I let my 8-year-old walk home from the bus stop today.
All by himself.
And it was fine. And I think I just got a lot of time back in my day.
My son takes the bus to and from school. While the bus company gives us the scheduled route at the beginning of the year with the time it’s supposed to arrive, it has never arrived at that time. So, I have to get up early, rush the boys through their morning routine in order to rush to the bus stop to WAIT. Sometimes, we wait for up to 30 minutes. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that kind of “leisure” time in the morning. And then it has to be repeated in the afternoon. Stop the flow of work, get to the bus stop, bring a book/crochet project/phone to watch YouTube videos to kill up to 30 minutes waiting for the bus again. It’s SO aggravating!
My son has been asking since 1st grade if he could walk to/from the bus stop alone. Now when he was in 1st grade, my answer was an emphatic “No.” I laughed at him when he’d ask. The kid would just wander out into the middle of the street with no thought to his own safety. In his defense, that is largely what he observes when we are out driving. The pedestrians around here are often ridiculously laissez-faire about their own safety. Although, that turned out to be a good lesson for my son, as he often hears me yelling (as I screech to a stop for some pedestrian who walks into the street with eyes glued to her phone) “No! Please! Let ME be responsible for you getting across the street safely. I don’t have enough people to take charge of!”
I’ve been walking him to and from the bus stop up until today, but mostly to reiterate the same safety commands (e.g., how to re-check for cars when a parked car effectively blocks your view of oncoming traffic; or to stop before each and every driveway) and observe how well he remembers them when I manage to keep my mouth shut.
His little brother started a new preschool a couple towns away, so sometimes I get caught in traffic, and I needed to make sure that my son was okay if he got off the bus and I wasn’t there. I know he knows the way home and how to cross the street. I have been letting him un/lock the house door when we go out/come home so that he is comfortable using a key. This year I gave him his own key to keep with him and installed Facebook Messenger for Kids on his Kindle. He knows what to do. And today was the full dress rehearsal (except I was home to observe).
As the time for the afternoon drop-off approached, I could feel my anxiety building.
2:40p.m.: I grabbed a book and headed upstairs to perch by the bedroom window so I could spy on him.
2:42 p.m.: I haven’t blinked for fear of missing him. (Note: the bus has probably JUST left the school and is nowhere near his stop)
2:43p.m.: I tell myself to calm down and start reading my book.
2:43 (and 20 seconds) p.m.: I hear a bird or a car door slam or something and immediately start thinking “Oh my God! What if there is a police chase on Rockdale (I saw one once, about 14 years before he was born!) and he’s caught in the middle? Or what if the elephants break out of Buttonwood Zoo and come stampeding through the park! I never discussed either of those scenarios!”
2:47 p.m.: I’ve stopped hyperventilating.
2:50p.m.: I’m totally calm. He’ll be fine.
2:51p.m. “What have I done? I should find a disguise and hide behind a tree to watch everything! Why didn’t I buy a disguise for this type of situation?”
2:54 p.m. Give up trying to think of disguises so my kid won’t recognize me.
2:57p.m. I hear children! Wait, none of those is MY child! My mother is gonna kill me when I tell her I lost him.
3:01p.m. I see him calmly walking down the street. He chats with friends from the bus, stops, looks both ways twice, and then safely crosses the street.
3:02p.m. I smugly think to myself “See! Told you he could do it!”
Some may disagree that an 8-year-old is old enough to walk home from the bus stop. I won’t argue there. It depends on the 8-year-old. But MY 8-year-old is old enough to walk home alone from HIS bus stop right now. My job is to teach him to do things that a grownup has to do. I don’t want to figure out if I taught him enough when he’s a sophomore in college. I don’t want to hold his hand to do everything between now and whatever age I am when he puts me in a home.
I’m so tired of the over-protective mothering that seems to have become the norm. Nothing bugs me more than a smart kid who can’t figure out how to navigate through basic life skills. My regular refrain to my boys is “I’m NOT the maid!” I want some semblance of a life back. And at this pace, with each year that passes, I’ll get more freedom. Each skill that I teach them (e.g., making breakfast, gathering and washing laundry, bussing their own dirty dishes from the table) will translate into time I will get back. I can conserve that patience, energy and time to use for fun stuff (either theirs or mine).
So, judge away moms. I suspect that a good portion of judgment and tsking I’ll receive is fear-based. Fear of what could happen. And I can sympathize. Even as I let go of his hand, as I give him this independence, I am terrified that I’m making a wrong choice, that I’m letting go too early, that only I—Mommy—can save him from any and all calamities, that every other mom who doesn’t make the same choice will judge me to be a bad parent.
But I’m also afraid of going nuts because I have to do it all or resentful because he’ll stay dependent on me too long. It’s a balancing act. An act I didn’t feel prepared for. But the smile on my face and his when he successfully does something on his own is worth all those mixed emotions—at least for me.