Dear Dave

Monday 9 November 2009

Home alone

Dear Dave,

Thursdays can be hectic. Marie has a friend round from school for an hour or so and then there's a mad scramble to do homework and eat tea before she and Lewis have to be along the road at church for Anchor Boys and Rainbows. Once they're delivered and I've got home again with Fraser, there's only a twenty minute gap until I have to take him in the other direction to Boys' Brigade. Then I've got a pretty brisk walk to get back in time to collect the first two and head home to prepare food for Sarah's arrival from work so we've had opportunity to wolf something down before Fraser has to be picked up again and Marie needs seen to bed.

It's all a mad rush.

Last week, as I was fighting my way down the street to church with three children who were squabbling with each other over whether we were going to be late or not, a thought occurred to me:

Why had I brought Fraser?

It was dark and raining and I was only going to be gone a quarter of an hour. All I was doing was dropping off Marie and Lewis and coming straight back. Was it really necessary to drag their nine-year-old brother out of the house in the name of safety and supervision? If I'd left him at home, there was a good chance he wouldn't have moved from the sofa. As it was, I was making him cross roads in the wet and gloom. How exactly was that safer and more responsible? I trust him not to play with matches or knives. He knows not to put magnets near memory cards. There wasn't time to organise a wild party.

In fact, I could only think of two plausible disaster scenarios. One involved him suddenly deciding he needed the toilet and then falling down the stairs in his hurry to get there. The other involved me getting hit by a car while crossing a road in the wet and gloom, thus leaving him to his own devices for longer than expected.

Since he's careless and falls down the stairs approximately once a year, the first possibility was a legitimate concern. Then again, he was wide awake, not distracted by siblings and could focus his attention on the task in hand without having to waste any on ignoring me. I calculated the actual risk as on a par with brushing his teeth unattended. Who knows what he does with that toothbrush before putting it in his mouth? And I probably don't want to find out what he does while it's in there. Wrestling with his brother? Arguing with his sister? Gargling the Harry Potter theme tune? All three at once? That's got to be a choking hazard... Nonetheless, I let him face minty-fresh catastrophe twice a day. Lying on the sofa while I'm away for a few minutes really can't be much worse than that.

But what if it had turned out to be more than a few minutes? What if I'd woken up six weeks later in hospital? How would he have coped?

Truth be told, he might not have noticed. He knows where the biscuits and spare toilet roll are kept. He can get himself a drink of water. He's able to change the batteries in a Wii remote. I suspect he'd have been fine until Sarah got home. He'd definitely have been a lot more comfortable than Lewis and Marie as they lurked outside the church halls in the drizzle, forlornly waiting for me to fetch them...

All in all, bringing Fraser with me seemed to be extra effort for no real gain. It was just one more source of stress in a tight schedule. I decided to take the plunge and leave him behind this coming Thursday.

The next day, another thought occurred to me:

Why wait till Thursday?

Lewis had a party to go to at a friend's house round the corner. Even dragging Marie along, I could drop him off AND nip to the shops for some bread before Fraser's bladder realised I was gone and began contemplating launching him down the stairs. There really was no reason to take Fraser along.

He was delighted with this plan, almost looking up from his computer game in enthusiasm. I, meanwhile, marvelled at the convenience of only having two children to get ready to go and to shove out the door. With a parting warning not to brush his teeth, I left Fraser on his own.

It was both liberating and nerve-racking. Getting along the road was easier but I kept expecting to be quizzed at any moment by the Parent Police, demanding to know where my other child was. Is nine an appropriate age to let children look after themselves? If so, then for how long?

As we were going up the tenement stairs to the party, Lewis noticed something was different. "Where's Fraser?" he asked in genuine confusion.

"Home alone," I replied and immediately wished I hadn't. I had visions of Fraser taking on intruders in a hideously messy combination of slapstick and nail-guns. Worse, I felt the desire to buy Christmas lights. I tried to laugh it off. "He's probably sprinkling the stairs with marbles as we speak," I chuckled unconvincingly, "and electrifying the handle of the front door."

As it turned out, however, Fraser was once again safer at home than with me. Having dropped Lewis off, I was so busy making sure Marie was being careful in the dimly-lit stairwell that I stumbled on the steps myself. Twice. I was more than a little thankful to eventually make it back to ground level in one piece. Fraser, meanwhile, barely stirred while I was gone and risked nothing more than mild eye strain.

It was maybe a healthy experiment for us both. He got some peace; I got to work on overcoming my over-protective paranoia. Sometimes he needs to get out of the house for fresh air and exercise but I'll try leaving him behind more often. It'll be good for everyone.

I should make the most of it, though. I'll have another dilemma in a couple of years. What am I going to do when Lewis is nine? He's a good kid. I can't see I'll have any problem with leaving him home alone then. In fact, alone seems to work quite well with Fraser.

It's leaving them home together that I'll be scared of.

Yours in a woman's world,



JenK said...

Holy Cow- in all my someday-I-can-leave-them-home-alone scenarios it never once occurred to me that I would be leaving them home together. Ack. Can't breath.

Do you know what my brother and I used to do when we were home alone together? We would use hairspray to make designs on the kitchen floor and then light them with a match to watch happy faces and stars appear in flames. I don't want to know what my kids will do someday.

DadsDinner said...


That's possibly the least reassuring thing I've ever read.

Did your parents find out? If so, what did they do?

When I was 17, my parents went away for the weekend and I organised an unauthorised party. I admitted it years later and they were in denial and simply didn't believe me...