Friday, May 20, 2011

Roots and wings

It's odd how what once was a given has now become a rite of passage.

I'm talking about letting kids walk home from school. When I was growing up, everyone walked. We all went to our neighborhood schools, everyone lived just a few blocks away (it always seemed longer in the winter time), we came home for lunch, and there were no worries of pedophiles and assorted perverts jumping out of the shadows and pulling us into cars.

But now we're in the era of the Internet and helicopter parenting. Those children who aren't bused to school, whether in or out of their neighborhoods, either are accompanied by parents on their walking journey, or they are, like Earbaby always has been, driven. Young children walking alone are suddenly an anomaly.

So it was with a bit of fanfare that EB started walking, or taking the public transportation home from school.

Now I was a city kid. We walked home from school until high school, when we took the city bus. I had been going downtown by myself since I was 13 or 14. I remember thinking how different people are now when a brother-in-law refused to allow his 16-year-old son go downtown with his friends, "because I've  been downtown and know what goes on there." Yes, they're suburbanites. But I thought that was a bit much. I grew up in a much larger city than the one we're in now. I thought 16 was more than old enough to be able to take the bus or the train into town, but then again, we as a people are much more afraid these days.

You know that saying about a butterfly flapping its wings causing a tsunami halfway around the world? Well, that's the Internet now. We hear about children gone missing, from anywhere in the world. They feed our fears, even if the child is across the country or on another continent. We know there are pedophiles out there, and we can even Google them and find the ones in our own neighborhood, which makes us even more afraid.

I'm not dismissing those fears, I have them myself. But EB started asking about taking the bus home or walking with her friends when she was in fifth grade. She wanted to wait a year, and there were enough schoolmates going her way that she wouldn't have to travel alone. Of course, then she got comfortable having her chauffeur (me) pick her up every day. The discussion was tabled for a few months until the bulk of the cold weather abated.

Now she walks or takes the bus a few days a week. It wasn't traumatic, it was fun. She has a cell phone, which I only admonished her about once, when she was later than I thought she should be without calling or answering it, but she usually is with a classmate or two and there are plenty of people around on the streets or at the bus stop. Besides, next year she'll be taking a school bus, and after that the public transportation. She may as well learn now how to get around.

And yet ... Today I told her that if she ever believes she's being followed by someone in a car, she should turn and run the other way. Most of our streets in our neighborhood are one way, so someone isn't going to be able to drive in reverse for very long. I also told her not to be afraid to drop her backpack and run if she had to. A few years ago a kid in our neighborhood had to do that when he was grabbed by someone. I told her to do that especially if someone tried to pull her into a car. Inside my heart cried. It's not right that our children have to be warned like this. But this is the world now, and so it's necessary to tell them about evil.

I don't want her to be paranoid. She says she is careful and aware of her surroundings. I believe her.

 But I read everything on the Internet and watch the news too. I know about the little girl killed in her own apartment building by a neighbor, even though it was several states away. In fact I know about all the girls (and boys) who are out there going about their business, while the unsavory among us go about theirs.

 I wait for her to come home, watching the clock, listening for her footsteps, saying a little prayer. Roots and wings. You give them roots, then you give them wings. For the last 12 years we've been building, growing those roots, helping build that foundation. Who knew something as simple as a walk home from school would be her first little flight?

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