At the beginning of the last school year I tried to put together a Coalition of the Willing. It was a big undertaking. Still, I thought I could assemble a group, even a small one, of kids who would all walk to school together. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was embarking on a doomed mission.
That year my daughter and the group of girls she’d gone through every grade in the elementary school with were all heading to fifth grade. In my town that means they enter the middle school. This big transitional period essentially meant they were switching from the school at one end of the street to the school at the other end.
I may be exaggerating a bit. The schools aren’t exactly on the same street, but they are near enough, and while the girls were entering a much larger school with much older kids (the middle school includes grades through 8th) the logistics of getting to school hadn’t much changed.
I should probably preface this by saying I may have been the only mom in town who allowed her children to walk to the elementary school alone.
Just so you don’t think I’m a crazed, deranged parent, you should probably know the elementary schools in my town are located within each neighborhood. There are four of them in a town the size of a small pea. They are specifically designed to be within walking distance from the students attending. This, however, does not stop the general public from reversing down their driveways, pulling up two feet and dropping their kids off in front of the neighborhood school. To be sure there are a few kids who walk but most if not all are accompanied by watchful, anxious parents.
I am not a watchful, anxious parent. Or, I am when need be. I just don’t think the need is all the time. With the new year, the new school and the new independence that comes with being a middle schooler (switching classes, having lockers, dining in a cafeteria with the coveted privilege of buying hot lunch) came a new opportunity to introduce the concept of walking to the other parents. For some reason I believed I could do it. I could amass this coalition of the willing, this coalition of the walking, this coalition of the willing to walk.
The kids may have been up for it (I’ll never know), but the parents decidedly were not. Had I considered all the history I would have seen I had no basis for my belief. Maybe I was blinded by sheer optimism. Maybe overwhelming desire. Still, I believed. The kids were old enough, they were mature enough and gosh darn it they could do it. Surely the parents would see the error of their ways, would realize suddenly how silly they’d been not letting the kids walk to school, especially given the crossing guards that were posted at each corner whose only purpose was to ensure a safe passage. The time was ripe. This time I could gather a group or a few other girls or at least one other kid to walk with my daughter. This was a foolish notion.
Walking to school is a quaint idea. No one does it anymore. Not even if they are old enough. Not even if they live around the corner. Not even if there are no buses. Not even if it is good exercise. Not even if it develops responsibility and fosters independence.
No, parents drive. So for a whole year my daughter walked alone. Occasionally, she picked up a kid along the way, but mostly she set out on bright sunny mornings to walk the leafy suburban streets alone. I think she walked about six blocks, and she passed about four of her friends’ homes along the way.
She survived and lived to enter sixth grade. This must be the year. No one can deny the kids are old enough now. But the year started out as lonely as the one before. Then one day while The Kid was preparing for school we saw it, a glimpse through the front living room windows. There, outside on the sidewalk in the early morning light was a fellow sixth grader. Alone. Walking. I raced over to the front door and ran out onto the porch in my pajamas. Shouting and waving, I called, “Kayla! Kayla! Come back. Are you walking? Do you always walk? Here, take The Kid with you. Go together. Remember to stop here on your way. Always stop here. You’ll go together.”
And, now, a few days a week the two set out on their six-block sojourn through the wild sidewalks of suburbia together.
One Funny Motha writes about parenting on her eponymous blog.