The Cat in the Hat

Their mother was out the day they received that sly visitor who only wanted to have fun that was funny and cleaned up his playthings before Mother came home.

What? Before “mother came home!” This story, written so many years ago, was about a boy (in the cartoon named Nick, in the book he has no name) and a girl (Sally) who are home alone on that wet, wet, wet day while their mother is out shopping. They are bored, and they cannot think of what to do.

Suddenly, to their surprise, a mystical cat appears, who turns their house upside down creating a ruckus of one kind, even including Thing One and Thing Two – all to the amusement and horror of the children. Then, they realize (with the help of a fish) that there mother is very close to home. The cat is shooed away, but he comes back to pick up the toys he used while at play!

This story amuses me, as a mother on many different levels.

One, I was a latch-key kid for much of my child hood. First, it was the typical latch-key you think of – single mom, she has to work, kids come home before work is done. We were never home alone more than probably two hours (from 3p-5p), and we survived. We were taught some basic survival things: never talk to strangers, play nice. We were probably instructed to stay inside. Some natural fear of what Mother would do when she got home helped keep us in line. Two, my mother did remarry, and were were sometimes, though often less then, home a lone for a little bit until our parents got home. When we got older, we might have been home alone for that few hours before my stepfather got home while my mother worked 2nd shift for a time.

We survived.

Now, our family was faced with some hard times while I was younger. Things that certainly shook the view of safety we hold dear, and even challenges much of this latch-key goodness. The point is: we survived. We had a family full of love, strong bounds, and trust. My mother, I feel, instilled common sense and encouraged trust and building trust. This helped us to stay safe.

Would the Cat in the Hat be able to happen today? I don’t think you’d find a modern story about children playing alone. I’ve heard arguments that perhaps we are statistically more safe because as parents we let our children do less alone. What’s an appropriate age to let our children wander to the park alone? In Angela’s Ashes Frank McCourt describes going to the neighborhood park with his infant and toddler siblings when he was less than five. Is five an appropriate age? Is seven? Where do we draw the line?

Sure, a lot of it is knowing our children, our boundaries, what we are comfortable with. But, I often wonder how much we are operating out of fear rather than working towards a better society and that societal paradigm shift where we learn to trust again.

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