Let me start by saying this isn’t some wild-ass Home Alone movie. I had a sick 9-year-old and a sick 5-year-old. I also had a 7-year-old with a homeschool gardening program (that the 9-year-old would also normally attend) at 10 a.m. in the morning. The 7-year-old didn’t want to skip for his own reasons (nature swap, skull involved, blah blah). I didn’t want him to skip either. The gardening program is located, according to Google Maps, 1.3 miles from my house, about a 4-minute drive.
I didn’t want to drag two sick kids out of the house for this quick venture.
So I did what any mother from the 1980s would have done.
I cued up my phone number in my gmail and made sure my 9-year-old only had to press one single button to call me. I assured he knew there were lawn maintenance men across the (sleepy, two-lane, residential) road. I told him not to open the door for anyone. I turned on Tumbleleaf and asked them, if at all possible, to stay on the couch. I told them I’d be back.
I loaded my 7-year-old in the car and left them home alone.
Driveway-to-driveway took Weezer’s Blue Album’s “My Name is Jonas,” “No One Else,” and 17 seconds of “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here.” I did the math, and it adds up to six minutes and 43 seconds. When I picked him up two hours later, having taken the same precautions, I took pics of my stove clock instead (a little less precise). I was gone for 9 minutes: I had to wait in the car line. About 7 minutes and 9 minutes, respectively, of being home alone.
No one got hurt. My house did not burn down. The kids literally did not move from the couches.
My 9-year-old says he “liked being left home alone a lot because it meant that I could just have a break and make sure Simon (my 5-year-old) was happy.” He says that “sure,” he was proud to be left home alone, because “it was nice, but in a boring way” and that he “felt totally safe — the dogs were here, and I could call you if something happened.” When I asked him if he wanted to be left alone again, his answer was an enthusiastic “YES!” and he begged me to go on a date.
My 5-year-old also says he felt totally safe being home alone, knew I was going to come home (he looked at me like I was stupid when I asked that question), and liked being home alone because he felt safe with his brother. When I asked what he did the whole time, he says he just watched TV.
Clearly, this was not a dangerous situation. I was, at most, 1.3 miles away, reachable by phone. There are no laws in my state about leaving children alone in the home, but my kids’ behavior was in line with the pending free range parenting bill in my state.
I trust my 9-year-old not to set something on fire, let a stranger in the house, prank call people, or do something idiotic while I’m gone. He took the responsibility of being home alone and in charge very seriously. Maybe some 9-year-old wouldn’t be ready for this kind of thing. I don’t know. I don’t parent your kid. I only parent mine, and he is ready.
My mom left me home alone for short periods like this when I was 9 (she’d also leave me in the car alone, but that’s a whole other argument). I never did anything unsafe. The times I got on the roof, dangled objects from second floor windows, cut my heel bad enough to leave a blood trail, started fires in my bedroom, and broke my brother’s finger mostly on purpose? She was totally home for those. I was perfect when she was gone.
Why? Because I valued the independence and the trust she put in me. It was important that my parents knew I could be trusted to be by myself. So I was always, always good while they were gone.
But you’re going to say I’m ridiculous.
You’re going to say I’m irresponsible.
You’re going to say I don’t deserve to have children.
You’re going to say that my kid should have skipped his class or I should have dragged sick kids back and forth, if it was so damn close.
I refuse to accept any of those premises.
I believe that children are capable of far more than we give them credit for. I believe that they can do amazing things. I think they are, in most cases, incapable of staying home alone, or making their own lunch, or any number of things, because we don’t give them the chance. We expect our children to be dependent, and hence, our children remain dependent. I give my kid chances to be independent, and hence, my kids are independent. They know they are loved. They know they are cared for. They are happy and well-adjusted. But yes: they are expected to do things on their own that most children are not.
That includes staying home alone for short periods of time. Sometimes, they stay in the car for short periods of time as well.
They’re so proud of themselves.
My husband and I are so proud of them.
And damn it if we won’t try it again sometime.