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.
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One thought on “Then vs. Now”
My sister and I both walked to elementary school, which was a block away. The kids on that street now take the bus. We didn’t even have a bus – we were deemed too close, especially since my entire elementary and middle school years we had a rejected budget (and therefore had farther distances deemed walkable). We walked that same route to go to the playground, even though we owned a swing set. I think you get reported to cps if you let your kid do that now. We played in the woods behind the school (well, until the inchworm incident). We skated on an outdoor pond, well out of sight of the neighbors or my parents – it was in the woods behind my neighbor’s uncle’s house. We rode our bikes around the block. I’m old, so as a child a lot of my friends were latchkey kids – you would send your son or daughter home with a house key, where he or she would make his or her own snack, do homework and then play, until mom or dad got home from work. They were told to not answer the door or phone. Now I think that’s (being a latchkey kid) illegal, and gets you jail time if that’s your parenting plan.
Of course, we did a lot of things different back then – I never sat in a car seat, we were held on a lap and then when we were older we were plopped in the back seat (except for scouting excursions, when they would pile 2 or 3 kids on the bench front seat, 3 or 4 in the middle seat, and 6 in the rear trunk area of a big country squire wagon. No one used seat belts.) We didn’t have bike helmets, or a helmet for roller skating or skateboarding. We didn’t have cell phones but our parents always knew where we were (and our neighbors made their own version of a cell phone by taking the cordless phone to our house in case mom or dad called them if they were out). It was a very different world.
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