Parenting through benign neglect
In 1985, when I was 12 years old, I went to communist Budapest by myself, for a month. I’d met and befriended two Hungarian families when I was 11 and they were living next door to me for a year in Lexington, Massachusetts, and when they went back to Budapest they invited me to visit.
So it wasn’t like I didn’t have a place to sleep when I got there, but even so, my parents decided that yes, a trip across the world into a country that needed a visa to enter, that didn’t have a hard currency, and that didn’t have consistent phone lines at post offices (never mind at people’s homes, that was out of the question) was a great place for their 12-year-old daughter to visit by herself.
I also almost didn’t make the correct connection in Zurich, and I am seriously wondering what would have happened if I’d missed my flight. How would I have connected with my hosts? Where would I have slept? What would I have done for money?
I did make my flight, though, and I did meet my hosts, and the worst thing that happened to me was that when the cows got sick, I got sick – very sick. And to be fair, I turned 13 when I was there.
I came home appreciating milk pasteurization, and to a lesser extent milk homogenization. I was skinnier and less spoiled, I knew what really good peaches tasted like, and I was completely sick of paprika. Overall it was a good trip, and I’m glad I went.
And if I or my parents had been more cautious, I wouldn’t have gone. Goes to show you, sometimes it’s good not to think too hard about what could go wrong.
Unfortunately, I’m older now, and my 13-year-old just got on a plane to San Francisco by himself to attend a Model UN camp at Stanford. And all I can think about it what might go wrong.
Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t stop me from putting him on the plane. I’m trying to channel my parents’ benign neglect child-raising technique from which I benefitted so tremendously. He’s got a working cell phone, plenty of cash, and my BFF Becky will be within driving distance of him over there.
Hey, it’s not like he’s going to North Korea – which is, by the way, where he requested to be sent – and I’m pretty sure the milk there is pasteurized, as long as you avoid farmer’s markets.