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.