By Francie Arenson Dickman
As we raced along the rolling hilled roads of Wisconsin looking at real cows and pigs, it seemed that the only things standing between my little girl and the rest of her life were the stuffed ones. I was no more ready to lose Piggy and Grazer than my daughter was. Rescuing them was my own act of preservation.
“I left Piggy and Grazer on the bus,” my thirteen-year-old daughter announced as I stood amid piles of laundry in the garage. Sobs followed, the kind generally saved for the loss of loved ones—the real kind, not the ones filled with stuffing and beans.
“Are you sure?” I asked, already aware we were headed nowhere good.
Between convulsions, she nodded. She’d left them under the seat in the same over-sized Ziploc bag in which they’d lived all summer. She was sure of it, and I believed her. Piggy and Grazer are almost 14 and 11, adolescent like she is. Though in stuffed animal years, they are ancient. Their parts and worn, some are missing. Hence, my daughter kept them sealed in the bag all summer. An act of preservation. She’d never consider leaving them at home, where they’d be safest, as they are her security, her comfort, the things she turns to in times of need.
Needless to say, we experienced tense times in our house as the objects of security themselves were the subject of an intense search and rescue. My husband and I divided our efforts. He kept in constant contact with Wilma at the bus terminal who was on high alert for the arrival of Lamers Bus 502. I calmed my crying daughter as well as my other daughter who was lying atop the filthy clothes, breathing in the smell of what she called “camp” and also crying. All this, while we did the laundry.
Finally, at 9:30 that night, we got the call that Piggy and Grazer were alive and well. Though half-way back to camp in Wausau, Wisconsin.
“Can we go get them?” my daughter asked.
“Wilma says she will mail them to us on Monday,” my husband announced.
“But it’s only Friday,” I said. “Where will they be all weekend?”
My husband explained that they’d stay with George the driver overnight who would then pass them off to a man named Tom who would then drop them at the terminal office where they would wait until Wilma returned. He added that my daughter would have them by Tuesday and maybe in the meantime, learn that she didn’t need them that much. “At least there will be a silver lining to all of this,” he added.
This was the kind of character building exercise that I’d been totally into only weeks earlier as I’d sat idle on the outdoor couch. Fueled by a piece I read in Slate Magazine, Kids of Helicopter Parents are Sputtering Out, (which reinforces what most of us already know, that when parents over involve themselves to protect their kids, they deprive kids of the chance to problem solve, to develop coping skills, to build resilience) I’d promised myself that I was going to be a different kind of mother when my kids returned from camp. I was going to be non-reactive. I was going to be removed. I was going to stop making their lunches and driving them to school. If they needed more money, they were going to get jobs. If they had an issue with a friend, they could resolve it themselves. In the child-free vacuum of summer, reason was allowed to reign. My girls are teenagers, I thought, it’s time—for them as well as for me—to take a step back.
Not that I’m a helicopter parent as the Slate piece described—motivated by concern for my kids academic performance. I’m more of a hovercraft, concerned with their well-being overall. I come by the tendency genetically. My father, like his mother before him, were hoverers, operating on a past century’s premise that a parent’s job is to protect her kids whenever possible from the harsh realities of life, which will eventually provide lessons in resilience whether asked for or not. My parental circumstance doesn’t help my propensity to rescue. That’s the downside of having twins and only twins. Although I have two kids, I get to go only one time around the carousel of childhood. And the ride goes so fast. I’m wont to prolong it. So, I’ll bring the forgotten lunch to school. I’ll make the unmade bed.
I’ll even—despite the Slate article’s warning that “students with hovering parents are more likely to be medicated for anxiety and/or depression”—agree to take a 7 hour car ride (3 1/2 hours each way) to recover a couple of inanimate objects.
“The odds of Piggy and Grazer ever making it into a mailing envelope seem dicey. Waiting doesn’t seem like the smart thing to do.” I told my husband.
My daughter agreed.
So we drove. Resolutions on resilience went out the window of our SUV at 6:30 the next morning with my husband, both of my daughters and the dog in tow.
No, driving was not the rational thing to do. We came home exhausted only to find that the dirty laundry had not washed itself. But mothering is not a rational business. In a week, my daughter would start 8th grade. In a month, she’d turn fourteen. Next year at this time, she’d not only be in high school but in Driver’s Ed. As we raced along the rolling hilled roads of Wisconsin looking at real cows and pigs, it seemed that the only things standing between my little girl and the rest of her life were the stuffed ones. I was no more ready to lose Piggy and Grazer than my daughter was. Rescuing them was my own act of preservation.
And our road trip was actually a fabulous reunion. We talked about camp. We looked at pictures. We laughed. We ate McDonald’s. The dog went to the bathroom on the side of the road. So did my daughter. And, I’m happy to say we recovered the animals. Did I miss an opportunity to help my daughter build her coping skills? Maybe. But we certainly made a memory.
Let that be the silver lining of the story, instead.
Francie Arenson Dickman is a contributing blogger to Brain, Child. Her essays have also appeared in The Examined Life, A University of Iowa Literary Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and Literary Mama. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and twin daughters and is currently completing her first novel.