Read something in the US news about a mother leaving her teenage kids home alone. Now she’s facing legal action. And her oldest was 17.
I remember going off to Morocco with my husband – he was on duty travel – in 1988. For 8 or 9 days. The girls were just turned 13, and the older 16, four months short of 17. Yep, left them alone for 9 days.
We were living in Vienna (the one in Austria, that is.) The kids were at school, so could not come with us. We lived in a row of adjoining houses and the German/Finnish couple next door promised to keep a eye on things – but they weren’t actively involved in their care. For heaven’s sake, the girls could look after themselves. My husband’s secretary kept in touch with them as well.
And you know what? I wasn’t particularly worried about them and I don’t think we did anything particularly terrible.
My own mother at age 11, back in 1914, was cooking for the family, caring for a chronically sick mother, looking after her two sisters aged 10 and 4, and schooling as well.
Here’s what I wrote to her after we got back to Vienna: “Home again and all well that I can see. N managed to remove the skin from her upper lip and chin in a fall which does nothing for her looks, and they dropped a knife onto the element of the dishwasher where the handle melted, but no other disasters…”
Of course, Vienna was a safe city. People didn’t walk around taking pot-shots at school kids, and crime where we lived was rare. In our six years there I don’t remember that we were robbed once. (Wish I could say the same about Malaysia today.) Drugs were rare in the school environment. And there were so many friends – both theirs and ours – that the kids could turn to in a fix. In addition, European children tend to be an independent lot, used to fending for themselves and even travelling to other countries on their own.
Elder daughter and her girlfriend once went by train for a weekend to Venice. I think they were 16. They found their own accommodation and meals, and fended off amorous Italians all by themselves. That’s Europeans for you.
When the older daughter was off at Oxford, we left the younger one at home again, when we went to Albania for five or six days. She was 15.
I rang her from one of the two public telephones in the capital city of Tirana, just to check how she was. The year was I think 1990. And you had to use a real live telephonist in the hotel to connect you before you could speak…
Anyway, no sooner was daughter on the phone, and before I could get a word out, than she was desperately asking after OUR safety. Were we all right? There was a revolution in Tirana!
I said, ‘Huh? You sure you’ve got the right place?’ We hadn’t had any access to the news, although the Albanians did seem upset. Italy had just been defeated in the semi-finals of the World Cup Soccer, after all…
To which she replied with a scathing: ‘Muuu-uuum!’ You know the tone.
‘Oh,’ I said, the penny dropping, ‘So that’s what all those people we saw climbing over the embassy walls was about!” And that was why the Government Minister we’d had dinner with the night before had a decidedly harrassed look, especially when he was buttonholed by a Western reporter in the hotel lobby.
We were in the middle of a revolution and hadn’t even known it.