Monday, June 6, 2011


Occasionally, I've been letting Ben walk home by himself for the last three blocks of our drive from school. It started when we stopped off to mail a letter and Ben announced that he knew the way home from there and asked if he could walk.

I suggested a compromise: that I would let him out on our corner so he could walk up the hill by himself. But the next time we stopped at the mailbox, he insisted he could walk the whole way by himself.

I surprised myself by letting him do it.

Two of those three blocks are along a fairly busy downhill street. He has to cross one intersection, watching behind him for turning traffic. I drive as slowly as I can and am never very far out of sight. He runs most of the way, with a grin that signals his excitement of being independent.

Each time I've done this, I have a moment of panic. "Is this really a good idea? Is it dangerous? Is this street too busy? God, what have I done?"

The last time, along the way, he struck up a conversation with a utility crew and gave me a report on what they were doing when we met up back at home. We're they charmed by his outgoing curiosity or were they were thinking, "Where the hell is this kid's parent?"

In the end, the idea of Ben developing independence, being able to walk three familiar blocks, seems more important than my second-guessing and feelings of panic.

I need to know that someday he'll be able to get places, take a bus, look at a campus map and leave enough time to get to his class, find the address of a job interview, use good judgement, keep himself safe.

And I'm never NOT going to panic, so that criterion is pretty useless.

It makes me think of the books of Ezra Jack Keats. I've written before about the special place "A Snowy Day" has for us. In the world of these books, Peter and his friends rove around their urban neighborhood, run errands to the store, experience a new snowfall, mail a letter, explore a vacant lot, all without adult interference.

And it makes me nostalgic for my own very comparatively free range childhood of biking and swimming and just doing nothing in particular without direct adult supervision.

I've come to terms with the fact that Ben will spend his childhood being chauffeured more often than roaming free. But when he wants to walk three blocks, or do that next thing that's totally reasonable but scares me anyway, I'll try to let him. And I'll try not to panic.

And I'll probably panic.


Jordan said...

Good for you. I know that feeling so well, that "OH MY GOD, what have I done?" feeling in the pit of my stomach. But I try to tell myself that, without those small moments of questioning my own judgment, there would be much, much larger moments of questioning my boys' judgment and ability to cope with life independently later on. And so in the end, it's worth questioning my own sanity once in a while.

goodfountain said...

We are so far from this. Charlotte doesn't even like to go the BATHROOM by herself!

TC said...

It's so hard to freerange AND be a special needs parent, isn't it?

N will be in fifth grade in the fall, and he wants to walk home from school sometimes. Up until now, he's had his sister and (these past two years) one of the neighborhood girls to walk with him. Next year, no one. But I'm not going to squash this tiny interest in independence (especially since the school is less than four blocks from our house), so instead we're getting him a cell phone so he can let us know when he's on his way, and we're going to take a very deep breath, and watch him fly (or, rather, walk).

But thank GOD it'll be Baroy waiting at the other end (I'll be at work) those first few times, is all I can say. Because otherwise? I might not be able to resist the urge to just HAPPEN to be walking RIGHT PAST THE SCHOOL when it lets out. ;-)

jaki said...

You're a's OK to panic! It's also very brave to allow those three blocks! Brava!!

Diane said...

I believe that the best parenting makes both the parent and child uncomfortable. You, because you're giving them too much freedom. The child, because you're giving them too little.

sknittymama said...

Christa, it was so nice meeting you the other evening. I just thought to look up your blog and the first post I saw speaks directly to my own nostalgia of a "free-range" childhood. Before I ever realized J had any differences, I already regretted the necessity, in today's world, to supervised our children so closely. Add to this two working parents, and we have a summer-long schedule of camps for him, compared to my summers spent lounging around reading, hanging out with friends in the neighborhood and wandering places I'd never let my own kids go now! To add to that, we now live in a neighborhood that I'd have been hard-pressed to let my child walk around in by himself, even before I realized that his inattentiveness and gender fluidity might make him an easy mark for those with ill-intent! I commend you for encouraging Ben's independence and will be trying to do the same, as I find the opportunity.