This morning, the twins and I walked down to the car as we always do. They held my hands as we went down the stairs and crossed the street to the lot where our car is parked. Once we made it to the (small) parking lot, I release their hands and let them run over to "MaddieRiley car" on their own.
As we went through our routine today, there was a guy walking down the street, nicely dressed. I assume he was headed to work. He looked like he was about my age. As he ambled along, he watched us cross the street and watched the kids as they ran over to the car, squealing with glee. He had a smile on his face.
I would do the same thing, if I were that guy. It's fun to see kids get joy out of simple things like running over to their car, and it's especially fun to see that joy on a sunny, warm(-ish) spring morning. The guy looked perfectly harmless. He might be a parent himself. He probably lives in the neighborhood, although I'd never seen him before.
I hate the fact that he made me feel suspicious. I hate the fact that I wanted to pick Maddie and Riley up and get them in the car as fast as I could, away from his gaze. I hate that there are forces in this world that put me on the defensive around strangers—especially men, if I'm being honest. I want to be able to trust people and give them the benefit of the doubt, but media hype and parental paranoia make that difficult.
It's part of my job as a parent to protect Maddie and Riley and keep them safe. At the age of not-quite-two, I find my role and responsibility in the area of safety to be pretty clear: the kids are too young to make decisions about what is safe and what it not. I make those decisions and I teach them as we go along. Things will get infinitely more complicated as the kids get older and start making more and more decisions about who they talk to, who their friends are, etc.
I think all parents struggle with that balance between parental control and a child's independence. Something about that stranger this morning brought it into focus for me. Parenting toddlers is not easy, but I know there different and difficult things about parenting older kids, too. I can already see how hard it will be to not want to control every aspect of M&R's life, to let them make their own choices, and to respect what they want to do even if it's not what I would do. Obviously, safety comes first and there are discussions and negotiations involved in those choices. But I can see how letting go and letting your kids grow up is hard.
I didn't expect to be thinking about this so early. And, quite frankly, I didn't expect that seeing Maddie and Riley's growing independence would be so hard. As a single parent of twins, each bit of independence they gain is a huge help to me logistically. But their emotional independence is more bittersweet.