Providing an 80’s Childhood in 2017

We live in a master planned community with parks, playgrounds, and pools galore. We have our own elementary, middle, and high school, and I always compare our life to an episode of “Leave It To Beaver.” I walk across the street for eggs, and my neighbors know the alarm code to my house so they can let themselves in to get mayonnaise or powdered sugar when they run out. 

My backyard gate is open from the hours of 4-6pm on Monday – Friday, all day on the weekends, and at all hours during the summer. If it rains, the kids on my street have a mud fight from the wet sand in our sandbox and not one parent complains. We are all happy to have our children outside playing in the street or in the backyards while we enjoy the opportunity to sit and catch up.

While it may seem as if I’ve living in Pleasantville, I still have to balance the security I feel {even if it is a false sense} with the ever growing “scary world” out there. From kidnapping to molestation to normal parent paranoia, I worry about it all. 

From my own research and experts in the industry, I know that the majority of kidnappings are not due to some stranger driving down the street and snatching children. However, I still worry. The media reports so much more than they did in the 80s, and the internet has us living in a world of knowing too much. It is difficult to parent in a technology and media driven world, and it is why my husband and I chose to raise our girls in the suburbs. Anything can happen anywhere, but I do believe we are safer in a community where everyone is watching out for one another.

Despite all my worries, my girls are growing up and desiring independence. From checking the mail to going on a play date to riding their bikes, they want to be alone with their friends. Their mom is on longer becoming a necessity. So as Penelope approaches 9 years old, her desire to make decisions independently is growing at a speed I cannot keep up with. It feels like just yesterday that I was texting moms to schedule play dates, and now she is riding her bike to a friend’s house to ask the same question herself.

Because I know it is 2017 and because I can’t seem to shake the normal parental worries, I had to find a solution for balancing the scary world out there with our sweet suburban life. And thankfully, advances in technology are making this possible.  For us, that looks like the GizmoGadget and GizmoPal.

This watch allows Penelope to call me and and me to call her {Parents preprogram numbers.}; it allows Penelope to text me and me to text her {Parents preprogram texts.}; and most importantly, it has GPS. With one simple app download, I can now search where my child is at any given time. It has brought a level of comfort to my worries and made bike riding “til the streetlights come on” more possible.

Penelope and quite a few friends have this watch. Some of her friends can communicate with each other, but Penelope does not have any friends’ numbers stored and knows this is not an option. We use her Gizmo for safety purposes only. When we gave Penelope her watch, we discussed the responsibility that it came with, discussed how quickly she could lose the privilege, discussed how she would not get her friends’ numbers, and most importantly, we discussed what to do if the worst happens. Penelope knows about stranger danger, running, screaming, and doing whatever you can to get away. She also knows not to call me from her watch if something happens. Penelope knows there is GPS on her watch, and she knows I search on my app for her before I ever call. She knows if she is not where she is supposed to be, we will come find her. We will get to her.

Does this sound too simple? Probably. Does it sound too naive? Probably. Does it provide us with a false sense of security? Perhaps. But this one simple device is our means of providing a 1987 childhood in 2017.

Penelope rides her bike with friends, and this has been going on for quite some time. They have specific boundaries they must stay within, but just this week her boundaries changed. She and a friend rode 0.8 miles to our closest neighborhood park. Her friend lives on our street, has a watch himself, and his parents agreed to let him go with her. From our street to the park is an exact backward L shape. Ride your bike, turn left, go straight to the park. Penelope and B have rode to the park many times with us, and we knew they could get there safely. 

So at 4:30pm, after telling both kids they must stay together, they are to call from their watches if one of them does not look for cars, that they are at liberty to “tattle” on anything, and if they do not earn our trust, this will NEVER be allowed again, I sent them on their own to the park. {B’s mom was at work and his dad was home – both parents were in full agreement.}

At 4:35pm, Penelope called me to say they were at the park. B hollered into his watch that all was good. A few minutes later Penelope called to ask if she was allowed to play with other kids or if she could only play with B. I explained she is to make these decisions on her own, but kindness is the best choice. I called B a little bit later to make sure he was having fun and could tell from his reaction that Penelope and him had navigated a way for all the kids to play together. 

At 4:52pm, I received a text from a friend that she saw Penelope at the park and overheard her telling a friend how her mom was home and she was responsible enough to be at the park alone. 

At 5:00pm, Pandora was fully angered that the big kids were at the park and that she was not, so I took her there. When I arrived, Penelope and B were playing and laughing and having the time of their lives. Pandora and I played together while the big kids played with children from all over the neighborhood. Until finally, at 5:30pm, our previously set time to go home, I called Penelope and B over and said it was time to go and reminded them of the rules. They both put their helmets on and rode back home, alone. A few minutes later, I took Pandora home.

I cannot describe the overwhelming pride and independence Penelope gained from this experience. I cannot describe the emotions I felt knowing what I had done for my daughter.

I know people’s opinions. Trust me; I have a mom and an aunt who believe helicoptering is the only way to parent. But for me, I have to believe there is a happy medium. When I posted on Facebook a picture of the happy kids and their accomplishment, a neighbor and friend commented how she saw them riding their bikes and how happy they looked. It is the text from the friend and the Facebook comment that allow me to NOT take pause in my decision. We chose to live in a community like this. We chose to find a place that our children could play outside like we did in the 80s.

Am I advocating for everyone in the greater Houston area to parent like I do? Nope. All I am sharing is a day in the life of a suburban mom who has to make choices that foster independence, responsibility, social skills, and and positive self-esteem.

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Michele is a native Houstonian and loves everything Texas, including the Longhorns. She and her husband were married in January 2002 and are parents to the most wonderful girls, Penelope {August 2008} and Pandora {August 2011}. A former educator, Michele is passionate about education and student learning. She spends most of her days volunteering at her daughters' schools and tutoring neighborhood children in reading. Michele loves her big family and enjoys traveling to see all her relatives as well as being the fun aunt to her nieces and nephews. Her daily goal is to laugh each day and enjoy the moments. Becoming a mom was the greatest gift for Michele, and she treasures it all, even the tantrums. You can read more about Michele, her life, and her parenting adventures on her personal blog The Adventures of Tomboys in Tiaras.


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