My daughter Bryn is ten years old and in the fifth grade. We live one block from her school. At the beginning of the school year she begged me to let her walk to school by herself. She had a convincing argument. She said, “It’s only a block, mom, and I’m old enough to walk a block by myself.” (To be read with the required level of pre-teen sarcasm and eye rolling).
She’s right, of course. When I was her age we played outside every day after school, running around the neighborhood, riding our bikes everywhere. As long as we were home by the time the street lights came on, our mom wouldn’t stand in the yard shouting our names until we came running. She is old enough to walk a block, and farther, by herself.
But life today isn’t the same as when I was her age. The dangers are real, and I do not trust the general population with the safety of my children. I think most people are genuinely caring and look out for kids in their neighborhoods, but it’s the person late for work that accelerates too quickly down their driveway without watching for school age kids on the sidewalk, and the child predators who look like nice people just wanting to stop and chat for a few seconds that scare the shit out of me. I feel bad that she isn’t allowed to run the neighborhood like I did at her age, but none of her friends are allowed to do that either. All of her friend’s parents are just as cautious as I am.
But she’s ten, and she is responsible and knows how to cross a street, watch for traffic, and not talk to strangers. I can’t choose to hold her back from something that is developmentally appropriate and allows her to grow because it scares me. So the least I can do to allow her some measure of independence is to let her walk to school by herself. She loves it. She feels like such a big girl, and I love seeing that look of satisfaction on her face when she walks in the door after school.
But I hate it. I hate not being there to watch over and protect her for the four minutes it takes her to walk one block.
I silently stress out every morning when we say good-bye at the front door. I watch her walk down the driveway, and I don’t stop watching until she rounds the corner and is out of my line of sight. And then I surreptitiously keep my eye on the clock. I know that as long as the school doesn’t call here by 9am that she made it safely. I start watching the clock again at 2:30pm. She’s usually home by 2:40pm, and then I take a deep breath and relax.
I know this sounds obsessive and crazy. Especially to a younger person who has never had kids. But having children changes you. Having children brings out your protective instincts in a way nothing else can. I became the mother bear. I am that dangerous female Grizzly that will rip your throat out if you even think about physically harming one of my children. And I’m not alone. Thankfully, I’m in good company with all the other Grizzly mothers at Bryn’s school. We all agree that allowing our children to walk to school at a certain age is a necessary risk to help them mature, grow and learn to be responsible for themselves and recognize potentially dangerous situations and how to handle them. They need to know how to apply and use all the advice we’ve given them. “Look both ways before you cross the street, don’t talk to strangers, be aware of who’s around you and if someone approaches you and tries to get you to go with them, you drop your backpack, scream for help and run like hell is chasing you.” Well, I didn’t give her that last bit of advice in exactly those words, but she got the message.
So, I let her walk to school. The first few weeks were the hardest for me. About three weeks in I was sort of grilling her at the dinner table, trying to be nonchalant and casual about it. I didn’t want to be up in her face with overly detailed questions, but I wanted to know how it was going. I was obsessing, and I guess I wasn’t as subtle as I’d hoped because she looked at me and said, “It’s good, mom. There’s no bandits!” As she said this, she winked at me in a jaunty way and made finger guns. LOL!
In that moment she made me laugh out loud with her cheeky sense of humor, eased my fears and reassured me that she truly is a big girl, which broke my heart a little too. Now every morning when she leaves for school and kisses all of us good-bye, we all say, “No Bandits!” 🙂