We Are Both Right

How Tight Are Your Apron Strings?

How tight are your apron strings? ©Adrian/stock.xchng

People watching. It’s a favorite pastime of mine.

So much so that you could send me to an airport right now, subject me to a five-hour layover and I would be more than happy to find a seat and watch the comings and goings of other people the whole time. (Of course, if my children were with me, the tables would be turned and we would be the people being watched.)

The way things have been lately, I have actually had a lot more time for people watching. You see, it’s an inverse relationship: lots of time waiting in lines, going to practices, and sitting in doctor’s offices means more people watching, less sit-ups and blogging.

Sometimes people watching is the only thing to do. Like in the gymnastics waiting room — my daughter is new to the class and I don’t know any of the other parents yet, but I do know who’s running a marathon and which moms and dads teach in the same school together. Last week, between S.’s turn on rings and her flips on the low bar, I picked up on two conversations that intrigued me. (OK, so it was more like public eavesdropping than people watching, but it struck me the same way.)

In one room, three moms were comparing sleep away camps. The conversation soon shifted to convincing another mom who was new to the concept that she would be fine with sending her second grader away to camp for the entire summer. I couldn’t see her reaction to gauge whether she bought it or not.

That’s because in my direct line of sight was a mother pressed up against the window, talking at the same time through the glass and to her husband who was half-listening with Blackberry in hand.

“They’re not even watching her. She’s going to fall,” the mom said. (Just to set the scene: the room is lined in wall-to-wall heavy duty mats equipped to cushion an adult falling off the uneven bars and her preschooler was about a foot off the ground on another foam mat, while two instructors looked over a class of six.) She spent most of the class saying the same thing over and over again.

I was keeping my judgment-free cap on, and didn’t even react when I saw that her child was dressed in a zipped-up, velour track suit on a 60-degree day. As if she read my mind, she wondered aloud to her husband how some kids could be dressed in leotards on such a cold day — as my leotarded daughter jumped off the balance beam.

No offense taken. Because these are the observations I like best. They make me think. About how I make choices as a mom. How I view different approaches to parenting. And if such differences validate my way of doing things or make me feel inadequate.

This version of people watching, or parent watching, has made me question how tight the apron strings really need to be. Most people like to keep their kids close, others even closer. But where do I want to fall?

I always fancied myself a supportive and open-minded parent, one who would be happy to help my children find their wings and learn to fly. I can picture myself smiling (with a single tear on my cheek) as we pull up to campus on the first day of college. I want to be the mom who could not be more proud that her child becomes self-sufficient and independent.

I truly believe that I will feel fulfilled to see my children make a life of their own — and not feel the need to pick out their furniture, invite myself on the honeymoon or even into the delivery room for that matter.

Of course, my two are still young. And I still smother them with worry sometimes. But there are lots of times when I think that maybe there’s a motherly doting gene I’m missing.

I let a lot of things fly, like hats on a cold day. There are times I expected them to toughen up, even as toddlers, and stick out a long day without a nap at home or forgo the favorite sippy cup which hadn’t made it through the dishwasher yet. It doesn’t leave me panicked to let them go on field trips and ride school buses without taking the teacher’s cell phone number.

Nine years into the experiment and I haven’t made any fatal mistakes. So that’s a good thing. But I’m wondering if I should be holding them tighter, worrying more, and not wanting to let go.

Tell me, how tight are your apron strings?