Over the weekend, Miles had a play date with a former school buddy. We happened to see the five-year-old with his mom while out running errands earlier that week. I gave her my cell phone number and Saturday, she called. In arranging for them to play, I welcomed her into our home and thanked her for calling to arrange a time for the kids to play. In response the child’s mother said, “actually, I’m trying to get rid of him. I’m trying to do my hair because I start a new job on Monday.” My friend Raina has been telling me for years how parents will leave their child(dren) in your care even though you are a stranger to them. In this case, I think this mom feels that she knows me because she recognizes my face, but she doesn’t even know my last name (which is different from my son’s). She stepped into the dining room when she arrived, but felt that she didn’t need a tour of the place where her son would be staying; she just left. Hearing about this behavior from parents disturbed me, but seeing this experience up-close might best be described as frightening.
My mother was of the sort who would leave me in the care of any of her friends–especially if they had children and declared their love for kids. In fact, one of the reasons why I didn’t like going places with my mom was because of how presumptuous she was with respect to my need to be around other children. The myth that children without siblings are lonely is just that, a myth. As an only child, I was accustomed to being by myself and having space for myself and deciding for myself how this space would be used, not having this sovereignty marked my lack not the absence of company. The desire for “a room of [one’s] own” isn’t a cry for a population increase, but an acknowledgement of how the presence of others can disturb and disrupt another’s need or desire for quiet and solitude. The years when my mother made decisions for me regarding my social calendar were my least happiest. My mother seemed completely oblivious to what can happen to children who are left to reign under other children’s rule.
While I mostly escaped from this unscathed, I am still marked by the violence I witnessed or was forced to navigate through without an advocate. For example, one of the families my mother left me with had two children my age, but we had nothing in common. She and the other women, her friends, left the house for who knows what, and in the interim the children’s stepfather came home. He started grabbing on the daughter and kissing her and feeling on her in a way that was far from normal. I can’t remember whether he took her upstairs or not, but I remember her misery; her begging him to leave her alone. Once he was exposed as a child molester, nothing happened. The wife did not divorce him, require that he undergo therapy, vacate the house. NOTHING. Years later, people tried to act like this story was complicated by the young woman’s use of her sexuality for profit. She became the black Lolita. Temptress. Jezebel. The person I saw squirming to get out of her stepfather’s clutches was defeated. Strong, empowered women don’t plead for their release from another’s firm grip.
The woman who left her son with us on Saturday offered an invitation for Miles to visit her home on Sunday. Despite the fact that I never talked about my son as though he were trash, she presumed I did. She was wrong. There is no way I would leave my five-year-old son in unfamiliar territory to fend for himself. I have never met this woman’s husband, her 19-year-old son, or her middle school aged daughter and this woman thinks I would leave my son in their care? At their mercy? While I certainly think my son precocious, I also know that even this very term depends on age to define it: Men aren’t precocious, boys are. Boys do not have the authority to determine the landscape they inhabit or the power to control it’s governing.
You wouldn’t know how powerless children are by the way their parents discuss their lives. This woman who left her youngest child with virtual strangers, did so under the auspices of her son’s wants and persistent requests. My son’s stated requests do not overrule our decisions or authority. Unlike our parents, we do recognize that our son is not our duplicate. We depend on our powers of analysis and our understanding of the world and the violence done to children in this world to inform the choices we make on his behalf. If this woman would speak of her son in the same terms you would use to describe waste management, I can’t believe that she’d do better in naming my son.