Sep 7, 2012 Kids
Jake on the bus, pretending he doesn’t know me
Jake started middle school yesterday. You may remember that we were struggling with a choice between a huge school that had a commute but was well established, and a tiny school that was on our corner but brand new. Pretty much everybody advised that we go with the smaller, closer school. That was my first choice too. But my husband was almost totally against it. Ultimately, we gave the choice to Jake, and in a move I found surprising, he chose the bigger school.
I will say that I was gracious. I didn’t complain, I didn’t try to talk him out of it. I don’t think my husband would have acted quite as well if Jake had chosen the new school. But it was what it was. Now I just had to figure out his commute.
I know lots of parents who take their kids to middle school, and that’s just not for me. I don’t want to give up two hours of my day helping my son do something that he’s perfectly capable of doing himself. But I did assume that I’d spend the first couple of weeks taking the bus with him, until he got used to it. And since his new school starts a lot earlier than the one his sister still attends, that would mean dragging her out of the house with us at seven in the morning. Ugh.
Luckily, my husband was able to take Fiona in this week. Yesterday morning, Jake and I got out the door on time. We waited for the bus. He told me not to sit with him or talk to him. And at first I complied. But as I watched him playing games on his phone and not paying attention, I became the kind of parent I really can’t stand. I was constantly bugging him to get his head out of his phone, pay attention to the route, to where the stops were, to where the other kids were getting off. Looking back I’m surprised he didn’t tell me to shut up.
As we waited for the school to open (yes, I waited with him, which totally mortified him) I told him to meet me after school at a certain corner so that we could figure out the commute home. I got there at the appointed time and he walked up with two friends from his old school, and said casually “Hey, I’m taking the bus home with these guys. You didn’t have to come.” Um, not so fast. I quizzed the other two on where Jake had to get off, and made sure he had his metro card, and then we parted ways, him to the bus and me to the subway to get my daughter. And he made it home just fine. I know, because I texted him and bugged him until he got there.
He wanted to do the commute completely alone today, but I insisted on one more ride with him. I sat across from him and we didn’t speak, didn’t even make eye contact, but this time it was my idea. I’d warned him that if he missed his stop, I wasn’t going to say anything. I sat there silently as he pressed the button for the wrong stop, hesitated, realized it was too early, and sat back down. And I hopped off after him when he picked the right one. I gave him a quick, non-mortifying goodbye, and told him to text me as soon as he got home. And that was that. What I had hoped would take only two weeks, he had compressed into a day and a half.
I know he’ll get lost sometime soon. He’ll get on the wrong bus, or miss his stop. Or he’ll miss a bus and decide to take the subway instead, and take it the wrong way. It’s going to happen. And someone out there will tell me that maybe he’s not old enough to handle it. If it’s someone I like, I’ll tune them out. If it’s not…I may tell them to fuck off. Because we’re not letting our children make mistakes anymore, and it’s hurting them. It’s compromising their ability to figure things out, to get back on the right track when something doesn’t go according to plan.
I also know that my attitude of letting him test his growing independence will be thrown back in my face if something unthinkable happens. Several adults have been killed crossing the street in our neighborhood in recent years, and this terrifies me. Nobody questions why those adults were allowed to cross the street by themselves. Yet we’re keeping our children closer for longer under the misguided assumption that if something goes wrong, then we were at fault for letting them do whatever it was they were doing.
My daughter is pushing to walk to school alone now, and while I’m glad she wants the responsibility, she’s simply not ready by any objective measure. She doesn’t know her way around the neighborhood, and still spaces out while crossing streets. But that day is coming within the next couple of years, so it’s my job to get her ready. This stuff is supposed to happen gradually, not all at once as a kid goes off to high school and the parents suddenly realize that they can’t take the child to school and still get to work on time. Or even worse, when a kid goes off to college without ever having done anything on his own.
So, every day around the same time I will be waiting anxiously for my son to get home, to know that he’s safe for another day. Letting my children grow up at a pace that’s right for them is completely nerve-wracking. But it’s a big scary world out there, and I’m glad that I have kids who are pushing to explore it, instead of begging me to keep them safe and close always.
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