Proof That the Kids Are Listening and Learning
My kids walk home from school when the weather is nice. My boys are in 2nd and 4th grade and we live only a mile from their school. We started letting them walk just this year with a few other families in our neighborhood.
At first, I was a nutcase of a worrier over them walking. Would they be safe? Would they use their heads when crossing that last, busy street that has no crosswalk?
I started by waiting for them at their final intersection and walking the last couple of blocks home with them in the fall. But, little by little, I began to let them do the entire thing alone.
Our rules were simple:
- Walk straight home. No stops along the way.
- Stay on the sidewalks.
- Cross at the crosswalks.
- Always stay together as a group.
- Never let anyone walk alone.
They needed to be reminded of these rules a few times when our network of friends would call us to let us know that they saw the kids being stupid. Running across the street to grab acorns or pinecones, stopping to play in a friend’s backyard without telling anyone, splitting up and getting separated, or failing to find the group and starting on their own were some of their reported transgressions.
Most times they pulled this nonsense, they were called on it and forced to suffer either punishment or lectures about safety. Nothing makes me happier now than when I hear them dissuade each other from breaking rules because, “the parent spies will catch you.” Yes, they think we have spies strategically placed throughout the town and I whole-heartedly encourage that belief.
So yes, they are kids who don’t always use their heads, but more times than not, they have been responsible and smart about walking home safely this year.
Fast forward to last week, when my oldest son was home from school with a fever and a stomach bug. I had heard from one family of neighbors that her kids would not be walking home that day, so I knew I had to find a ride for my younger son so he wouldn’t be alone. I called up a friend who agreed to pick him up with her kids and keep him for a bit to play as well. Satisfied and grateful that I have such wonderful, helpful friends, I went back to the business of washing out the puke bucket and monitoring my oldest’s fever.
Shortly after school dismissal time, my phone rang.
“Stace? It’s me. I’m here with my kids, but your son is refusing to get in my car.”
“What!?! Oh no, I called the main office and had them tell him he’s going home with you!”
“I know, and he said he got the message, but he won’t get in.”
I was so confused and annoyed and embarrassed. Here I had called a friend for a favor and my kid was outright refusing an adult he knew very well. I wanted to strangle him. But my girlfriend just laughed it off.
“It’s fine. He said something about not letting anyone walk alone, so I let both of the boys out to walk home with their friend. I’ll trail them in the car and pick them up once they get to the first house.”
Mortified, I apologized and thanked her profusely for putting up with my stubborn son.
Not even 5 minutes later, my doorbell rang. It was another neighborhood dad at the door dropping off my son and his friend.
“I saw them walking home with my kid, so I scooped them all up out of the rain. They said they were going to play down the block, but I didn’t see a car there, so I brought them here.”
At that, I just burst out laughing in my neighbor’s face. I looked down at my son as he pushed past me to get into the house.
“Scottie, what happened? Why didn’t you get in the car when you knew you were supposed to go have a playdate?”
My son looked over his shoulder at me while he took off his wet shoes,
“You always said not to let anyone walk home alone!”
It was then that the lightbulb went off for both me and the dad who picked the kids up. It turns out that their normal walking group all had other plans after school with the exception of my son and this dad’s son. I had assumed my Scottie would be walking home alone, so I made plans to have him picked up. But, if he had gotten into the car with his friend, that would have left only one person, this 4th grade boy, walking home alone.
In his refusal to get into my girlfriend’s car, he was actually standing firm in his knowledge of our group’s safety rules. This girlfriend of mine didn’t know the other boy walking home, and he didn’t know her, so they decided to just all walk home together in the rain instead.
As we figured it all out, we laughed at the confusion. Grateful for cell phones, we called everyone involved and relayed the story. No, Scottie wasn’t being rude or stubborn, he was actually being safe and looking out for his friend. And both my girlfriend and the other dad friend were understanding after both being so wonderful about helping out.
It’s one of my favorite things about this tiny little small town. That all of the families get to know each other and look out for each other’s kids, even when not asked to do so. With this little incident, now two more families have gotten to know each other, just further spreading the net of helping hands and watchful eyes over our kids.
And now I know for sure that, despite all of my worrying that they’re all being knuckleheads on the walks home, at least one of the rules has sunk in.