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Smartmom outsmarts Skenazy

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Smartmom had never read Lenore Skenazy’s column in the New York Sun before Tuesday, when Dumb Editor told her that Skenazy had become Parent Enemy Number 1 by letting her 9-year old take the subway home from Bloomingdale’s to an unrevealed Manhattan neighborhood.

By himself.

“Long story short: My son got home, ecstatic with independen­ce,” Skanazy wrote. “Long story longer: Half the people I’ve told this episode to now want to turn me in for child abuse. As if keeping kids under lock and key and helmet and cellphone and nanny and surveillance is the right way to rear kids. It’s not. It’s debilitating — for us and for them.”

The ensuing hysteria landed Skenazy on all the talk shows defending her seemingly indefensible position. She let her little baby — just a few years out of Mommy and Me classes! — ride the big bad subway. She must be chastised! She’s worse than that woman who drowned her kids in the tub!

Dumb Editor wanted to know what Smartmom thought of all this.

“Do you, for example, let the Oh So Feisty One take the subway by herself?” Dumb Editor asked (now you know how he got his name).

Of course she doesn’t! The 11-year-old OSFO just started walking to and from school by herself last September and they live right around the corner from PS 321.

Smartmom knows that OSFO could probably take the subway by herself, but she’s not sure if she really wants to. First off, where would she go?

It’s not like it’s 1967 when Smartmom was 9 and her parents let her take two city buses to school every morning.

Sure, she got mugged every now and again. On the subway and on the street. But that was de rigeur. Kids were frequently having their bus passes whisked out of their hands back in those days. But Smartmom was a pro — and she was pretty blase when it happened.

It was barely worth a mention to her parents.

And the subways weren’t just for going to school.

On weekends, Smartmom and her friend, Best and Oldest, would take the subway down to the Village to buy leather jackets and velvet coats at vintage clothing emporiums like Royal Rags on East Fourth Street and Ridge Furs on West Eighth Street.

It was fun, wild and free to be a kid in New York City in the ’60s and ’70s. All the grown ups were having a good time so why not the 9-, 10-, and 11-year-olds?

Oy, have things changed. When Skenazy revealed in her article that she let her son take a subway and a bus home (without a cellphone), she was accused of being the world’s worst mom.

That’s because, even though New York is safer than ever, parents are more protective than ever — and more judgmental.

It all started with Etan Patz, the 6-year-old boy who left his Soho home for school one morning in 1979 and was never heard from again.

Things really changed in New York after that.

Patz was the first missing child to be featured on a milk carton. And that milk carton was the beginning of the end of carefree childhood for New York kids.

No more riding your bike in Central Park without your parents. No more trips to FAO Schwartz, Wollman Rink, even Bloomingdale’s, without your parents helicoptering over you.

No more 9-year-olds on the subway.

It’s a shame because New York is a great city to be a kid in and part of being a kid is doing things all by yourself. It’s how you learn how to be a New Yorker — and how you learn to spread your wings and fly.

The strange thing is this: New York is safer now than it was in 1979. It’s nowhere near the most dangerous city in America anymore. The crime rate has been falling for years.

Although New York is safer than ever, other things have changed. For one, parenting was invented (didn’t you hear? The Yuppies invented it in 1984). Now parenting is a neurotic national obsession. From “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” to Baby Einstein videos, New Yorkers are now driven to be as good at parenting as they were at, well, everything else.

Sure, this may have been a reaction to the laissez-faire parenting of the 1970s, but we turned out all right, didn’t we? (Dumb Editor note: We did?)

With this drive to be the best parents in history, came the narcissistic belief that children are completely created by their parents. That means kids need to be with their parents 24/7 whether playing educational games, doing homework, eating in restaurants, even hanging out at Union Hall.

Likewise, parents don’t want their kids to do anything without them. They can’t fathom the loss of control and they’re just too darn scared.

So, it’s no surprise that when Skenazy let her 9-year-old do something on his own, it freaked out a lot of parents. Clearly, if a New York City kid is going to have a learning experience, mom and dad better be close by (or at least connected by cellphone).

Smartmom has even heard about parents who take their kids to college for the first time and actually hang out. Sometimes for days. Even weeks.

Boy, that’s a far cry from when my parents dropped Smartmom off at SUNY Binghamton and drove away. See ya later. Bye bye.

Sounds like Skenazy’s kid was dying for a childhood adventure away from his mom and dad. If he lived in the country, he’d be running around the woods or making a house out of a refrigerator box.

Kids need to feel like they’re free.

So, you’re probably wondering, when is Smartmom going to let OSFO take the subway by herself?

By herself?! You’ve got to be skenazy! Smartmom won’t ever let OSFO take the subway alone.

Louise Crawford, a Park Slope mom, also operates “Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.”
Updated 5:06 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

lenore from manhattan says:
I love the idea of becoming a new catchphrase and I really loved this piece, sent to me by my Brilliant Editor!
-- Lenore (the actual) Skenazy
April 11, 2008, 4:16 pm

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