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Thursday, October 30, 2014

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Independence, please!

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My daughters are chomping at the bit for independence. These nine-year-old twins want to walk into the retail village 10 minutes from their front door in Richmond, B.C., order a hot chocolate at Starbucks and saunter around without the supervision of adult eyes.

Part of me would love to give them that freedom. But most of me is terrified something will happen. The cute, historic heart of our neighbourhood looks innocuous by day, its community centre, library and swimming pool heavily populated by young families. They spill out of the cafes, kids munching on croissants and parents tenderly clasping their coffee cups. It looks precisely like the kind of place where you’d want to raise a family, and for the most part, it is.

My neighbourhood is good at hiding secrets, but it’s far from immune to the dark forces at work in cities throughout the country. Break-ins in the middle of the night are not uncommon, though shattered glass and busted door locks are fixed so quickly that no one knows they ever happened. Last summer some stranger tried to lure a 12-year-old toward his vehicle, and in recent months, a body was retrieved from the dykes that keep the Fraser River at bay.

As grown up as my little girls think they are, I can’t trust them to know how to handle a frightening and potentially dangerous encounter. What choices would they make, and how could I risk exposing them to those situations?

My friend lectured his child never to accept anything from a stranger. “What would you say if someone tried to give you candy?” he asked, testing her later. “Thank you!” she replied enthusiastically.

“There are monsters out there,” I try to tell my kids. “Some of them are people who are very sick, but don’t know it. Trouble is, you can’t tell they’re sick by looking at them. Often, they look just like regular people.” My girls look back at me with trusting eyes, trying to read between the lines. “We won’t talk to anyone,” they promise. “Please, just let us go!”

They’ve seen their older brother head into the village, almost always in the company of his friends and their skateboards. They’ll cruise into McDonald’s for some french fries, play a game of tag and skateboard down a few hills before returning home, flushed and exhilarated.

My girls want that same feeling, but I just can’t give it to them. Not yet, anyway.

“When can we go, mom?” they plead. “When we’re 10?”

That date is just a few months away, and I know I won’t be ready then, either. The truth is that I don’t know when the right time will come to give them freedom to explore. I want to enfold them in my embrace and protect them fiercely from leering eyes, from the danger of a stranger who might befriend them over a cup of hot chocolate at a place like Starbucks.

“Free hot chocolate!” they’d likely think. “I’ll take it!”

The risks are way too high to release my girls into the world at large, even if that world is a small village close to home.

So for now, I say a resolute “No” to independence.

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