“There will be no Tom Cruise-ing,” my 12-year-old son solemnly swore when making the pitch for my husband and I to leave him and his 16-year-old brother alone in our apartment in New York City for three days over Thanksgiving break.
Our family had spent Thanksgiving Day with my husband’s parents, but were planning to spend Friday morning through Sunday night at my parents’ place in Brooklyn.
My oldest, a high school junior, preferred to stay in Manhattan, ensconced in the bosom of his SAT prep books. He reminded that as I am the only mother in America who refuses to hire an SAT tutor in favor of making him actually earn college admission based on his own merit rather than a financial arm’s race, the least I can do is not force him to drag said heavy prep books on his back to another borough via subway. Plus, in Manhattan, he has his own private closet-turned-room to study in, while in Brooklyn, all three of my kids (including an 8-year-old sister) share one room, making it harder for him to concentrate.
I granted his request. But that’s when the 12-year-old decided to get into the act.
He couldn’t bear to be parted from his 3D printer. He’d saved up to buy it and, since purchasing (the very, very cheapest model on the market), he’s designed and printed a series of abstract-art pencil holders, chess sets, Dungeons & Dragons tokens, and is currently working on a portable hook you can carry around in your purse, then take out and use in public bathrooms so you don’t have to put your purse or, worse, your coat, on the filthy floor. He needed to test his prototype, and he couldn’t do that if he and his printer were cruelly separated.
He begged to be allowed to stay home, too. I warned that his older brother would be in charge. He does not usually enjoy it when his older brother is in charge. He does not usually enjoy it when anyone is in charge. But he was willing to suck it up.
I warned him that he would have to cook for himself. There was some leftover turkey, a few servings of mac and cheese, and that was it. He’d need to fend for himself once that was gone. He swore he would.
And then he sweetened the deal with the promise of no Tom Cruise-ing. The irony is, he’s never seen the movie “Risky Business.” His only reference point was the TV show “The Goldbergs.” And not even the actual show, which we don’t watch, but a commercial for it. So among my concerns over leaving the two boys alone at home, their starting a brothel was not anywhere near the top of the list.
Honestly, my biggest concern was that they’d be bored. Sure, the older one had the SATs to study for, but the younger one didn’t. And 3D printing is a long, tedious process during which there is nothing to do but wait… and think about other engineering experiments you could be running. He’s already taken apart my old iPod shuffle and phone, and has been eyeing the VCR with unnatural interest. There was also his attempt to rewire a broken doorbell and to come up with a chemical toxic enough to dissolve leftover dog-poop on the street.
Forget no Tom Cruise-ing—I wanted a pledge there’d be no Tom Edison-ing.
So I let him have his way.
We left the house before noon on Friday, and didn’t come back until 5 on Sunday. We called the boys twice, before bedtime on both nights, just to check in. They said everything was fine.
We believed them.
And it was. We returned to a house not much messier than the one we’d left. We got the impression that they stayed in the whole time and subsisted on Funfetti cake baked from a mix. A can of tuna may have been opened when times truly grew dire, and the mac and cheese was all gone, though a few scraps of turkey remained.
Granted, something could have gone wrong. A fire in the oven, a can-opener going rogue and slicing flesh, an earthquake, a slip in the shower, a break-in, choking… I’m not oblivious. But any of the above could also happen in the daytime, when they’re home alone. Or even when I’m there with them.
I decided to trust that my two sons, ages 16 and 12, would be able to handle anything that came up while I was gone. Heck, there are places where my younger one could be leading his own military unit (he’d like that), and my older one might be married. They would be expected to shoulder responsibilities far beyond locking a front door in an apartment building that you already need a separate key or to be buzzed in to enter. They would be expected to manage demands a great deal more significant than boredom and the SATs. And, I can’t help thinking, they’d be better people for it.
That said, my plans for the future don’t include taking my boys to the wilderness and abandoning them there (though my husband, the ex-Boy Scout, isn’t as quick to dismiss the option). But they do include continuing to put them into challenging situations society doesn’t appear to believe them capable of handling. And letting them learn how to handle them. On their own.