Call them the Lock Kids, if you will. They are the antithesis of those Dick Dabney calls the Key Kids [op-ed, April 10]. They are the progeny of the suburban womb. They are the overprotected, overcarpooled, overmarvateened kids, shackled and corraled in green pastures of the subdivision sort. Their territory extends from the front door to the corner on the north and the cul-de-sac on the south. The outer world is accessible to them only through the roar of the station wagon: you see them peering out the rear windows of the mamas' worlds, cocooned as they pass their world by, being delivered to ther next enrichment experience.
I care about Randall and the other Key Kids, as Dabney does. And I wince at the multitude of stories I hear about them -- kids dumped by parents too busy, too selfish, too sophisticated to notice that their 4-year-old daughter is being molested by the babysitter's 12-year-old son. And then too sick to call the authorities about this supposedly licensed "day-care lady."
But isn't it easier to pretend that all values are relative? We're too embarrassed at Garp-like crusades to rid the streets of speeding maniacs who will eventually kill a kid. So we live and let live. And if Randall gets dumped on our doorstep, it's none of our business. A pity, yes, but Lord forbid, we wouldn't want to be tagged as moralists, now would we?
But I care about the Lock Kids too. I've spent three years in suburbia observing them, their parents, their tribal rites and, as Dabney says, feeling jumpy about them. There's the 6-year-old girl who's not allowed to leave her cul-de-sac to come play in ours four houses down the hill. There's the little boy in the neighborhood whose wardrobe consists of blazers and ties and an assortment of hooded jackets to swaddle and bind his virus-prone precious body. And the one who, two years later, is still using training wheels to ensure no accidents. Good for him, though -- he sneaks a ride on my son's bike whenever he can. The neighborhood gang of 7-year-olds are not allowed to play in the park two blocks away, supposedly because their mamas can't see them. They're all bused half a mile to school because there is one busy street to cross. One mother escorted her 6-year-old to my house three blocks away, she in her car, he on his bike, concerned, she said, because he had never been here on his bike before.
They can't go out in the rain because they'll get wet, and they can't go out in the snow because it's too messy when they come in (the same goes for sandboxes), and they can't go out in the heat of the summer because the AQI says so. We have them all locked up year 'round. They rarely see the light of day without a fence around it. They roll from school to pool to gymnasium. Skating rink, miniature golf, bowling; White Flint Mall, if they're lucky.
In the name of responsible parenting, the Lock Kids are smothered by their mamas. They're carted off to lesson after lesson, team after team, enrichment after enrichment. I became a very unpopular person every spring. When the great gab begins around the first of March about "What are you doing with your kids this summer?" I grit my teeth and say, "Nothing. They're going to play in the dirt just like I did when I was a kid." It does wonders for making the neighborhood mamas feel smugly superior. It's my donation to the suburban style.
I get to feeling very jumpy around them, too. Maybe it's because I don't like my role model, which is something like this:
My kids, myself, my dog sparkle. I drive a clean station wagon in the dead of winter slush because I want to. I'm a room mother and the car pool organizer. I schedule my kids' lives from seven in the morning to nine at night and I always have a nourishing meal on the table, on time. I see to it that my kid has a bunk bed and a dirt bike and a fancy pair of roller skattes. He belongs to Indian Guides and Soccer League, and takes French lessons before school, all of which I nose into with beady supervisory eyes because, after all, I care about my child. He'll never be a Randall as long as he's got me to collar him. I show proper maternal anxiety about his teeth (no Juicy Fruit gum in this house), his inoculation record I've memorized, and his psyche I've analyzed: I butt in whenever I can and rest assured that my kid wants for naught.
And what do you know? He wants for naught. He wants desperately just to be left alone for one moment. He wants just once to be doing nothing, to not have to blow his nose or take a bath or have one more lesson. He wants to fade back into obscurity. He want not to be the best, the smartest, the busiest. Tennis against the garage door is just fine and so is playing in the mud. He wants for naught all right.
I don't know what will happen to Randall, but I wonder what will happen to the Lock Kids. It's as if that awful mid-life crisis of the affluent has already begun at age 7. That sense that making it isn't all it's cracked up to be clouds the winning soccer team when, an hour later, they ask, "What are we doing next?" And something in me says that all these kids have to do is perform. Like dancing bears. Put them on the stage and they're fine. Put them in the audiience and they don't know what to look for or listen to. They're in advanced gourmet kiddie cooking but they don't know how to make a mud pie. We give them prizes for reading -- the Read-a-thon no less! What? Life is acted, cued and prompted, scripted, played and then applauded. If you're good you remember your lines and if you're bad you write your own script, like the boy who sneaks rides on my son's bike. And parents are the chief promoters of this parade.
Why are we so afraid to let them go? Unlock the shackles; let them slip through our clutches. Un-supervise, un-mama, um-pool and un-muck their cluttered lives. Why are we afraid? as Dabney asks. "For how else would anybody know you were fulfilled?"