She’s in the lake with her toddler, splashing and pouring water (with my sand toys). Her kid, who clearly has no playmate but mom, squees and jumps. My youngest son joins in the play. The back of his purple life vest flaps when he walks. She starts pouring water with him and digging in the sand with him, alternating with her daughter, who looks through my kid like he’s invisible. “I don’t know where your Mommy is,” she says loudly.
I heave myself up out of the tree’s shade and bravely traverse the few feet between my blanket and the waterline. The sun is blasting. I’m winter-pale and sunscreen-less. I sit by the lake and begin playing with my son (who I had been watching attentively, but not playing with), who’s thrilled to have someone to dump sand on. I had planned a relaxing day by the lake. Now I’m going to burn while I pour water into buckets and get sand up my ass crack.
You’re still here, helicopter mom, still ruining it for the rest of us. Maybe you come to the lake to play with your kid, who’s wearing a life vest and clearly in no danger. I don’t. I come to the lake to sit in the shade and watch my sons catch minnows, build sand castles, and bob in the water under the power of life vests. When I do venture down to cool off, I sit in the shallows, skip a few rocks, and go back to my blanket. You could come back with me, eat watermelon, and drink sweet tea. Your kids will be fine. I promise. We don’t need to play with them.
But you’ll shame me into it. You’re playing with your kid, so I’m expected to play with mine or I’m a bad parent. I mean, I’m already a bad parent because I wasn’t doing it in the first place, but I can almost redeem myself if I let a 2-year-old dump sand in my lap for two hours — while I burn under the sun.
It doesn’t matter that independence is what summer’s all about. Parents ignore their kids and let them take risks. Maybe that’s why helicopter moms are out in full force. At the barbecue, she’s paranoid, screaming at the kids to stay at least 30 feet away from the grill. That means I have to yell at my kids to stay that far away. She’s ever-vigilant, always taking a seat pointed toward the kids, always half in the conversation as she monitors their activity. And every time, she’s yelling at those kids to stay away from the grill. She will probably poke me and say loudly, “Your kid’s near the grill.” This when he’s 102 feet away.
She means well. She really does, I mean that. But helicopter moms think that children spontaneously combust. This goes double for sparklers. It’s like a cabal of helicopter moms have joined together to ban small fireworks from public gatherings, and especially sparklers. Granted, children do burn themselves on sparklers. But children also don’t burn themselves on sparklers. You want to take away a great memory from the majority because of the tiny minority. How many of those sparkler injuries happened because kids weren’t using common sense or were too young to have them in the first place? You don’t care, helicopter mom — or rather, you care too much. We’ve got to ban them.
In an effort to protect your snowflake, you’re shaming people and ruining everyone else’s experience. You have to be right there, with open arms, holding the back of Junior’s bike because training wheels aren’t enough. God forbid that while you’re doing that in your driveway, my kids ride by on the road. You’ll put a stop to Junior’s bike adventures to come and warn me that my kids are biking on the road. When I tell you it’s with my blessing and they’re wearing helmets, you’ll screw your face up cutely. “Do you think that’s…safe?” you’ll say.
You think I’m nuts. You pass by my kids skirting a pond, looking for tadpoles. Your kids beg to join in. “Not today,” you say. “You’ll fall in.” My 4-year-old leaps over the rocks like a goat, waving a net. “I caught a bullfrog!” he crows. His brothers gather round to see. Your kids watch wistfully from the bridge, their shirts un-smudged, their shoes free of pondweed. They will remain that way. You gasp involuntarily when my 2-year-old traverses the rock. “They love it,” I say.
“I just can’t stand the idea of them on those rocks,” you say.
You call your kids, and they gather like a brood of chicks around a hen. No stragglers — they’ve learned. You walk off with them down the path. One by one, your kids glance back. I wish you’d stay and hang out for a while.
We all have to admit: No one knows what they’re doing with their kids. No one’s pegged the one right way to parent. I certainly haven’t. But I know I feel good about letting my kids be kids, letting them make their own mistakes, and letting them have their freedom. They may get their bumps and their scrapes. But they’re happy in their independence. And so am I.