This weekend has arrived at our annual local church fair. The kids wait for the opening event with excitement and anticipation while parents (especially in this current economy) cringe at the thought of shelling out a week’s wages to torture themselves for two hours of low-quality family fun. This is what I expressed to my husband when he called me out for trying to ignore that the fair was here and eventually I’d have to face the moment my children would confront me about our plans to attend this year. In the past this has brought on lots and lots of stress for lots and lots of money. It’s been brutal every year and after it’s all over I leave feeling like a fool for my weakness in feeling I might scar my children if I don’t fill their senses with everything the fair brings with it: greasy fries with skins on ($6 for a large cup) crazy rides ($4 a ride, $25 unlimited) elephant ears (dough and sugar at a premium cost) games that end with either a junky stuffed animal or the famous “carp-in-a-bag” that keeps you cursing the fair months after the Carnies have packed up and moved on to the next church parking lot along with countelss other reasons to blow $200 in exchange for minimal reward. But as my husband puts it: Kids having uninhibited fun: priceless.

I’m not sure if I completely agree with that, but I know this year the kids seemed to have the best time ever. FINALLY my oldest is mature enough to go off on her own with friends and manage her time according to what she’d like to do rather than what the family was doing. My first instinct was to be in denial about this, but eventually I came around to the reality that I could no longer covet her as my own personal belonging. I have to give her a chance to feel her way without the looming guilt that comes with having fun knowing mom is miserable she’s not the source of it, or that any second the alarm will ring that ding ding ding, fun time is up, time to get back to the reality that you are part of this group, not that one.

But there is a balance to maintain in allowing children to venture from the pack. They must be able to recognize right from wrong. And by right I mean the set of values and norms of the family of origin over those of the peer group. Here is where I find my focus in all the gray area surrounding moments of allowing my kids to venture off with the peer group away from family. I have three children who have different personalities and truth be told, the point in which I give them room to roam may be unique to all three. If I feel I need to constantly remind them not to follow peer pressure, worrying the moment they are out of sight they may end up on a ride that scares them or buying french fries they aren’t hungry for, I know they aren’t ready to go. Because if they have to look for my approval then either I have not done my job well in raising them to feel secure in their decisions and confident in themselves, or they are simply too immature to recognize their own limits and desires.

This is the kind of thing that makes me grateful I have never relied on full-time childcare or nannies to help raise my kids. How would a mother be able to recognize the fine line their child draws when the time is near, yet has not quite arrived for independence? Or the time has come, but has been overlooked by a practical approach to childcare over an instinctive one? We still have lots of road ahead of us in this gradual edging away from the nest our children will be fighting for, but we take it one event at a time. There were countelss moments today when my daughter began a sentence with “it’s not fair…” and I reminded her that there are times I get to decide what is fair, and times she can decide.

When I am not there to do the deciding for her, I trust that she can do the job perfectly without needing my nod of approval. Then, when we all come home after the day’s excitement and have to regroup once again as a functioning family of five, we get back to the constant banter of unfair circumstances, tiny injustices and complete lack of control over one’s personal space. And when things begin to get heated in sibling rivalry and my daughter complains how unfair things are in this world, the one she has to live in day-to-day, I just smile and tell her:

Sorry, honey. The FAIR only comes once a year.

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