“Yes, Mom, I Do Have a Brain”

Hi zeihtaszzt
Readers: This one made me worry, then smile, then realize that one part of Free-Range is remembering it’s not just us adults who are the problem-solvers. – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I can’t tell you how much this blog and its community have meant to me.  I have come a long way as a Free-Range parent.  This place is a haven of rationality in the turmoil of the current tragedy.

After beginning to read this blog, I started to let my kids walk short distances in our neighborhood by themselves.  I will continue to do so.

The blaming of Jessica’s mother makes me sick.

I travel alone with my children several times a year (my husband stays home and works while I take them to Grandma’s).  Years ago I showed them that Walsh & Baby Einstein video with Safety Chick (have you all seen it?), and we’ve had many conversations about safety, strangers, etc.

I realized yesterday how I’d indoctrinated them.  I have this irrational fear that a terrible person will use a trick to kidnap my kids, like asking their help with a lost puppy, or telling them I’ve been taken to the hospital and he/she will drive them to me.  I don’t know why this sticks in my mind… where did it come from?  Anyway, I’ve told them never never never to believe anyone who says these things.

Well, you know how it goes with little kids and timing… sister was so sick and I had to get her some help, and I arranged for my son’s best friend’s mom to pick him up at school, but it was too late to get word to him.

So, she pulls up in her van, opens the door, and says “Come with me — your sister is sick and your mom can’t pick you up.”

Now, here is a woman he knows well, who has been to our house a hundred times, whose house he has spent the night in, etc., and she said he actually hesitated and asked her if she was serious or telling a story!  He wasn’t initially sure if he should trust her!  Of course, that hesitation didn’t last long, and he got in her car, but… it really made me think about the messages I’ve given him!

Later, I thanked him for using his common sense to get in the car, and told him we’d be sitting down soon to talk about more common sense safety rules because I know I can trust him to make the right decisions in these cases.  His reply was, “Well, yes, Mom, I do have a brain.”

Thanks, Free-Range Kids, for reminding me that even in a world where heartbreaking and terrible things can and do happen to kids, life keeps going for the rest, and we can’t live in fear, infect them with our fear, and coddle them in safety for the rest of their days.  I finally understand that if we want our kids to be thinkers and problem solvers, we have to allow them to use and grow those skills… because they do have brains (thanks for the reminder, son!).  — Carol Everett Adams

It’s not just adults who possess these.


28 Responses to “Yes, Mom, I Do Have a Brain”

  1. SKL October 15, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

    Yes, and the fact is that sometimes we put our kids in a tough spot when we ask them to do things that actually don’t make sense. Like on one hand they hear “don’t talk to strangers” and on the other hand “speak when spoken to, otherwise you’re being rude.”

    The other day my 1st grade kids attended a birthday party at Chuck E Cheese (their first time there). When I RSVP’d, I asked whether they wanted the parents to hang around or not, and the mom said, “it’s up to you, but you do know about their security, right? They mark each kid and won’t let them leave without the person who brought them, so you don’t have to worry about them being snatched.” Me: “I wasn’t worrying about that, just wanted to accommodate your preference as far as crowd control.”

    At the party my kids were off doing their thing and toward the end, one was hanging by me, checking out her loot. Someone asked, in an alarmed voice, “where’s your other daughter?” Me (unconcerned): “I don’t know.” That earned me some “looks.” Gosh, it’s terrible to trust your kid to be able to survive without you while locked into a kid-friendly place. But magic amaze-o, they figured out the whole token / game / ticket / prize system, found and used the bathrooms, and had a great time without my assistance. When they felt funny about something, they backed off and found something more appropriate to do. Like the scarecrow, maybe they DO have a brain!

  2. Erics October 15, 2012 at 2:30 pm #

    Great job Carol. If more parents gave their children the opportunities that you have, I’m certain that there would be far less paranoia, insecurities, and even bullying. And sometimes, kids do use their brains more than their parents. Especially when it comes to common sense. In fact, because children do have less on their minds, they think more rationally than adults. Have to love the mind of a child. Parents can re-learn a thing or two from their kids.

  3. Ryan October 15, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    When I was a kid, my parents and I had a secret word that would be used in case of an emergency like that one. The only reason we were to ever go with someone that we didn’t have previous arrangements with or if we didn’t recognize them was if they responded with the phrase “dog food” if we asked them for the password. We never had to use it, but I use the same technique with my daughter today.

  4. ~~Silk October 15, 2012 at 3:00 pm #

    Thirty years ago, when my daughter was small and schools weren’t so vigilant and I was a single mother with a job, I knew that sometimes someone else would have to pick up my daughter from here or there. So we had a password. The “stranger” had to say “Mary Morris from Scranton” before Daughter would go with them. That way, she knew they’d come from me.

    When we got separated in a store or a crowd, rather than call her name, I’d go “QUACK QUACK”, and she’d answer “PEEP PEEP” until we located each other. She’s 37 now, and we still do it, and it still gets chuckles and strange looks.

  5. Rae October 15, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

    this reminds me of the fact that when growing up, we had a code phrase (pumpkin pie) and my parents would tell us that if someone other than us would have to get us from school we’d have to ask them for the code phrase. If they new it, then it was real. But, I was allowed to walk home the three blocks (~three quarters of a mile) on a daily basis – a route that didn’t have sidewalks at points! – and was a latchkey kid after elementary school.

    children have brains and can be taught to think logically and safely

  6. Trina October 15, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

    This reminds me of a situation with my 13 year old son last winter. As a 7th grader, he participated in a track team for grades 7-12. One day there was a mix-up and he thought he had been stranded without a ride home after practice. He got a ride home with a high school boy who I had never met. When I heard that I was a little upset and said that I didn’t want him to ride with teens who we don’t know. He told me he thought it was OK because an older boy he knows from boy scouts, and the older sister of his best friend (like a sister to him) were both riding with this other boy. So he felt that the boy must be trustworthy. I thought his logic was pretty good!

  7. Lollipoplover October 15, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

    “Thanks, Free-Range Kids, for reminding me that even in a world where heartbreaking and terrible things can and do happen to kids, life keeps going for the rest, and we can’t live in fear, infect them with our fear, and coddle them in safety for the rest of their days.”

    I second that. The constant fear and feeling that your kids need 24/7 protection is exhausting. As they grow more capable, it is moronic. Children can do most things that we adults can do, given instruction. Cooking, laundry, general domestic chores, can all be done by children. My kids fought over who was going to peel the potatoes last night- they actually think it’s fun! Walking and biking are fun too! Kids learn how to follow traffic patterns, spot dangers and hazards, and get easy exercise. And it’s free and fun to do with your friends.

    I’ve always wondered about the parents who say no to biking or walking to school. When do they think their child will be capable by themselves? And don’t they realize that there are just as many risks to their precious child as an adult as there are when they are kids? Do they just ban it for life?
    I won’t insult my kids and their growing intelligence with weak expectations. There comes a time when you will have to let your child off the leash.

  8. Buffy October 15, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

    @Silk, while I agree with and understand with the use of a secret word or phrase, I disagree with the belief that you shouldn’t use your child’s name in public.

    After all, if whoever wants your child to go with him needs to know the secret word, and your child is fully aware of that, what difference does it make if he knows the child’s name?

    Not to mention, it’s got to be exhausting to remember to never call your child by name in public.

  9. A Dad October 15, 2012 at 5:00 pm #

    @Silk – Love the location system – “Quack, Quack” and “Peep, Peep”

    Kids will astonish you with their ability to think. I’m watching my DD at 10 grow every day.

  10. Donna October 15, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

    I don’t get the code word thing at all. Do you send strangers to pick up your children? Do you think that friends and acquaintances are commonly kidnapping kids from school?

    I tell my kid to never, ever get into a car with a stranger and that I would never, ever send someone that she doesn’t know to pick her up from anywhere. That seems to cover it to me. I trust that my friends and family are not going to kidnap my child. And I would never send someone that my daughter doesn’t know well and is comfortable with to pick her up from anywhere. Absent a heated custody dispute, putting the idea in her head that even friends and family might try to kidnap her seems like it would instill fear and distrust.

  11. DutchMac October 15, 2012 at 5:28 pm #

    We used the password system when I was a child, too, but cell phones have meant that we use a slightly different system with our children. We’ve made it very clear to them that Mom or Dad will ALWAYS tell them if it’s ok to go with someone. On those few occasions when someone else has picked them up from school without their prior knowledge (i.e. the arrangements were made after the start of the school day), we always have that adult call us from the school playground and hand us the phone so we can say directly to our child ‘Yes, it’s ok for you to go with this person.’

    More often than not, this is met with a roll of the eyes and a ‘Duh, Mom, we KNOW this person and we KNOW it’s ok to go with them!’ but it at least keeps the system going, and hopefully if the unlikely situation should ever arise when someone unpleasant (God forbid) were to try something, alarm bells would go off in our children’s heads.

    But the password thing is probably a good one to reinstate as a backup if there is ever a time we’re not available by phone the moment school lets out.

  12. Lollipoplover October 15, 2012 at 5:48 pm #

    Also love the quack quack peep peep when lost. Reminds me of a corporate team building workshop I attended years ago. They put a sticker on our name tag with an animal (mine was a pig). We put on blindfolds and were told to find our teammates by the animal you were assigned as quickly as possible. My co-workers oinked, clucked, barked, and screeched like monkeys but the dogs won. Amazing what corporations spent money on “developing” us.

    We don’t have a code word, just an understanding. I don’t see a need for one. We have close family and friends that my kids trust- some of them live on our street. My kids commute with several other families and know these are places they can go for help if they ever needed it on their way to school. I trust their common sense- I helped them develop it.
    Honestly, they are more concerned about what to do in the event of severe weather, like not to bike in thunderstorms or tornado warnings.

  13. ~~Silk October 15, 2012 at 6:11 pm #

    Re my earlier post: My daughter has a very common name. If I called it in a crowd I might get several false positives. She might even hear her name randomly in a crowd. “Quack quack / peep peep” narrows it down considerably.

  14. Stephanie October 15, 2012 at 8:58 pm #

    We don’t use a password either. My kids know that if I trust the parents, it’s probably okay to go with them. After all, the only people I’ll be asking to pick up my kids are the ones they know.

  15. tina October 15, 2012 at 10:31 pm #

    As for the code word thing, it has been said over and over again on this blog that the most likely person to kidnap/molest a child is a family member/close friend of the family. There actually have been cases of family friends/family members picking children up from school/activities unknown to the parents. The code word thing doesn’t prohibit independence, takes two seconds, and the kid probably thinks it’s fun – think of all the childhood make believe games where “code words” are used. Certainly not worth making negative judgments about. 😉

  16. Donald October 15, 2012 at 10:34 pm #

    I loved the letter! It shows how by emphasizing stranger danger so much that we also teach kids not to think.

    Passwords or no passwords is not the point. Stranger danger instructions can get so kids don’t develop common sense.

    The child was hesitant to get in the ‘strangers’ car. This was the case even though she has been over the house hundreds of times and has even spent the night!

    This is a similar story about the girl who got lost in the woods. The search party was predominately male so she stayed hidden. She learned not to trust strange men even though they were trying to rescue her!

  17. Gina October 15, 2012 at 10:46 pm #

    When I was a child of 11(back in the dinosaur ages…1969) I was taught the usual “We will never send someone to get you unless we tell you..yada yada yada”. OK, so one day, a woman comes to pick me up from Sunday School…she is an older, Jewish lady with gray hair and very older Jewish lady clothes. She tells me that my Aunt has taken ill and my parents sent her (my Aunt’s next door neighbor’s mom whose grandson was a friend of mine)…she says “I’m Stevie’s grandma”. I had never met her, but she certainly looked like a “Stevie’s grandma”…and I was terrified of disobeying adults (my parents talked the talk, but didn’t walk the walk).. I went with her, but I later asked my mom…”Why did you do that; what should I have done?”. I know in my heart that had I NOT gone, I would’ve gotten into trouble. My own kids know that if they are not sure, it is ALWAYS ok to say no. NO MATTER WHAT. I wish I’d had that same reassurance.
    Interestingly, I allowed my daughter to go home from school with a playmate when she was in first grade. I had met the mom, been to the home and felt that she was a parent from school and all would be fine. (NOTE: We lived in a very upper middle class community.) The playdate went well. no issues. A few months later, this mom committed suicide and I found out she was an alcoholic and a drug addict who frequently drove drunk with her kids in the car. Just goes to show you…you never know. You can only do your best…there is no perfect system and our kids have to live, not just exist.

  18. Kimberly October 16, 2012 at 12:16 am #

    The problem with the password thing is that in a real emergency you might forget.

    I was friends with this family. One brother in law (a cop) was murdered. That sister and kids moved in with the grandparents. Less than a month later another brother in law was killed in a motorcycle accident in front of his wife and kids. They moved in with the family I knew. All the cousins went to the same school (6 kids).

    Well there was a nasty tummy bug, and several of the kids had other medical conditions. 4 landed in the ER, each of the mom’s taking a different kid/s (2 were in respiratory distress because something about the bug set off their asthma). 1 sick kid was at my house with my Mom. I went to the school at the end of the day to pick up the last kid (usually walked with her big sister who was at my house with the key).

    Knowing how things go in pick up lines I went early, and went into the office to explain. They had no problem releasing her to me, but I didn’t have the password. The kid refused to go with me. Finally the principal came out and told her Aunt 1 picked up cousin 1 to take him to the ER. Your mom picked up sister and cousin 2 and had to take cousin 2 to the ER, your sister is at Kimberly’s house with her mom. Then Aunt 2 had to pick up cousin 3 and 4 and take them to the ER. Your going with Kimberly now.

    To top things off I ended up with the bug (I worked with the schools so probably caught it earlier), and landed in the ER because I couldn’t breath either.

  19. Donna October 16, 2012 at 12:58 am #

    “As for the code word thing, it has been said over and over again on this blog that the most likely person to kidnap/molest a child is a family member/close friend of the family. ”

    Family kidnappings are done almost exclusively in child custody cases (where I can see having a code word). Molestations are most common among family members and friends, but hey don’t kidnap the children from school first. In fact, there is a good possibility that the molester would KNOW the code word if a close friend or family member. What better way to get unimpeded access to a child than to offer to pick her up in a pinch?

    “Certainly not worth making negative judgments about.”

    I wasn’t really making a negative judgment. I simply don’t understand the point. I see the odds of me being in a serious car accident and people needing to make arrangements to get my child on the fly without being able to communicate with me first as being very much higher, albeit still unlikely, than the odds of a friend or family member trying to kidnap my kid from school. Seems like an odd choice to make the more likely situation more difficult to protect against a highly unlikely scenario.

  20. Jynet October 16, 2012 at 1:18 am #

    I think you are my twin ~~Silk. My password was “Auntie Juanice said you had to come with me.” (as a very blonde northern Canadian white girl, most people wouldn’t expect my daughter to have a Latina godmother), and we yell “Bueller” at each other in crowds. LOL. It gets lots of laughs!
    ~~Silk, on October 15th, 2012 at 3:00 pm Said:
    I knew that sometimes someone else would have to pick up my daughter from here or there. So we had a password.

    When we got separated in a store or a crowd, rather than call her name, I’d go “QUACK QUACK”, and she’d answer “PEEP PEEP” until we located each other.

  21. Earth.W October 16, 2012 at 1:18 am #

    We have a very small circle of people around us so our kids know that it is highly unlikely for other people to pick them up from school and that if somebody does, the school would be informed ahead of time, as would they.

    Otherwise, our kids have spent their travel to school and back without us. Be it on the bus or on foot.

  22. Jenna October 16, 2012 at 2:14 am #

    We had a secret word too when I was growing up. Good reminder about that!

    It’s interesting how she brought up teaching kids to have common sense. I have a friend here whose daughter got separated from her kindergarten class at the school during the school fun run. Rather than finding any adult on the playground to ask for help, she sat down where she was because she was “lost”. Her mother had taught her that if she got lost, to just stay right where she was until she was found. Good advice in some circumstances (out in the woods, in a grocery store, etc.) but not very applicable. My friend was irate at the school that her daughter even got separated from the class and that nobody thought to look for her on the field where she was and gave the principal an earful about it the following school day. This kind of annoyed me because it was just a mishap–the field was crowded (the whole school, nearly 900 kids plus teachers and parent volunteers) were outside on the field that day and it was a little chaotic.

    I asked my kindergarten son what he would have done if he’d gotten separated from his class on the field at school like that. My son, the same age as her daughter, said he’d first go look in his classroom to see if his class was back inside and if there was nobody there, then he’d go to the office and tell the ladies there what had happened.

    Because this happened, we sat our kids down and talked to them about different situations and what they could do to help themselves in those situations. I think it’s important that we teach our kids to be resourceful and use their heads.

  23. Beth October 16, 2012 at 3:12 am #

    @Donna, I think you made a very good point, and one which I never thought about before. Why make a child fearful of friends/family that they know well?

  24. Sandy October 16, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

    My parents gave us a “code word” and told us that if someone else ever picked us up, they’d use the code word so we’d know they were okay. in other words, we wouldn’t have to worry about what they told us, because we’d know that our parents really did send them. I wonder if that might be helpful? My parents let us have a lot of freedom, but they also wanted to be certain we’d be comfortable if something unexpected happened, and this was one way to prepare us and settle any fears without having to freak us out about a neighbor or someone ‘kidnapping’ us. 🙂

  25. Lala October 16, 2012 at 6:51 pm #

    I don’t think the code word is a horrible thing or anything, but it sort of makes the natural meandering of family life into a spy mission with an element of danger. I guess the undertone of “dangerous transaction of goods” is what makes me not go all spy mission code word about it.
    I prefer, “oh, look its grandma!”

  26. Kathleen October 17, 2012 at 2:06 am #

    We never had a code word, but I’m thinking of the one occasion when it might have come into play when I was growing up, and I want to take issue with the idea that parents would only send people their kids know well. On 9/11, my dad was in the WTC. He survived, but we didn’t know that until late in the day. My mom was at home in tears; many of our relatives were there with her, and, living in the NY metro area, lots of friends and relatives were occupied trying to find out whether their own loved ones were okay. I was very surprised when the front office at my HS told me who was coming to pick me up – she was someone we hadn’t been close with in several years – but she was the one who offered, and my mom took her up on it. My sister and I were in HS, had grown up with her daughters, and knew her. But then we went to pick up my youngest sister, who was only 10 and probably hadn’t seen this woman much since age 5 or so. I walked into the elementary school when we walked in to get her, but would she have known it was ok to go with this acquaintance if I wasn’t there? I hope so. In a real emergency, in an emergency where life grinds to a halt, something that impacts the lives of entire communities, sending that best friend or close relative to pick a kid up isn’t always feasible. I think a code word would be a good choice in that situation (obviously something that would have to be established before it happens), but I think better would be for kids not to be scared of everyone except their close relatives friends – because these things are not things you predict or plan for, and because I don’t think it’s productive to spend too much energy worrying about trying to predict every possible unpredictable situation.

  27. Jenn October 17, 2012 at 11:08 am #

    This story reminds me of when I was four years old, waiting for the school bus to pick me up for kindergarten, nearly four decades ago. My mom had me wait outside for the bus (I was likely driving her crazy with excitement) and she told me to tell her when I was leaving for school. The bus drove up and I was supposed to yell to my mom and get on the bus. Instead, I sat on the porch because the bus driver was a stranger! The driver called me by name (how sneaky that stranger was in my four year old eyes!) and I still wouldn’t budge. My mom must have heard the bus or driver and told me to go. I told her that the bus driver was a stranger and might kidnap me. I was put on the bus and taken to school and didn’t get kidnapped. My mom has told me in later years that she realized at that point that she had gone overboard on my stranger danger training.

  28. ~~Silk October 19, 2012 at 7:11 pm #

    When my little brother was four (1963) he wanted so badly to go to school with his older siblings. This was a suburb of Pittsburgh, and the kids took a city bus to school. David knew where the bus stop was, having walked there with Mom a few times. One afternoon he decided to go to school on his own. He slipped out of the house and headed to the bus stop. Mom called the police, and a policeman found David three blocks from home, a half block from the bus stop. He rolled down the car window and asked, “Are you David?” David answered, “My Mommy tole me don’t peak to twangers!”

    The cop opened the car door and asked David if he’d like to go for a ride in a police car. David nodded yes and climbed in. But still refused to talk to him.

    (Who knows where he’d have ended up if he’d made it to the bus. The driver would assume he was with an adult, and the adults would assume he was with one of them. David was a very determined little boy.)