Times are definitely different from when I was a kid. My brother, at barely 2 years older than me, walked me to school sans-parent when we were in elementary school. Granted, it was a crossing of three streets and my mom could watch from the safety of our corner, but at 5 and 7, we were navigating the neighborhood on our parents’ trust. Nowadays, this would be labeled neglect.
I want to give my girls some independence, but these days, people are quick to call CPS and deem you an unfit parent even if you are letting your kids play in the (fully fenced) back yard while you prepare hot chocolate in the kitchen while observing through the kitchen window. If you’re not within arms reach, you’re not “parenting.” Our parents didn’t Parent. They raised us. They let us figure things out and were available for kisses and hugs and boo-boo repair, and they never gave a thought to kidnappers or sex offenders.
We never even tried to stray.The rule was: stay on the block. Stay on the block we did. All of our friends lived on our block anyway. Someone’s parents always knew where we were and everyone had each other’s phone number. I don’t even know some of my neighbors names!
A few weeks ago, I posted on Facebook about how I had mixed feelings about seeing a young girl walking by herself to school. As I mentioned, I walked to school with my 7 year old brother when I was her age (I’m guessing, I didn’t ask). Maybe her parents were just old-school? I felt very conflicted about what to do because I didn’t want to be perceived as a kidnapper or a scary adult and I definitely did not want her to just bolt across the busy street in fear and get hit by a car, so I just crossed her and hoped she made it safely.
I’ve had a hundred changes of heart about what I should’ve done. I should’ve asked her to get into the car. I should’ve asked her name and called the school to let them know what happened. I should’ve crossed her and followed to make sure she got to school okay. I still think about this little girl and her frightened face.
And now I realize what was so unsettling about this experience for me. She was afraid. She didn’t trust me, a mom in a minivan with two babies in carseats, to be a safe person. She was late for school and probably missed the bus and had no one to help her get to school. Maybe her parents had already left for work. She knew she was going to get into some kind of trouble, if not from her teacher, from her parents. And she was so afraid.
We never were afraid. Our neighborhood was a community. A family. There were still neighbors nobody liked or who were mean to the neighborhood kids, but we were never afraid. I feel very sorry for the world my kids have to live in. I just hope we can make friends with our neighbors and help them to feel safe. Like they own the block. Brave.