All this to say, there were quite a few kids there last night. And our children, seeing as they're at a stage in life where they want to spend time with other kids - were tagging along after the older (10+ years) for much of the event. Which means that I was tagging along with our children (plus the 10+ year old kids) for much of the event. For as much as I'm learning to trust the whole growing up process, I still believe it's imperative to watch your children like a hawk. And so I do.
Not long ago, one of my friends told me that another friend had hosted a spend the night birthday party for their 10-year old daughter, and her daughter had been invited. Everything seemed to go well at the party but a few days later, the parents of the birthday girl realized that their daughter had logged on to an x-rated website and been showing all the birthday party attendees completely inappropriate videos. They were horrified, so they called all the different parents whose children had attended the party and apologized. For whatever reason, I wasn't too surprised when I'd heard what had happened. I know the family of the birthday girl and I know that there are very few filters on what she's exposed to. Couple a lack of filters with the power of the internet at her fingertips and bada boom: a ten-year-old is now exposed to things that people should never be exposed to (as in never ever).
So yes. I watch our children like a hawk, have limited their internet access to pbskids.org, will not permit them to spend the night elsewhere without me, and will usually accompany them to play dates at other people's homes. Because I'm their mother and my comfort level is best suited when my children are within 100 feet of me.
It's who I am.
Last night, the kids were playing in our neighbor's pool for much of the evening, but then I noticed they disappeared. So I trekked off to find them. What I found is that my girls had wanted to go in to the basement and play Barbies - but had instead wandered in to a room of fifth graders playing Truth or Dare. In the less than five minutes they were out of my sight, Elizabeth was crying because some older boys were teasing her and William and Carolyn were shell shocked. There was a wave of relief across my children's faces when I walked in to the room and scooped up Elizabeth. But when she whispered what had happened, I told the room full of older kids that if they DARE made any of the little kids cry - it was a TRUTH that I would make them cry. And then I went off to find their parents.
A bit later, as we walked home, I told our children that they need to stay away from older kids. Not just because older kids may be doing things (or discussing things) our children are too young to comprehend, but because sometimes older kids will try to impress their friends and can be mean. By making other people feel small - it makes them feel bigger and stronger.
This morning at breakfast, Henry was so excited to show his siblings how he'd learned to cut at his Preschool Cotillion class this past week, so as he firmly held a strawberry with a fork and poised his knife to cut, he eagerly said, "Guys! Guys! Look! Look at what I can do!" And one of his siblings rolled their eyes and said, "Duh Henry. You already showed us how you can do that yesterday."
Their tone sounded so much harsher and older than their eight-years and their words definitely cut me more deeply than they cut their brother. So I said, "Just because you saw older kids treating little kids poorly yesterday does not mean that you can behave that way in our home. Let me make it abundantly clear right now ... there is only one way to behave and that is with kindness and respect." Then I sent them to their room for ten minutes to contemplate what I'd just said.
Later, I told our children that as they continue to grow up, they're going to try things out in an attempt to figure out what works and what doesn't. I stressed that what never works is to try and make someone feel badly about themselves ... even when it seems like it is deserved or might get laughs from others; they shouldn't try to make themselves feel big by making others feel small. Unless of course the other people are teasing little children and then it is fully justified to make them feel like a bacterium.
In this life, it is their job to be true to their hearts and look out for one another.
And also ... to remain within 100 feet of me until they're 30.