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Crossing over

We weren’t late, but we weren’t early either and when we turned into the triangular intersection that fronts our elementary school we hit an uncharacteristic traffic jam.  Someone – a grandparent or friend – who didn’t know the complex etiquette rules of the non-looping, three street clusterfuck that is the front of our school had parked wrong, bringing one of the sides of the triangle down to one lane and the entire system to a complete standstill.

I usually pull up to the side of the school and drop the kids off with no street to cross to reach their class line.  When I turn around to leave, I can catch one last glimpse of them, near the end of their respective lines, lips moving, breath steaming in the cold, or roll down the window and call to Garrett to “move it” as the first bell jangles over my strident voice.  If I let them out where I sat trapped in traffic and bailed from the unmoving snarl, they would only have to cross one street and I could get Quinn to school on time.

The sweet, serious sixth-grade crossing guards still manned the crosswalk. I threw the car into park where it was, calling to them to take their buckles off as I slid out the driver’s door and rushed around to the other side.  Saige threw herself at the ground, so eager to try this new freedom that she tripped over her snow boots in her hurry to disentangle from my hug and reach the crosswalk.  Garrett made it his purpose in life to give me a heart attack with his ability to accomplish the simplest task in the maximum amount of time.

“Garrett, honey, the car’s running. I’m in the middle of the street.”  Nothing had moved, I could see in front of us, but the bell rang and the crossing guards were ferrying the last group of kids across to school.  “Garrett hurry, the crossing guards will leave.  Garrett. Garrett.  GARRETT.”  He finally reached the door, but without his backpack, and back he went at 0 mph to retrieve it and FINALLY exit the car.  I kissed the top of his head and propelled him bodily toward the crosswalk, throwing the Suburban in gear just as the line started to move again.

I turned left out of the triangle and checked on him one last time in the rear view mirror.  He stood forlornly on the sidewalk facing the now deserted crosswalk.  He had undoubtedly dawdled over some ice that needed breaking with his boot and missed the final crossing.  The last hint of neon yellow crossing guard vest disappeared over the hill and into the school building.  A steady stream of cars, huge SUVs, and minivans rolled past him with no break.

I swore under my breath. I knew he wouldn’t step into the street, but therein lay the problem.  He would not step into that street without someone to tell him it was time to cross. I had to go all the way around the triangle to reach him, there was no way he could hear me.  All I could do was watch him  through the spindly baby trees that populated the little triangle of grass in the center of the intersection.  I was nervous not for his safety but because I knew he was nervous.  Remember that feeling of suddenly losing your net of instructive, protective adults and being in charge of a situation that seemed slightly out of your league?

He looked so little from where I sat, waiting to turn left back around the last leg of the triangle toward him, my heart beating hard.  Huge SUVs stopped in both directions, but he still didn’t move and then I watched as both Dads got out of their trucks and waved him across the street.  He waved back at them merrily and disappeared up the hill toward his classroom.

He did it all by himself, with a lot of help from our lovely neighborhood school community.  My children are so lucky to live in such a kind world.  To trust that adults are there to help them and to be right.  It’s a gift that is easy to forget.  I remembered in trauma training the instructor explaining that the young mothers we would mentor did not believe that people were good. They did not believe that people would help them.  Their life experience had taught them that people who were supposed to be loving, trustworthy, and competent were unpredictable, capricious, and sometimes cruel.

It takes time to tell you this story, but it all happened in an instant.  I turned my blinker off and drove Quinn to school.

Next year, when they are second-graders, with proper instruction and practice, I think I’ll let them walk to school.  I trust my children and, within reason, our community and that is a gift too.

43 Responses to Crossing over
  1. Gayle
    February 3, 2013 | 9:53 am

    No! No! NO!! (and who are you kidding, anyhow).

    Do not let them walk to school when they are in 2nd grade. Or 4th. Or 7th. Good Lord, Woman! don’t ever make them walk.

    It’s cold. (Oh wait….it’s cold at my house). Okay, it’s scary. As wonderful as a community may be there is always some crazy fuck who ruins it for everyone else. Just keep driving them so he doesn’t ruin it for you.

    That’s all.

    • Candice@NotesFromABroad
      February 3, 2013 | 12:39 pm

      I agree, wholeheartedly about the “crazy f*ck who ruins it for everyone else” :(

      • suburbancorrespondent
        February 3, 2013 | 6:20 pm

        I’m confused — is Gayle joking or not?

        Our neighborhood kids all walk to school (and we live in a much more urban area, with many more crazy f*cks around). I know it can be scary; but if you never let your kids out of your sight, the crazy f*cks win.

        • tracey
          February 3, 2013 | 7:34 pm

          I think she was joking… I hope. Let them walk! It’s a huge step in independence. And, as we all know, you do NOT want them living with you after they turn 18. Get a job and get out, guys! Love you to pieces but I did not have kids so that I could tend to them as adults, too!

      • Anymommy
        February 4, 2013 | 1:55 am

        There were very differing opinions about this on facebook as well. I think I fall closer to the side of letting them walk as a good way to take small, important steps toward making good choices and independence, but I live in a small tightly knit neighborhood with low violent crime statistics. Different parents are going to perceive the risks of different activities differently and I’m sure not always correctly. For instance, I’m a freak about choking. I still cut my seven-year-olds hotdogs long way so they aren’t windpipe shaped and I DON’T ALLOW regular non-mylar balloons in the house. It’s silly and based on gut-fear, not rationality and I’m struggling to let go a little. You’d think reading that I’d be a parent who would not feel comfortable letting her kids walk to school, but I don’t have a lot of worries surrounding it. Maybe it’s because so many kids walk down our street on the way to school every day.

        • Gloria
          February 4, 2013 | 9:06 pm

          Loved this post… a simple story that plays out in all of our lives as parents. I vote for letting them walk (when you feel they are ready). I have little kids (6, 7, 10) but recently have been a first-hand witness to young “adults” who had helicopter parents and it’s not pretty. Fostering appropriate levels of independence as they grow is the way to go (I’m saying it as much for me as for anyone!)

  2. Julie
    February 3, 2013 | 11:06 am


    I have been a lurker for years and absolutely love your writing.
    I meant to remain in hiding, but that first comment just spurned me into action: please let your children walk to school – like you said if you can trust your children and your community, the independence they get is unbeatable.

    • Anymommy
      February 4, 2013 | 6:21 am

      Hi Julie! Thanks for reading, truly. I do trust them and our street is a straight shot to the school, it’s just that there’s several streets to cross. It’s like a river of children in the morning in good weather!

  3. Robin from Israel
    February 3, 2013 | 12:17 pm

    I totally loved this post. The freedom children have here in Israel to gain independence while still being children is truly something I treasure. In most towns here it is assumed that by 3rd grade your children are walking to and from school (even younger if they’re going with an older sibling or neighbor) – all the way from home to school, not just across the crosswalk. In turn, once they’ve mastered safe crossing and learned their way around a bit they then begin taking themselves to and from after-school activities, to friends’ houses, to the local candy shop… It’s a whole new world of independence – for them and for their parents, and as a parent it is such an honor to watch my children learning their way in the world. Slowly, safely, at an age appropriate level, but learning, and doing. After all, if we don’t give them the chance to try, how will they ever learn?

    • Anymommy
      February 4, 2013 | 7:11 am

      I wish this was the prevailing attitude in the states. I feel like we often give lip service to independence here, but god forbid the slightest thing should go wrong, then you’re just a careless parent.

  4. Candice@NotesFromABroad
    February 3, 2013 | 12:38 pm

    I remembered, way back in the dim recesses of my mind and that far back in time, when my daughter walked to school with her friends. No big interesections to cross but no crossing guards either. And I, with a baby and no clue, let her go with no worries.
    Today, I would have walked her to the door of the classroom, her independence be damned.
    Sometimes I wonder which was better, raising children when I was too young to have sense about some things or being older and being too aware of all the things that can go wrong.
    Things that no matter how out of your control they are, you think you could have been avoided.
    I was touched and happy to read that those two dads were there ..

    • Anymommy
      February 4, 2013 | 7:13 am

      I think that’s the thing in the end. No matter how much you try to control all the variable, you can’t, so better to teach good decision making and independence, however you feel comfortable. And I think you are way to hard on yourself “back then.” I bet you were fabulous ;-)

      • Candice@NotesFromABroad
        February 4, 2013 | 7:11 pm

        I seriously doubt I had very many fabulous moments but they still speak to me so I guess I managed well enough :)
        There is a little bitty boy coming in July .. word is that my ability to mother will be grand :)

  5. Mel
    February 3, 2013 | 1:48 pm

    I can feel your heart beating as you watch him. You’re right, what an amazing and wonderful thing it is to see the kindness you are surrounded by.

  6. Korinthia Klein
    February 3, 2013 | 2:16 pm

    I loved this post. You sum up all that nervous energy in the air quite vividly.

    I wish we could let our kids walk to school but a mile and a half is a bit much. We do bike together as a family when the weather is warm, and I have let my oldest bike home by herself when she wanted to stay late on the playground to play with her friends, so I have hopes one day she will do the whole round trip by herself.

  7. Alison
    February 3, 2013 | 4:05 pm

    That is a courageous thing to know you can trust your community, in this scary world.

  8. Melanie
    February 3, 2013 | 5:16 pm

    That moment where Garrett was stranded choked me up because I do remember what it felt like to be unsure of what to do without my trusted adult to tell me. I felt it this weekend as a mom even when I was faced with a new mothering moment of my 11 year old. And then to feel by proxy; how is it even possible to feel so intensely what our child is feeling from across the street? But I felt that too through your writing.

    As for letting them walk, I admire you. I mean that. I am a wreck as my 4th and 5th graders walk the 1 block to the bus stop while I’m at work. We live in rural Washington even and they have been doing this all year. They have both risen to the task and are showing more signs of responsible choices. I am going to channel your confidence and trust come Monday morning!

  9. MommyTime
    February 3, 2013 | 5:17 pm

    I could go all “back in my day” on this post…and I think I might. My sisters walked 1/2 mile to school, which required three turns and one street crossing that had neither crosswalk nor crossing guards, from when they were in 3rd and 4th grades. We all walked a full mile, requiring six turns and multiple street crossings with no assistance, starting in 7th grade. The elementary school walk prepared us for the bigger one. The only reason my sisters started doing this walk in 3rd grade rather than earlier is that we lived in a different neighborhood before that and were bus-riders. Everyone else in our neighborhood did that walk from 1st grade.

    My friends who live within walking distance now of our elementary school (my kids ride the bus) walk their children back and forth in kindergarten and first grade. By the time the younger was in second grade, he rode his bike with his older brother. If he’d been on his own, he would not have been allowed on a bike due to the busy street crossing (there is a crossing guard there), but he would have been allowed to walk, as there are always neighbor kids going together. I WISH my kids lived close enough to walk, and I would let them do it without me if they were together, by 2nd or 3rd grade, depending on their own self-sufficiency and the distance. If they are forced to live in a bubble, how will they ever learn to do things on their own?

    And, having been 20 feet away, PAYING ATTENTION, while on a walk with my child last year, and simply witnessed and been powerless to stop him getting hit by a car, I can tell you that being with them does not protect them. I can also tell you that getting hit by cars (or picked up by strangers) is so statistically rare that I don’t feel it’s worth the utter lack of independence and self-sufficiency that such over-protectiveness would engender. And so, we still go for walks in our neighborhood. And I still let him and his friends cross our quiet street on their own to play on the bike path that starts on the cul-de-sac across the way. If I don’t, I am afraid I will feed the paranoia rather than the independence, and I’d rather feed the latter. My two cents…

    • suburbancorrespondent
      February 3, 2013 | 6:21 pm

      What she said…

    • Anymommy
      February 4, 2013 | 7:23 am

      Thank you for this. It helps me to see my internal struggles more clearly when I read the thoughts of such smart parents a little further along the road.

  10. Tami
    February 3, 2013 | 5:19 pm

    How is it that the things I am thinking of are the things you write about ’round about the time I’m thinking them?

    Our school is just outside our catchment. It’s a five minute city bus ride away and we don’t have a car. While riding said bus one morning last week to take the Peanut to school with the Bean in tow I started thinking about when I’d be willing to allow her the freedom and responsibility of going to school on her own. My thoughts were that I’d probably feel OK with it once she’s 10 but about that time the Bean will be school aged and needing parental supervision on the getting to school front. So how to give the Bean the freedom/responsibility in that situation? This is what I’m mulling over.

    And can I say how awesome is your community that people are willing to step forward and help out?

  11. Jennifer K
    February 3, 2013 | 5:25 pm

    A super-cool concept is the “walking school bus.” One of your neighbors, Nikki, has organized one and it was in the Spokesman.

    I want to let my children walk, but I have a distractible 2nd grader. “Oh look something shiny in the middle of the road I must have!” So I have to have adult eyes on him at all times. Bummer.

    • Candice@NotesFromABroad
      February 3, 2013 | 6:40 pm

      Jennifer K .. you made me laugh at the “Oh look something shiny in the middle of the road !”

      I do have a memory that is somehow related to this .. in the realm of kids out on their own at an early age ..
      My daughter was in 2nd grade and left school grounds at recess and went to the corner market where she was caught with a bag of chips, telling the market owner to “charge it” , when her daddy just happened to stop by to buy the newspaper.
      This goes in the list of stories about How you watch and you hover and they end up going out on their own anyway :)

    • Anymommy
      February 4, 2013 | 7:21 am

      It definitely depends on the child. I think most parents know what their kids can handle and adapt to it well. I hadn’t seen the walking school bus! Thanks for sharing.

    • Gloria
      February 4, 2013 | 9:20 pm

      As parents I think we each know our child and their strengths/ limitations best, so not responding wrt the child above, but just making a general comment that if a parent is constantly watching out for them, kids are more likely to “stop for the shiny thing in the middle of the road.” If they know there isn’t backup “security”, they might not. I have observed this in my nephew, an only child with very protective parents who is used to someone else making sure he’s safe instead of taking that responsibility on himself. He just assumes someone is tracking his every move in busy public places. Let me tell you, it’s exhausting. I’m used to my 3 kids, who know it’s their responsibility to stick with me vs. the other way around, ’cause I can’t be in 3 places at one time.

  12. barb_aloot
    February 3, 2013 | 8:27 pm

    If they don’t get the chance to start small, develop confidence and learn some street smarts when they are in grade school, when do they learn? When they are in high school? College? Of course there is danger. That’s why they need to learn how to navigate the world rather than be chauffeured around. Someday they will grow up and be independent ready or not. Best to get them ready based on their capabilities rather than let fear of some random crazy who might not ever appear stunt their development.

  13. Jennifer
    February 3, 2013 | 11:14 pm

    Can I confess something here? My reluctance to allow my kids more freedom has less to do with my concern for their well-being and more to do with my fear of judgment by other parents. I have been trying to let my kids have more independence, bit by bit, and still it gets bit in the ass by “well-meaning” strangers. Case in point – the lady who confronted me at Target for “leaving your child unsupervised like that! it’s dangerous!” after I had my 8.5 year old son stand at the ladies’ room entrance while my daughter and I went in for approximately 3 minutes. Really?

    It sounds like you are not only comfortable with your community’s safety but also the support from other parents. And that is awesome. And also so are you.

    And maybe I need to move.

    • Anymommy
      February 4, 2013 | 7:19 am

      Actually, I agree with you 1000% percent on this. I have run into a few nasty know-it-alls myself. I think this is HUGE in our society. I have many things that I do solely because I’m afraid of others’ judgment and bile. For example, my kids love to read in the car and when I’m running twelve errands after school, I would kill not to drag them all into every stop. And I honestly feel for most short errands that they are safer in the car. I think theft of the car is bullshit, it’s not hot here, they don’t take off their buckles and we’ve had several incidents in parking lots with near misses while I try to keep track of all four kids when cars are trying to pull in and out. But, I drag them in, against my better judgment because other people are horridly judgmental about kids in cars.

      • Jen
        February 5, 2013 | 6:43 pm

        This is so how I feel too. The world is basically a safe place for most children. Strangers account for such a small percentage of crime against kids…it’s the people that know them that usually are the “bad guys” when there is abuse or a kidnapping. But people are SO judgemental about parenting decisions. It’s why we all have mother-guilt…being told we’ll fuck our kids up because of a choice that someone else saw as less-than-perfect. And – usually – it doesn’t matter if we use the situation as a teaching moment. I screamed at my stepsons after we lost our baby, “Are you fucking idiots?!?!?!” And, then, after I regained my sanity, apologized. And my ten year-old stepsons had grace and acceptance for my outburst because they understood I was in terrible emotional pain. They gained some empathy that day. Less-than-perfect parenting often gives our kids depth and maturity and understanding.

        I totally second (and third and fourth) letting them walk! :-) But even if you don’t, you’ll still be as awesome of a mom.

  14. Erin
    February 4, 2013 | 12:38 am

    I love this more than anything you’ve ever written. And that’s saying a lot because I love everything you wrote, it this had me holding my breath. I just wanted Garrett to get to school safely and I could feel his fear at how to proceed and I didn’t know how long it would take you to get to him, but those two dads helping? Wonderful. (And yes, let them walk.)

    • Anymommy
      February 4, 2013 | 7:15 am

      I love you. This comment makes me so happy and yes, I will, slowly but surely, let them walk. xo.

  15. Mentor Mom
    February 4, 2013 | 8:46 am

    Thankful for Community.

    Thankful for 2 Great Dads.

    Thankful for YOU!

    :) :) :)

  16. Michelle
    February 4, 2013 | 1:32 pm

    I’ve always been a lurker but this post really got to me today. My son is 7 and I don’t even let him walk from the bus stop to our house (maybe 7 minutes including time for crushing ice with boots). Maybe I will loosen the leash and let him walk the short distance. I know he can do safely and responsibly. Thanks!!

    • anymommy
      February 5, 2013 | 6:16 am

      Thank you! We’ll try baby freedom steps together.

  17. Arnebya
    February 4, 2013 | 6:39 pm

    My 12-year-old 7th grader is on the bus alone this year and has to walk a few blocks from school to the bus stop. Our elementary age kids get dropped off but I trust the fourth grader could do it alone, no problem. It was hard to let go of the fear of them being hurt, fear of crazy people, unleashed dogs, everything else I’ve ever imagined. Ours, unfortunately, is not a close-knit neighborhood and I envy you that. It warms me to know that other parents stopped and helped him cross. I’d like to think someone would do that for mine but I’m just not sure. Still, my girls are older and a bit more able to cross the busy intersections without help. I fear for their safety more in terms of I know I’ve taught them how to safely cross but will they listen?

    • anymommy
      February 5, 2013 | 6:02 am

      I think I will worry about whether or not my kids will listen for the rest of my life!

  18. Steph
    February 4, 2013 | 8:04 pm

    Thank you for this heartwarming, tear-inducing post. When a stranger offers kindness to your child it is beautiful.

    • anymommy
      February 5, 2013 | 6:00 am

      It really is. And you so rarely get to witness it.

  19. Roshni
    February 5, 2013 | 4:23 am

    I love the whole story! So wonderful to live in a close community! My son’s school is too far away for him to walk, but I do drop him off on the other side of the road (simply because of the snarl of traffic trying to get into the parking lot) and he crosses the road by himself.

  20. Candice@NotesFromABroad
    February 5, 2013 | 12:28 pm

    You worry about whether the kids will listen for the rest of your life.
    One day you will realise that They are counselling You and You are expected to listen to them and Do as They say .. it is a shocking state of affairs, I am telling you !

  21. Louise
    February 6, 2013 | 3:33 am

    I will half (halve ?) my kids’ grapes for as long as they let me prepare their food. I have volunteered in their lunch rooms, I know the chaos and tinier grapes give me peace. I’m funny that way. Great story. I was cheering him on, too. And those dads? Totally crushing on them.

  22. Lady Jennie
    February 7, 2013 | 8:21 pm

    Garrett nearly gave me a heart-attack (his slow moving-ness, that is). ;-)

    This whole post touched me. I had tears in my eyes just seeing your boy standing there, not knowing what to do. And then those fathers! The whole thing just tugs at my heart/

  23. Galit Breen
    February 13, 2013 | 3:41 am

    I love this. Obviously.

    And I love your gentle nudge to let go one step at a time.


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