childhood, motherhood, Philosophy

The Intoxication of Independence

Sometimes I could get drunk on my freedom. It’s heady stuff, and just like alcohol, if you get enough of it it makes you giddy. I get in my car, and think “I could drive… anywhere.” I could. I don’t, but that’s a choice I make. I don’t have to carry my papers with me to cross state lines. As long as I’ve got money to buy gas, I could just keep driving until I found a place I liked, and I could settle down there and work for more money if I wanted. Oh, I’m not an anarchist. I’m not looking for total freedom from every rule that bounds me. I have a driver’s license that certifies I’m safe on the road, for instance. I could drive without it, but there would be consequences if I were caught. Still, this philosophical musing isn’t about the laws of the land. It’s about personal accountability and responsibility. So much freedom. And most of the boundaries that keep me from hopping in my vehicle and heading to, say, Colorado for a cat, are self-imposed.

I’ve been thinking about this. I taught my daughters how to ride the bus recently. We worked our way home from their college in the nearby Big City, to our little town. As we were sitting and waiting for the bus to come, on a raw cold damp day, I asked the Junior Mad Scientist, ‘why couldn’t you guys have done this on your own?’

I had to learn it on my own. Not a lot older than the Ginja Ninja, newly married, a nervous country girl skittish in the city, using the bus to get to work every day. No choices. Unlike my girls, learning to drive was not an option – my parents couldn’t afford a teen driver on their insurance, so we weren’t taught to drive. The idea was that when we were out on our own and working, we’d be able to afford to get our own insurance, and a car, and find someone to teach us to drive… I learned to ride the bus. On my own.

The JMS responded ‘It’s more comfortable when you come with us the first time.’ I leaned on her shoulder and said ‘I’m an enabler Mom, and I’m going to have to stop that.’

I will, too. It’s endangering their independence if they learn to be completely reliant on what I can give them, can help them with. Even if it’s just the emotional support of having me with them when they face an uncomfortable situation. One day, they need to be able to fly on their own, instead of clinging while I’m trying to launch them. But first, they need feathers and the wing muscles developed enough to get airborne. Which is why I was riding the bus and making sure they understood how to signal for a stop, how to pay their fare, how to navigate (so much easier with an app to do that via GPS than back in my day of maps and waiting endlessly for a bus that might come eventually). Once they grasped that they could get themselves to the mall, the movies… a job, I suggested. Then they were all for this new and scary thing.

There’s no age where this stops. We’re constantly faced with choices: tackle the task that we’ve never done before, or retreat from it, giving up a little potential freedom in exchange for safety and comfort. It’s easier to not have the freedom. Safer. It’s both exhilarating to know I could simply leave all my cares behind and start over (yes, yes, I know rationally this isn’t quite so easy as it was in the old days) and frightening. I am in charge of my own fate. If I screw it up, there’s only one person to blame. I don’t have an enabler mother to cuddle up to (Hi, Mom! I love you, but I’m glad you’re not too close) and ask for help every time I’m a bit uncomfortable. One of the things that endeared me about the First Reader, early in our relationship, is that he would put a hand in the small of my back, gently push me into a situation that petrified me… and close the door behind me, with him still on the outside. I was on my own. I had to flap my own wings, he wasn’t going to be talking into my ear telling me exactly what to do. Nor was he a menacing presence behind me as a threat of what would happen if I screwed it up. I was free to make my own mistakes, and to take care of them on my own.

I’m free to drive. I don’t have to wait around for someone to give me a ride. Or for permission to leave the house. Or…


4 thoughts on “The Intoxication of Independence

  1. Very good post! I’m glad that the girls are learning to be more independent, but I’m also glad that they have your support as they begin to get their feet under them!

    I didn’t even learn to negotiate ‘city’ streets on foot until I went to college; Sitka was (and still is) a small town, but even that was a bit scary to a sheltered and shy seventeen-year-old. The city bus came several years later, the year you started first grade, and I had to learn that one on my own because your dad was at a remote Air Force assignment. I didn’t drive (and wasn’t about to learn in Eugene, OR, which even back then was a pretty good sized town), but I had to get your baby sister to her special-ed pre-school on the University of Oregon campus. It involved taking a bus to the city center and changing to another bus with my arms full of baby, stroller, diaper bag, and purse. I am so thankful that your aunt Julie came to stay with us that year, and could watch you and Maranatha most of the time, so I usually only had to manage one little one. We had about a mile to walk at each end of the route; after we moved to Springfield to be closer to our church, where you were going to school, the mile between the house and the bus was mostly gravel — pushing one of those small-wheeled strollers on a gravel surface was not easy. And, looking back, I’m not at all sure that Juniper actually benefited from being in that program. But at the time it was the best I knew how to do. Your grandma came out and helped us once in a while with rides to the store, but mostly it was the bus or walk. Your dad was too far away to help us, so I had to be responsible for everything. It was a huge growing time for me, and we all survived! But much better to be able to learn independence gradually, with a little help, rather than being pushed in at the deep end.

  2. Finding this strange — the female perspective, I suspect, but maybe not. I came to Cincinnati from Omaha at age nine and my mom immediately started teaching me how to get around in the city. She taught me how a street grid system works — where the baselines are, what they mean, how to tell how far you are from one by house numbers. I’d been taught to orient to compass points and always know where local North is at a MUCH earlier age. (I can’t remember not knowing). Having grown up in New Jersey, just outside of New York, it was natural for her to have and appreciate city street smarts. That first summer, before school started, I had a dentist appointment in the Provident bank building at Seventh and Vine. I rode the Number 10 bus downtown and back (fare was a dime). I have never lost that ability to orient and navigate — in civilized parts, at least. I wonder when and how others learn all this.

    1. Mark, I don’t know if my slow development of city navigation was a female thing; I suspect it was more because we lived very rural and spent almost no time in town. I, too, can’t remember ever not knowing how to find north, and my mother taught us very young how to not get lost in the woods, and what to do if (when) we did get lost (although honestly, I don’t remember any of us ever getting more than slightly turned around for a short time). We played all over several square miles of forest and fields, plus (while we lived in Alaska) a pretty-good-sized lake, and once we moved to Oregon, a small river, without any issues. But it took me a long time to get even slightly comfortable with more urban settings.

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