Mom. Trust me.

Well here we are, middle school. And that means that my Older Son wants his freedom. We weren’t a week into school when we had our first professional development day and the kids were out at noon.

Older and his new friend were all over me the moment they got off the bus: can we ride our bikes downtown and go to the convenience store and hang out at the playground?

My mind was spinning. Yes, I want you to have this freedom. Yes, I’m still worried about kidnappers and molesters no matter how many times people tell me it’s safe. Yes, I know you are old enough and can handle it. That you are perfectly capable of crossing streets safely and coming home when I tell you to. You should have this opportunity to spread your wings. And, I know the crowd of kids who hangs out down there, and you are still just ten years old.

He wanted me to just say yes so badly, but also had the understanding that this was a big deal. And maybe a little teeny part of him was asking me to say no, because he was nervous too. He pointed out that “Mom, Jason told me he wanted to go to the old movie place and I told him ‘I know my mother won’t let me go that far.'”

Smart boy. He knows me. And he knows that this show of responsibility will sway me. What he doesn’t know is that I was so proud because he had the guts to say this to his new, cool friend. He wasn’t even giving me the full begging treatment, he really was trying to discuss it rationally. (This is new for me.) I really wanted to let them go despite the knot in my stomach.

Luckily, Jason’s dad was just as chicken as me about letting them roam free. He said they could go if his mother could tag along (to which his son bristled, but agreed), and then she’d take them back home for a while.

Phew. I was really pushing myself, really trying to let him go and not worry. Even Dave thought he’d be fine. I don’t usually involve him on after school hangout choices but I needed backup on this one: is it OK to let our 10-year-old ride around town?

I wish that it was. But every mom I know agrees – it’s still too soon. It’s still too scary. And we were all riding our bikes freely around town by age ten. And then we wish that we lived in a different world, and go on with our forced over-protective parenting lifestyle.

So off they went with Grandma and had a great time. They did that in-and-out thing all afternoon: back to Jason’s, back to our house for a game, back to Jason’s, loving the freedom of riding bikes and being trusted. Knowing that there was at least this little something they could do without parents watching, even if it was only down the block and not downtown. And maybe they felt safer that way too.

I got a phone call about an hour after they left for their adventure. “Hello, this is Older calling from Jason’s house.” I said, “Hello this is Mommy, we’ve met before.”

“I’m worried that you don’t know exactly where Jason lives and I want to make sure you know how to get here when you come pick me up.” I indulged him, though I’ve known where Jason lives since they were in kindergarten. He gave me directions and even corrected himself when he made a mistake, and I just said “Yes, got it” the whole time. “Thank you, sweetie. Now I know where I’m going. I’ll be there a little after 5:00.”

Older told me later that I should know I can trust him. I told him that Daddy and I do trust him, but we were concerned about the situation and there’s a difference. I think he got it. It’s interesting to watch him process (and, miraculously, understand) my answers and reasons instead of instantly flying into a rage at “No.” We are definitely at a new phase in our relationship. Middle school, rational discussions, showing responsbility. (Now if he would just do his chores, my work here will be done.)

At 5:05 my phone rang. “Mommy, it’s 5:05 and you’re not here yet, I’m just wondering if something happened.”

I explained that my bike tire was flat and we’d be there as soon as we could. This time I wasn’t sure if he was being responsible or worried, another huge aspect of his 10-year-old, just-starting-middle-school existence. He doesn’t even like for me to be out of his sight for too long these days.

I guess this phase is just like every other aspect of development – one step forward, two steps back. He flies a little but still wants to come back to the nest. We worry about each other and that’s OK. I like having a ten-year-old protector, and I think he likes having a forty-year-old one.