My kids have had it lucky

18 Mar

Something on the internet caught my eye.  It talked of a 1979 first grade readiness checklist – and how one of those things was “Can he travel alone in the neighborhood (four to eight blocks) to store, school, playground, or to a friend’s home?”

This, of course, was followed by a slew of “I wouldn’t let my 7 yr old walk down the block alone!” and “If I tried that, someone would report me to CPS!” type comments.

I was a first grader in 1979.  I wasn’t allowed off the block alone – I was tiny for my age and my mom was afraid cars wouldn’t see me.  I could go places with my brothers (who were 10 and 9 when I was 7) and eventually, I was tall enough to leave the block alone or with my best friend in tow.

And so it was.

When we moved to a small town in Michigan, we decided to let the boys – who were in fourth and second grade – walk to school by themselves.  We had established a route that they weren’t to stray from, told them what to do if they thought a stranger was following them (go into a local store and explain this and ask to call home.) By 9 a.m. the first day, I had heard from three friends about how they saw my boys walking.  They loved the freedom and didn’t test our trust.  Nothing bad happened.  Yet so many of my friends who lived elsewhere were astounded that I’d let them walk to school.

Except if you lived in town, walking to school was normal.  You’d see herds of kids, some with parents, walking home.  There was the story of the person who saw her neighbor’s girls talking to a “stranger” in a car and immediately went over to investigate – only to meet the girls aunt.  But it was that sort of thing – everyone looking out for everyone – that made it safe for our kids to do the once normal thing of walking to school.  They could run up to the store that was a few blocks away, or walk down to the library.  So many times, I would wave my trio off as they walked the two blocks to the library.

And then we moved to Dublin. There, it was completely normal for everyone to make their way to school by foot or bike or scooter or bus or tram.  At 11 years old, my daughter was getting herself to and from school a mile away, and Maura knew how to travel on the Luas (Dublin’s light rail).  We had a corner store down the block, and another four blocks away.  During a school meeting for our 4th year students (think high school sophomores) we were told not to drive our boys anywhere, they could make their own way to different off-site venues, we shouldn’t coddle them – they had to learn some time.

I’ll admit, I didn’t go about this easily.  My husband talked me off various ledges as the kids ran out the door towards these ever-expanding freedoms.  There was one moment when we first moved to Ireland where I realized I’d set my sons off on their own in a foreign country.

They survived.

I survived.

It’s a growing process, one I’m glad they’ve gotten to experience.  In a way, they’ve been able to experience part of my own childhood, those freedoms that these days seem hard to come by.  Doesn’t mean I don’t worry – I am Anxietywoman, I’m going to do that anyway.  But I have the security of knowing that every other step of the way, they’ve managed.  In this case, it’s better to let go gradually than do the proverbial “rip the band aid off” routine.

Meanwhile, Maura’s still not leaving my sight.  I will be helicoptering around her for a long time.


Teen girl on airport tram, after her first solo flight



7 Responses to “My kids have had it lucky”

  1. franhunne4u March 18, 2015 at 4:07 pm #

    Maura is different, but yes, children who are not of Maura’s disposition should learn to enjoy and not to abuse a freedom. With Maura this might never be possible.

  2. saracvt March 18, 2015 at 4:19 pm #

    I remember being nine years old, (1979) & rolling my sister’s wheelchair the four blocks to our school to see a movie. I don’t remember the negotiations but my parents must have been fine with it, for I did it several times. And nothing happened. I didn’t even trip.

    But my daughters–eh, they’re a different story. Until they mature a bit, I’m going with them. But we do walk around the neighborhood (to the park & such) to get them used to the routes. I give them occasional “tests” for memory & trustworthiness, & so far they’ve failed. I do see them developing, just at a different rate than their peers, so I fully expect it’ll happen one day.
    But how much can you expect from 12-year-olds who routinely forget to close the fridge door, anyway?

  3. teresamcnally March 18, 2015 at 4:30 pm #

    Miriam looks very grown up indeed.


    • phoebz4 March 18, 2015 at 7:04 pm #

      Doesn’t she? We’ve asked her to stop it, but she refuses to.

  4. momsinthepulpit March 18, 2015 at 8:55 pm #

    Huh. In 1973 I walked a mile to 1st grade. I’ve tried to convince my kids that it was uphill both ways. But seeing as it was inner city Detroit, they weren’t buying it. But I was 5 walking a mile to school with a couple of 3rd graders. In the ‘hood. In the backyard of the Oakland County child killer. Now I’m afraid to let my kids walk to the end of the block, for fear of being reported to CPS. It’s crazy.

  5. fivebeansoup March 22, 2015 at 3:52 pm #

    The sad truth is that the bigger threat is CPS. Feel lucky my kids are back in a place where they can learn to navigate the world independently. Katie has her first personal bus pass and I think trying to plan up somewhere worth going without me.

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