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2:30 a.m. - 2014-09-06
walking home
I've been doing battle with my children's school over their right to walk home from school unescorted. Yes, there is a form with a box you can check if you want your child to be a "walker": It states, "My child is allowed to walk home by him(her)self." I checked and signed, but that was only the first step in getting the school to actually let my children step onto the pavement without a parent present.

In priciple, yeah, my kids are walkers. But in reality, the teachers take all the kids who don't ride buses to the side door of the school and release them only when the teacher recognizes a parent, or when the kid identifies a parent and the teacher checks his or her ID. "Go!" the teacher says, and gives the kid a little push, and the kid sprints to the parent like everyone is under heavy sniper fire. I am sure it's all about safety, but this is ridiculous.

The bottom line is, whether through peer pressure or the sheer hassle of getting the school to release kids as walkers, pretty much ALL the parents at my children's school pick up their kids. I find this ridiculously overprotective.

This attitude is the reason why Connecticut kids are still living with their parents at age 30 and still haven't found a job. It's why at age 16 half of them haven't learned to tie their shoes or brush their own hair.

I am absolutely determined that my kids don't end up helpless adults or even helpless elementary schoolers. My kids make themselves breakfast and snacks, they clean up after themselves (most of the time); they clean up around the house, set the table, help cook when I have time. They know how to do laundry and use a broom. They know how to make good decisions about everything from friends to food. They are allowed to run off and play with friends for hours, as long as they stick together and never go into anyone's house until Mar calls me on her cell phone to tell me whose house it is.

I think that the freedom mixed with responsibility I give my kids makes them more confident, more responsible, and more likely to succeed at life than kids who are coddled all the time. Walking home from school is another skill I wanted them to master, another opportunity to (safely) practice independance. We live exactly 1/3 of a mile from the school and there are two streets to cross, both with crossing guards. Our neighborhood is residential, friendly and extremely safe; cars crawl along because there are often children (not mine!!) playing in the road. Since I walked three miles round trip to school every day when I was a year older than Mar, I think it's a fairly reasonable distance for them to walk.

And, to further clarify, I actually meet them at the school every day to walk with them. They are 5 and 7, so I'm not ready to let them walk the whole way alone. But my plan was to meet them a little farther from the school each day...

Anyhow, the first week and a half of school involved me waiting for them on the sidewalk outside the front of the school and them not showing up because teachers wouldn't let them leave the building without a parent. I took it to the prinicipal, all the involved teachers I could identify, the front office and my children's classrom teachers; I also wrote notes for both of them explaining that they are WALKERS and do not need to be released to a parent. Finally, on Friday, the ninth day of school, they were actually walking down the sidewalk in front of the school, holding hands, when I arrived.

As A. would say, "A miracle from the [email protected] Jesus."

Yes, I worry that Child Protective Services will be up my ass every time I walk up to the school. What kind of parent would insist that her kindergartener walk home alone? If I'm really meeting him at the school, as I claim, why would I insist that he be released regardless of whether I'm there?

As I tried to explain to my kids' teachers in the notes I wrote them, the difference between a parent "meeting them" at the school and them being "released" to a parent is about empowering my kids to behave responsibly on their own. Letting them leave the school unaccompanied tells them that they are smart, competent people who don't need constant adult oversight to survive. I walk my kids home to protect them from idiot drivers, but not to protect them from themselves. They're perfectly capable of making good decisions and making their way home alone -- they're just short.

The sight of them walking down the sidewalk holding hands on Friday felt like a huge victory to me, especially after I saw that they were as excited as I was. C's kindergarten teacher had walked him down to Mar's classroom just before dismissal time, and Mar's teacher had let them both go when the bell rang -- together, and sans adult. Mar was put out that I was waiting on the sidewalk anyway, but she was happy that "we got to walk for a little ways all by ourselves!!"

I may not be the world's greatest parent, but there are a few things I think I succeed in, and one of them is raising children who know they can handle life. I love listening to them getting breakfast in the morning (the only kitchen equipment they are allowed to operate is the toaster, don't worry!) and when I hear Mar telling her brother things like, "You can choose to be happy or you can choose to be unhappy, but no one can MAKE you be anything!" or that so-and-so was mean because "he's probably having a bad day, or else he didn't learn at home how to be nice." I loved watching them walking hand-in-hand up the sidewalk, very serious and responsible and very pleased with themselves....



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