When I was in elementary school my sister and I were latchkey kids, responsible for getting ourselves out the door and to school on time and back home with homework and dinner done before our parents came home. It was just the way life was for many kids in our neighbourhood.
Sometimes we’d hangout after school in the ravine behind the building playing in makeshift forts before heading home or walk through the wooded path to the shopping plaza on days when the bookmobile was scheduled for a visit. I’m sure my parents went over the rules about being safe though I have no recollection of the conversation. I don’t remember being worried or scared (unless we walked passed the little church at dusk that was supposed to be haunted by the Blue Lady). But ours was an enclosed community, a separated world of families with parents serving within the armed forces.
My husband had a very different childhood, living in a rough neighbourhood in the big city. Walking to school was terrifying, with a focus on avoiding a confrontation with the wrong people.
I believe our childhood experiences influence our attitudes and actions when it comes to our own kids. I walked to school with my sister, with a friend, or sometimes on my own because my parents were working, they had to work. As I work from home I have the luxury of walking my kids to school, especially when I made the choice some time ago to not carry my cell phone with me during these walks.
As my kids get older they have started to crave more freedom and privacy. They want to go our Trick-or-Treating with their friends or walk to school on their own. Part of me understands this stage of independence but another part of me is mournful of these moments lost, of friends and personal time eating into what was once a family moment. I have come to realize that even the joy I feel walking with my kids cannot supersede their desire to prove to themselves (and perhaps to us their parents) that they are older and more responsible.
I have on occasion allowed my two older kids to walk to school on their own. Actually, it’s more like letting them leave earlier as I walk a block or two behind them with my youngest.
That changed with a telephone call from school.
My oldest, who is in grade seven, called to ask if it was okay to head to our local library after school to continue working on a group project with her team. In my mind this would mean walking over to pick her up and walk her home but instead she asked if she could walk home.
This was it. The knot in my stomach confirmed this was one of those parent moments I had been dreading. I know many people have debated about the age to let your kids walk to and from school on their own, and I’m probably late out the gate.
Unlike the walk to school I wouldn’t be trailing behind. I would be waiting at home, watching the numbers blip by on the microwave clock. Plus the after school crowd would have dissipated and the sky would be darker and what if it rained. My head was swimming with endless possibilities and news reports.
“Please mom, I’ll be fine.”
In a few short years my daughter would be heading to high school and if she gets her wish, not a school in our neighbourhood. This would mean traveling to and from school alone. Grade nine will have enough adjustments without adding her first time experience of solo traveling.
So I agreed. Baby steps.
We went over the route and the time and what to lookout for.
Stay out of the alleys. Be mindful of the people around you on the street. Hold your keys in your hands in case you need to fend off an attack. Stay with the crowds. Don’t accept a ride home from anyone, even if your friend knows him or her.
Just going over all the points started to put me in a panic. I’m sure I was freaking my daughter out. Perhaps I was over doing it but the thought that kept creeping back into my head was the guilt if something should happen and I didn’t prepare her adequately. I’ve always been her guide.
As expected I heard the key in the lock and my daughter’s voice as she indicated she was home. I wasn’t too surprised that she made it home but I’ll admit a sigh of relief passed over my lips.
She started by telling me there was a street festival setting up in the neighourhood so she received a case of TicTacs from a sample booth and then preceded to tell me she was followed home by two men. I’m still amazed at how nonchalantly she transitioned from one topic to the other in the same sentence.
Damn it! I knew I shouldn’t have let her walk home. What was I thinking? What if something had happened? I’m sure every mother of a missing or attacked child never thought that it would be their child on the news.
I tried to remain calm on the outside while my insides were screaming in a panic. I asked her to explain what happened. She told me about the two men on the street looking in a car that didn’t appear to be theirs. She saw them. They saw her. She changed direction and walked down another street, staying with the crowd.
“I followed your advice and walked where there were people. I had my keys ready in my hand.”
They followed her to the door where she turned and stared at them then they walked away. I quickly walked to the front door and bounded out to the front porch, scanning the street for troublemakers. Nothing.
I was relieved nothing happened but I was worried the scenario might have scared my daughter enough to not want to try walking home again. We talked about what happened, the right moves she made. My preparedness may have made her nervous but perhaps nervous enough to have noticed the suspicious men, nervous enough to have kept her out of another problem.
My daughter has since walked home many times on her own or with friends. She is still cautious with each walk and I am still nervous until she passes our front threshold but we both seem to have survived this stage.
Next up, riding the transit solo. At what point does parenting get easier?