Saturday, September 20, 2008


I saw this boy tonight on the Arbat, all by himself, playing both his violin and flute for money.

I hope he has a family. I hope he's not hungry. He was wearing fairly nice clothes, was warmly dressed, and well-groomed, so I'm guessing he isn't in trouble... Nevertheless, I paid him very well so I could film this little clip...

I can't imagine letting my kid at that age be alone in the middle of the city.

This was actually a topic that came up in class this past week; the majority of my eleventh graders have been left alone for significant periods of time (weeks! a month!) while their parents were gone, even overseas... I couldn't believe it! I thought they were kidding! 

They, in turn, thought I was joking when I said that if an American mother left her child in the car while quickly running into a shop -- even for three minutes -- she could be both arrested and publicly excoriated on the evening news. 

At what age do most Americans let their kids be alone for a bit in the house? Mom? When was I? A good Russian friend here started leaving her kids alone for a few hours when they were eleven and six. 

I know that I was babysitting at twelve... but the idea of having been left alone for extended days?! I still can't fathom it.

While I know that Katya, in theory, could walk to school -- she obviously knows the way and it's only minutes from our door -- I can't imagine exposing her to so many dangers! A careless driver who could go too fast on the path near the school... A criminal who has observed our daily routine and might just be there waiting for her... NO WAY!

I feel badly that she doesn't get the doses of independence that meant so much to me as a kid: exploring the woods near our house, making my own secret forts...; walking to and from neighbors' homes (our moms would call each other upon departure/arrival); going for bike rides around the block with my friends; walking to and from the bus stop... Who knows when I'll let her do those things...

(Hmm... This raises another interesting point... All of that independence meant that our mothers had a whole lot more time by themselves. They weren't with their kids 24/7, coping with the stresses of trying to arrange social activities for their kids that they then had to supervise. We were also relieved to get a break from our parents and siblings, perhaps preventing constant tension and bickering. If I could have had a break from the kids today, I wouldn't be hiding out in a cafe that has wifi for a few hours right now). 

I see my students leave school, taking various public busses/subway lines home... Then I think of one of my ninth graders, the sweetest girl, who was hit by a car last week while she crossed in the crosswalk on her way home. (She got out of the hospital this weekend and is going to be fine, thank God!). 

As they say in Russian, "Malenkie deti, malenkie bedki." Little children, little problems... Meaning of course, that as they grow up, the worries become only graver...

Added later tonight: 

As I headed home, I was stunned to see a young girl (five-years-old, perhaps) standing next to a baby in a stroller, in the street, in the dark, at 10:30 p.m. No parent anywhere in sight. It took me over a minute to get my camera out of my bag and to walk to a spot where I could capture a picture; just as I took off the lens cap, a woman came out of the pharmacy and walked to the stroller. 

Why on earth hadn't she brought the kids in with her?! That pharmacy has wide doors and a smooth floor; it would have been easy to bring them in! And why did she leave the kids in the street?! Had they moved a few feet, they would have been up on the pedestrian path! That area of the road is dangerous; cars whip right around it! And to leave them there in the dark?! 

I was flummoxed.


Tina in CT said...

I purposely would not be home when the bus came so that you got used to letting yourself in in case I was not there. You were EXTREMELY mature and independent so it worked. I think I started that in the spring at when you were in 2nd grade. I would wait around the corner in the car and give you just enough time to get the key from the hiding spot and unlock the door. I had told you ahead of time that I might be a few minutes late and to walk in. I did it a few times that spring. The following year, I would do it now and then and be home within a few minutes of when you walked in the house. We had Johnny and Mimi next door that were always home so you could have always gone there. By time you were in around 4th grade, I sometimes was about 5 - 10 minutes late and you would let yourself in. I hardly did it but you were seasoned by then. I gradually had increased the time each year so it was no big deal to you.

If we were ever away, you stayed at your grandmother's.

I am shocked at how the Russians leave their children. Just thinking what would happen gives me heart palpitations. Thank goodness you have the American mindset or I'd be a WRECK. Just the thought of Katya's being alone on the sidewalk by the busy street gives me the creeps. You know how I worry about child abductors or perverts. By time she is old enough to walk to school, I hope she is back here in the US.

That is horrible about one of your students and her being hit. Thank goodness she was not killed and will be fine. The way those people drive there does not surprise me as they are maniacs.

You hit it right. We moms do get much more childless time as you kids lived in a family friendly neighborhood and could just go out the door to play in our yard or the with the neighbors in theirs. This started as preschoolers. Of course, we also had you and your friends in ours playing so it all worked out beautifully. You had so much more freedom.

Times are different now and I don't like your girls playing in my front yard but out in the back and side yard where they aren't in full view of anyone driving by.

Yes, I am a worrier and it's my middle name.

Tina in CT said...

Why were a five year old and infant out at 10:30 PM and not home asleep???? What is wrong with people???? And to leave them outside the store!!!!

alphamama said...

I have 3 kids, one bio daughter born and raised here in the US and 2 kids adopted from Kazakhstan. My adopted kids were with their birthfamily until they were around 5/6 yrs old...they were unsupervised a lot and often were left alone. When we first adopted them, it was very difficult for them to accept that I wouldn't just let them roam the streets at will. Granted that my kids came from bad situations with pretty dysfunctional birthfamily...which landed them in the orphanage...but I'm now wondering if some part of this is a cultural difference that I just wasn't aware of. What do you think?

Dee (Boston, MA)

Tami said...

When we were in Ukraine last winter I had the opportunity to have this very discussion with our facilitator, Lev. He said that he would walk to and from school, on his own, at the age of seven. That's walking to the subway, getting on and finding the right transfer stations...all by himself. I about died! I explained the situation in America where you can't leave a young child that age by themselves and he laughed. He thought we were a bunch of weenies!
I know what you mean about losing their independence. Our kids were earning quite a bit of freedom when we were in our small town in Kansas. Alek would have been allowed to walk/ride his bike to school every day starting this year. I can't even begin to think about that here. And we were starting to let him stay home by himself while we ran errands around town or were just a few blocks away. While our new town certainly isn't huge, there are still pretty big concerns. I don't think Alek will be staying by himself until he's in HIGH SCHOOL! ;>)

Svetlana said...

Most of the stores in Moscow don't alow strollers and it is normal for parents leave their babies in it wile they shopping. They think that it will take only few minits specially if baby sleeping they won't take it with them.

Fioleta said...

My parents left me at home on my own during the day from the early age, because school only went for half a day, but they worked full day and there weren't such things as babysitters. Though local old women, sitting outside, the blocks of flats would keep an eye out for any trouble. It's just different culture in which it is normal to leave kids at home on their own. Everyone did it, many people still do. I liked the independence and glad I had it, though I suspect I'll be parenting my daughter differently.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about in Russia, but being from Finland, it is very safe for a six or seven year old to walk through the city. I now live in America, and would never dream of letting my children go for a walk alone. This sort of thing depends on how mature the child is and where they are.