Oh, it's all over the media, this topic. Are we smothering our kids, creating a next generation of obese couch potatoes because we're afraid to let them out of our sight and create safe, screen-based havens for them within our own homes instead? For every article alerting us to sinister paedophile rings and internet child-stalkers, there's another article beseeching us to start re-creating childhoods similar to our own, where days were long and roads were quiet and we roamed free, returning home ruddy-cheeked and glowing only when darkness fell.
It was all quite interesting while it was an academic debate. I used to veer from "but they're my babies! They must remain cossetted by my side or at least within my eyeline until they attain marriageable age!" to "absolutely, they need their freedom. The sooner the better, if you ask me. Mumble, grumble, never be rid of them, still living with us at forty in weird "Stepbrothers" style, need to develop independence in natural way learning from world around them, and besides they are very loud and I love to have peace from time to time". But it didn't matter, because all the time I was vacillating and veering, none of them was old enough to go anywhere without me anyway. Moot point.
Now, though, Egg is days away from being eleven. She is sensible and confident and tall. Since September the crowd of other mothers with whom I once chatted daily outside her classroom door has gradually dwindled to half a dozen who either have younger children at the school too (like me) or live too far away to make walking an option. In other words, nearly all the other children in Egg's class walk to and from school alone now, in readiness for next September when all of them will travel alone, by bus or on foot, to their respective secondary schools. It is the Done Thing.
And so, little by little, I have extended the locus of Egg's freedom beyond her piano teacher's house (100 non-road-crossing yards away, practically next door to Grandma's), down into the town, and now as far as the school, which is around a mile away and involves a couple of roads (gulp). Yesterday, for the first time, we arranged before school that she and a friend would walk home together and that is what they did. I collected the younger children and waved at Egg and her friend as they laughingly set off from the other school gate; twenty minutes later they appeared at my door, pink-cheeked and smiling, clutching paper parcels of chips. It was fine. She got exercise and a sense of responsibility; I felt a little ping as another apron-string gently snapped. I'm not going to lie and say that an exciting world of errand-running possibilities didn't expand in front of my mind's eye even as I felt that ping, though. I've already decided she can fetch the weekend papers for us now. Sense of responsibility, you understand.
It IS huge though, really, the growing-up thing. During this last year we have abandoned first nappies, then the cot, and now the pushchair for Tig, who has also joined her siblings at "school" in readiness for the real thing next September. I'm on the verge of no longer having "young" children, just "children", and as friends get married and have babies, I realise how far away we are from those milky, timeless baby days now. I panic a bit if I think about it too much. As my mum used to sing to me, "Turn around, and they're one; turn around, and they're four; turn around and there's an adult, walking out of the door".