I Am Not a Helicopter Parent (and Other Lies I’ve Told Myself)
The lady at the front desk of the community center twitched ever so slightly at the sound of my voice. We’d never met before—not face-to-face—but as she slid the glasses off her nose and eyed me up and down like a boxer sizing up an opponent, I knew that she knew me.
“You must be Mr. Blasengame,” she said, her mouth caught somewhere between a smirk and a laugh. “We’ve been expecting you.”
I am not a helicopter parent. I am not a helicopter parent. And if I say it enough, it might actually be true. I try to let Little E bounce fearlessly around the edges of her reality, but it’s hard not to try and make sure every surface she careens off of is covered in downy feathers and sparkly platitudes.
But then, what is parenting if not a series of lessons in letting go?
When preschool let out for summer, my wife and I found ourselves overburdened with a major work project. So we decided to sign Little E up for a local summer camp. Only we were late to the game and our sole option was an all-day science camp. The science part was awesome—my kid’s already well on her way to being a nerd. But the all-day thing? A full week of eight-hour days in a strange place with strange kids concocting strange experiments?
My mind was a strobe light of mishaps and bullies and worst-case scenarios.
The week before camp started, I began calling the community center asking questions. (What is the fire-resistance rating of the classroom door?) And more questions. (In the case of an alien abduction, would you call me or the CIA first?) I took a quick tour of the facility, which looked like any other kids’ club space I’d ever been in. “It’s going to be fine,” my wife said, growing impatient with my worrying. “No, seriously,” she said, “just shut up about it.”
Unfortunately for my wife, I would be vindicated.
It was only day one of camp, but I already knew Little E’s daily schedule by heart and knew she’d be outside playing at 11:30. Knew, thusly, that I would in the general area watching from afar. Just in case.
I scoped the scene, getting just close enough to see through the trees that she was going nuts with friends on the jungle gym. This was awesome! From my hiding spot, I saw her ask an older person to put her in a toddler swing—one of those gizmos that look like a hard rubber diaper tied to a chain. She swung for a bit, slowed gradually, came to a full stop, and then…just sat there.
A few minutes later I heard the crying—her crying—begin.
Initially I didn’t move. This is one of those life moments where she finds out that the real world doesn’t meet your every need and blah, blah, blah. But as her cries entered the heightened realm of panic, I got a visual bead on the teacher who was officiating some dust-up over by the monkey bars.
Five minutes went by (or was it 45 seconds?) and Little E was still stuck, sobbing on the swing set. I took a few steps closer and could see now that she was roasting in the sun. Her face was red and snotty and she was starting to scream.
I began to sprint.
In my mind’s eye, I flew onto the scene like an honest-to-goodness superhero delivering her from evil. But in reality, I probably just looked like a sweaty, panicked creep. Her eyes got huge as I lifted her out of the swing and hugged her close. Then calmly, tactfully, scraping together whatever kindness remains in my soul, I asked the teacher what the heck was going on and why wasn’t he paying attention to my kid?
To his credit, he took it like a champ. No excuses—just apologies and promises that it wouldn’t happen again if we decided to keep her in camp.
E’s crying had lessened to quiet whimpers by now and I left the decision to her. I got down on one knee and told her that she’d been brave enough for the day and I could take her home if she wanted.
Her answer was typical: “I (heave) don’t want (snotty inhale) to miss luuuuunch.”
And she didn’t. The rest of the week went smoothly. The teacher still eyed me like a tiger escaped from the zoo whenever I showed up, but other than that, Little E had a blast: She painted, played, and partied.
As we prepare for her next upcoming summer break, we’re already deciding which camp to send her to. For my part, I’ve promised to let my foot off the gas a little, to not be so helicopter-y. But rest assured, community-center camp guy… I will be watching.