The school shall pay, heads will roll, my child is damaged forever!!

Actually, honey, your kid is fine. It’s you who’s acting like a lunatic. One of the commentators on the blog post said something great, I think she was quoting her grandmother: “If you behave like this when the toast is burning, what will you do when the house is on fire?”

Think about it. If there is a break in the routine of any magnitude, would you want your child to be the one who keeps calm and goes with the flow, or the one who is hysterical? Most of us want the former, but there lies the break in parenting style: some parents don’t want ANYTHING to EVER happen to their child. As a result, they have children who can’t do anything when something happens. Other parents teach their kids to deal efficiently with every day glitches, with confidence that doing so will render them able to keep a cool head when faced with a real emergency. And face it, which is more likely to happen in a lifetime – burned toast or a house fire?

We tend to run what-if scenarios with our kids that involve dire circumstances: fire, severe injury, abduction. Yes, your child needs to know how to get out of the house, how to dial 911, and to not take rides from people he doesn’t know, and when in doubt, scream loud and run away.

BUT! Do you also prepare your child for the every-day, mundane shit that invariably happens because life is chaotic and messy and people are human and make mistakes? What are the things that are so much more likely to happen, and could your kids deal?

So let’s brainstorm and play a game of “What if?” Try running a few of these past your children, or come up with your own to share. The only rules are 1) no life-threatening emergencies and 2) try to steer their first reaction away from, “Call for Mom and Dad.”

Start off simple. Here’s one that I always toss at Redman when he’s playing outside: “What if your ball rolls into the street?” That’s a good one, right? It happens. Balls are round, the driveway is smooth, kids throw wild. The ball rolls into the street. What do you do? (Or rather, what do you NOT do?)

You’re playing in the yard and you see a raccoon. In the daytime. Lumbering along looking kind of dopey and…weird. What do you do? (Depending on where you live, you could extend this to bobcats, coyotes or bears)

A dog wanders into your yard. Nice dog, friendly dog, looks a little lonely. Maybe he’s lost. Suppose it’s a really hot day and he’s panting like crazy. What do you do? (No you may not keep him)

Let’s take one right from the source: You go to an after-school program on Mondays, which involves going on a different bus. However, we just had a long holiday weekend with Monday off so even though today is Tuesday, your brain thinks it’s Monday, so you get on the after-school program bus. Oops. It’s Tuesday. You were supposed to go on the home bus. Nobody is home. What do you do?

Now let’s up the ante a little. Suppose Mom and/or Dad (whatever the case may be) is in bed with a horrible flu, broken leg – point being all the usually responsible adults cannot get up on a school morning. Could you get yourself ready, get yourself breakfast, and get yourself to school? (This last part of course depends on how that normally happens – does your child walk to school, walk to a bus stop, or get taken to a bus stop? In any case, anyone can be felled by stomach flu at any time, so what is the Plan?)

Same situation, but in the evening. Mom and Dad are down for the count. Can you make yourself some dinner? (NOTE: a PB & J, or a bowl of cereal is a perfectly acceptable dinner!!! This is a test of resourcefulness, not cooking technique.)

From somewhere in the house, you hear your Mom or Dad bellow, “OH MY GOD, TURN OFF THE WATER MAIN!” Do you know what that is, where that is, and how to turn it off?

You drop a glass and it shatters. Mom and Dad are outside doing yardwork, and you are not wearing shoes. What do you do? (No screaming. Extra credit for knowing where the vacuum cleaner is)

While outside playing you fall in the muddy creek, swamp, whatever wet and muddy place there is to fall into. Your pants, shoes, and socks are soaked and muddy. What do you do? (Obviously changing clothes is the answer, but the REAL point here is that they know to a) not walk into the house with muddy shoes and b) that they leave the soaked and muddy clothes in an appropriate place, like the laundry room, mudroom, the garage or back steps, etc.)

You shart. (Come on!!! Life is messy and it happens!!)

Play along with me. Leave a comment with some non-life threatening situations you’d want your kid to be able to handle. Let’s not worry about everything that might happen, and worry about what is likely to happen.

This entry was posted in Thinks.

3 comments on “Is the toast burning…or is your house burning?

  1. I really enjoyed your both your perspective and your hypothetical situations… practicing is always a good idea.

    My non-threatening real life situation is based on what I saw at our zoo on Monday: panicked parents. “So we are at the zoo and you’re looking at the lions and then when you look around, you don’t see anyone you know? What do you do?” (Stay where you are, ask a Mom or a Dad –someone with kids–for help, ask a person with a zoo nametag for help. But most importantly, stay where you are until someone can help you.)

    Yep, it is a big WTF when parents make mountains out of molehills. (I’ll say the same thing for upset parents going straight to the principal instead of talking to the teacher first, which seems to be a growing trend.) What’s actually frightening about all this is that the competent child reinterprets the experience as ‘real danger’. God forbid what should happen if Real Danger does occur.

  2. Kartrina says:

    What if you are making pancakes and you use too much butter and it drips onto the burner and big flames erupt? Grab a cordless phone, grab your brother and go outside. Call fire dept. After they tell you the house will not burn down, call your mother at work, then clean up your mess.

  3. Havva says:

    I remember poison ivy being on the ‘what if’ list growing up. (Wash everything, immediately.)

    How to tell native venomous snakes from non-venomous snakes.

    Also knowing how to treat a variety of cuts, scrapes, bruises, burns, and remove splinters.

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