The little D. and I have had a long-standing Saturday lunch ritual---he wants sushi and I crave a spinach pie before we go cycling. When he was under 8 years old, I started allowing him to cross streets by himself, although of course I was at or near the intersection. He would then walk the length of the block to the sushi bar (well, it's actually a fish shop with two counter seats,) and order and start eating by himself. I'd join him ten minutes later.
Perfectly normal. Here. I love an area like Park Slope where this is possible. And, unlike the many posts on the many blogs around here, neither of us has encountered the officious types who question this "obvious child neglect" (but see US Open, 2006.) Reminded me of this story in OTBKB about the 9 year old on her own in Park Slope:
Superprotective Mom said. “I don’t want Kate on the street at all. There are too many bad people around."
Well, since then, D's been getting quite comfortable walking a block or two by himself, but both Elizabeth and I were quite surprised when he announced last Monday that he would walk to school by himself, and back, since PS 321 dismisses IV graders by themselves with parental permission.
My son, the little baby?
Even Elizabeth was not as concerned as I, and was amused by my reaction.
Shouldn’t we have gotten him a cell?
Luckily this was said not in his hearing as he’s convinced that by 10, he will have one. He will not. Then off he went, and I worried for a while, but not enough to follow him or call his teacher Sara to ensure he made it there. Oh, how limited is one's concern.
On the first day's dismissal, he was having difficulty telling Sara that he was going (the irony---he’s not too nervous to go, just to say he’ll go,) so he got a friend’s dad to call us so we could tell him to tell Sara that he was off by himself.
And there he was at home, seven minutes later.
Elizabeth says that when she was in I grade in Los Angeles, she and a friend would walk by themselves. And cycle in the streets. What have we lost by our perception that we can’t allow this anymore? And it is a perception more than reality in the type of neighborhood we live in. Your child is statistically more likely to be hit by lightning than be abducted (which I assume is the most trenchant fear, you can after all teach your child to be cautious about vehicles.) When D walks to and from school in Park Slope, he probably walks by many of his friends and acquaintances. In fact, one of our older neighbors said to Elizabeth yesterday, "He's growing up! Walking to school by himself." Talk about "eyes on the street," she's aware of a lot that happens in front of her house.
So in this environment, why would we worry about III or IV-graders being by themselves? One could blame TV---in fact there are studies that show that the more TV news you watch, the more distorted your perceptions of the prevalence of crime. You could blame our over-emphasis on safety as opposed to common sense. You could blame our seemingly endless ability to want to transfer personal responsibility from ourselves to others. We're practically the laughing stock of most of the world with our fearfulness, our litigiousness, our risk-averseness. But that's another story.
I mentioned D’s forays to a couple of parent friends, and they were surprised. His best friend’s mother, not an over-protective type, said vaguely “doesn’t he have to be ten to walk by himself?” I hope not, he’s been to the store several times since last year to get last minute condiments and I’d hate to think we were in danger of being arrested.
Next week he's going to lunch off-campus (sushi, of course, one day a week since the fish shop is just within the boundary set by PS 321, and other days he will no doubt hang with his equally empowered and independent buddies at Sweet Melissa's or Pino's.)
He's growing up. In just a few years he'll be away to college. Then I'll really worry.