Chicago mom: Let kids just be kids

If I sit and think back to that day, the one time I threatened to kill myself in front of others, I can feel it in my chest. The heart pumping faster; fear, stress, anger all bubbling up; a slight choking on my throat.

I was a very emotional pre-teen. Looking back through the eyes of an adult that has been diagnosed with a mental illness (Postpartum Depression) I can see that I was probably more than a little emotional, but hindsight and experience are 20/20. Back then no one would have thought about depression in a tween. No one thought about stress, and surely no one noticed the borderline eating disorder.

Nonetheless, there I was in yet another screaming match with my sister. I don’t even know what it was about; time does that to you. I remember being over it. Over being the oldest, over having to be the adult, over being “in charge.” I just wanted someone else to take care of me, and as I yelled and grabbed a kitchen knife, ran out to our porch and considered jumping or cutting my wrist, I just didn’t want to be there, be doing this anymore.

See, I was a latchkey kid.

From six years old and on I wore my house key on a gold string around my neck and would walk home from the bus stop and let myself, and eventually my two sisters, into the house. We would march right to the phone and call one of our parents at work to let them know we were home. A snack would have been left out for us on the counter and a note. We would watch TV, play, do homework. It wasn’t a long time, there was about an hour and a half to two hours depending on traffic between when we got home and when my mom did. For the most part it was no big deal, and it wasn’t every day. I credit it to my independence, my resilience and my self motivation.

As I read the details surrounding the tragedy to hit our community, I see-sawed between horror and sadness as a mother, and the scary, but real, understanding that it could have been me. I could have been the one that snapped and did something horrible.

I wasn’t. Only God knows why.

The pre-teen/teen brain is a mess of hormones and emotions, growing into an adult body and world. The pressure to be and act like an adult when, mentally, still so much a child, can take its toll. As much as our family wants the answer to the question of “why?” Why did this happen? What went wrong? How could it be stopped? Part of me, the broken part inside of me, wants it to remain unknown. Hearing that she was broken, that kids weren’t meant to live like this; taking care of each other and taking on adult roles. Well, that would just confirm that I was broken before I even knew it  and that I could have ended up a monster.

I often wonder if we’re too soft on our kids these days. I see parents driving them a block or two to wait for a bus in a warm, dry car. Even my own kids seem far less independent at their age than I was. Depending on me and my husband for help with more things or just for entertainment.

I had a post in drafts questioning my children’s abilities from the eye of a former latchkey kid. My kids can’t work a microwave, or know how to call a place of business and ask for someone by name. They don’t know which keys open which locks without being prompted. I was worried I was failing them; raising them to be dependent on others. This horrible tragedy has had me go back and re-think all of that. They are only kids for such a short time, a blink compared to the length of their life. I’m more okay now just sitting back and letting them be kids while they have the chance.

We may never know why things happen. Why one experience can empower one person and crush another. All we can do is look back, evaluate and change course as needed to make sure we are doing the best we can right now, for the kids we have right now.

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