Me: Lock this door and don’t answer it if someone knocks. I don’t care if it’s grandma or Jesus. You don’t come to the door and stare at the person knocking, you don’t make gestures at the person, and you don’t yell that your parents aren’t home. You do not come near this door at all. Do you understand?
Him: Yes, mom.
Me: And don’t answer the phone. Even if it rings 800 times and you hear Santa Claus on the answering machine. You do not touch the phone, not to make a call or answer a call. Are we clear?
Him: Yes, mom!
Me: And you don’t go outside. Not even if your homework is finished and your chores are done and you really want to ride your bike. You do not step foot out of this house, okay?
Him: Gahhhhh! Yes, mom!
Me: After your chores are done, I want you in your room. No trying to cook any food or be helpful in any way outside of your chores. Do you understand?
Him: YES! MOM! I said YES!
This is the routine Javi — my 11-year-old son who has ADHD — and I go through several times each week. He could repeat it back to me, word for word, and has on occasion when I’m not sure he’s listened and I need to know that he knows the rules. These rules are the most important I can think of for keeping him safe in our home.
Safe in our home — alone.
Despite being unfathomable just a year ago, Javi has graduated to a maturity level that allows me to leave the house without him. The time spans are brief: 15 minutes while I pick up his sister from school, 30 minutes while I ran by the bank or run into the grocery store, 45 minutes between when I leave and his father gets home.
He’s alone in the house with the fire hazards (a lighter in the junk drawer, the oven, the toaster) and the inappropriate media potentials (Family Guy reruns all day long, the Internet) and the gateways that could be too easily opened to predators (telephone, doors, windows). The dangers are numerous and his attention span is short.
But I’ve learned to trust him. I cocoon him in the only protection I can offer from afar — my words — and then I roll off into the distance while he holds down the fort at home. To date, the house hasn’t burned down and no one has burrowed their way in to hurt him. (And do I need to write down how relieving it is to not have to manage his behavior while running errands?)
It’s naive to think he’ll always remain tucked inside the protective shield of his parents’ determination to provide him with a trauma-free childhood. In five short years, he could be driving. In less time than that, he’ll be at the movies and nighttime parties and other hangouts … all without the buffer of his parents.
And so it starts here: short stabs at independence, time to make smart choices or learn from dumb ones, the chance to watch the foundation we’ve provided hold him up in situations that could go wrong.
My approach seems simple now but I’m hoping that it will pack that foundation more solidly and give Javi a platform for seeing what doing the right thing will earn him. A sucker from the bank teller, a new notebook to record his doodles and stories, a longer stretch of home alone time in the future.
I can’t remove the impulsivity, inability to predict consequences, or inattention that’s part and parcel with his ADHD, but I can provide him with these small, fledgling solo flights so that his wings are strong and steady when it’s his time to test them in trickier skies.
How are you preparing your pre-teen for the risky teenage years? Do you think I’m crazy for allowing my kiddo to stay home alone?