Sunday, September 6, 2009

Published September 6, 2009
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

In a recent family meeting, my 12 year old son raised an issue, asking whether we felt comfortable dropping him and his sisters, aged 9 and 10, off at the movie theater to watch a show sans parents. Fighting my nearly overwhelming desire to answer with a knee-jerk response of, “You’ll go to movies on your own when your kids are out of the house,” I tabled the issue pending a survey of aunts and uncles with kids older than ours.

As I’ve spent time deliberating, I’ve found myself watching the pendulum swing back and forth from “overprotective” to “just plain nuts” more than once, hoping to find a “sounds reasonable” somewhere in the middle.

I wonder if this process was much the same for the parents of Laura Dekker, the 13 year old Dutch girl who wants to sail around the world by herself for the next two years. I don’t know the Dekkers, but I imagine they watched the same pendulum swing, though I’m assuming theirs only swings between “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” and, “WHAT?!” with nary a, “Maybe it would be okay, if …” in between.

I’ve been watching the case closely, assuming these parents made their decision thoughtfully and wanting to avoid some of the thought processes they might have used. It’s easy for me (and every other rational human being in the world) to look at this family and say, “Hellooooo. This is a really dumb idea.” But if you’re the parent, are you going to see it that way? (Okay, well, if you’re you and not them, then yes, you’re going to see it that way, because you would never do this; but if you’re me and the decision is about a movie theater, is it going to be that clear cut?)

According to an interview with her lawyer, she’s been asking for the chance to sail around the world for quite awhile. Hoping to buy themselves time, her parents told her if she managed to get it planned and set up by herself, they’d let her do it. When she came back to them later having done just that, they reported they were stuck. (This is also exactly why I have made no such deals with Ray.) That’s a classic parenting mistake. When you make a deal with your child hoping their immaturity will give you an out, the correct response when they surprise you is to plead ignorance and buy them something. Does Laura have a Wii? I hear they’re fun.

According to reports, Laura’s father then told her if she could sail to England by herself without any problems, he would feel good about her sailing around the world. Apparently, when she was detained by British authorities who called and demanded he accompany her back to Holland, he did not see this as a problem. I could send my kids in to the theater on a test run to buy popcorn and drinks, but if the manager called me to remove them, I don’t think I’d see it as successful. I’m just saying.

The best advice we’ve gotten so far is to consider allowing the kids to take a cell phone in to the theater with them. That way, if they need me, they can get in touch. Since Laura plans to enroll herself in an online school, I’m assuming she can email her parents daily if she needs anything. Of course, we’re comparing an hour and a half with two years and a number of oceans here. Somehow, I’m not sure it computes.

For now, the issue is on hold. The Dutch courts want a psychological evaluation done to determine whether or not Laura can withstand the emotional rigors of a solo trip like this. Can she handle the isolation? The loneliness? The lack of sociocultural stimuli necessary for adequate emotional development? If they answer yes, her dream will come true and the email updates will begin.

“Dear mom and dad, today I saw three jellyfish, finished up my pre-Algebra homework, got attacked by pirates, and I’m all out of conditioner. Please send cash.”