My kids are six and 9. They are smart, resourceful people, but they are 6 and 9 years old. They sometimes wonder what the cartoon characters on TV do when everyone else is at school, or how Santa can be in two different places at the same time. Heck, even I wonder about that one: more about the reason I’m supposed to be giving than what Santa is actually doing.
Every Sunday morning I go running. Our family schedule has recently changed so that my husband needs to be out of the house before I usually get back. There is sometimes a short period of time when the kids are left at home alone. They are independent enough to handle themselves without causing each other, or the house, harm. We also have really good neighbours should the kids need a referee to keep score on a best-of-three round of ‘rock, paper, scissors‘.
On Sunday, as usual, I wake up while it is still dark out and the birds are asleep. The kids don’t seem to get the idea of sleeping in on the weekend, maybe because it works so well for them during the week. So they are up with me as I am getting ready and leaving the house.
I mention to them that they may need to be on their own for a short time before I get back. They both nod, knowing that this means they can park themselves in front of the TV or computer, or scale the cupboards in search of the elusive “good snacks” hiding place. (Once my daughter found chocolate that we had brought from France but forgotten to give them — a year later.)
My daughter asks me questions about being on their own.
What should we do if something happens?
I am never sure how to answer this one. What is something? If you break your arm, call someone. If you start choking, call 911. If you are fighting over whose bowl has more Cheerios in it, go sit in your own room til you chill out. My standard answer is this: if the house is on fire, call 911.
Should I save the hamster if the house is on fire?
-No, I answer. The most important thing is to get out of the house and save yourself.
That’s mean. You would want the hamster to burn?
-No, I wouldn’t want that for the hamster, but the most important thing is for you to be safe.
Then what can I save?
I think kids like consistency in rules so I repeat myself again: If the house is on the fire the only thing you need to do is get out of the house.
But I like that picture of me that you took when I was five. The one with me on my bike, where I am wearing that favorite pink jacket that doesn’t fit me anymore. The one that you made me give away? I put that picture in my book, so I want to save the picture and the book too. Should I bring those with me when I am saving myself? What did you do with that jacket?
-Do you know how to call 911? I ask.
I guess, but I don’t know where the phone is. Can you leave me your cell?
* * *
To help us deal with these transitions and make us all feel more comfortable about the occasional situation where the kids are on their own, my daughter took a ‘Home Alone’ course this weekend. It teaches kids about all the possible dangers, challenges, and issues that they may encounter when they are solo. It helps them become familiar and builds their confidence in dealing with unknown situations. The course guide states that taking the course does not certify or qualify a child to be at home unsupervised. Indeed: one kid called home in the first half-hour of the program and actually went home. He thought the course was a waste of his time. Right, because video games and fires wait for no child.