A few glitches with the commute, and the importance of remaining calm and Rational

So on Friday I wrote a post about how, even though it will be stressful for me (I’m a born worrier), it’s important that Jake gets himself to middle school each day. Thousands – hundreds of thousands? – of NYC kids do it, he’ll be fine.


I said in the post that I knew things would go wrong – he’d take the wrong bus, etc. But I really didn’t think it would happen that very afternoon.

I got a text from Jake that he couldn’t find the bus stop (he’d been with friends the day before). Easy enough to fix. I called him, told him where it was, and made a mental note to show him the bus route on a map when he got home. He’s a visual learner like me.

About ten minutes later, I had a thought: would he know to cross to the other side of the street, and take the bus in the other direction? Of course he would. I mean, he’s taken the subway his whole life. He knows that you go to the other side to go the other way. Common sense. Sure, the day before had been his first time on a bus, but still. Same concept. He’d get it.

Or would he? I gave him a call. He was on the bus. Going the wrong way.

I told him to get off. By this time I was at Fiona’s school, picking her up. As she tugged on my arm wanting to tell me something really important I barked at her to wait. It took a few minutes, but Jake found the bus stop going in the other direction. I looked up the schedule on my phone and let him know that he had about a fifteen minute wait, and to text me as soon as he was on the bus.

And then I asked myself, should I just get in the car and pick him up? He was a ten minute drive away. We could tackle this another day.

He hadn’t sounded scared. A little worried, maybe, but not scared. No car. No saving him.

After fifteen minutes I couldn’t help myself. I called him. “Mom, the bus isn’t here yet. I just want to come home.” Now he sounded…not scared, but defeated. He’d been so excited to do this commute alone and he’d messed it up on the first try, and he sounded done.

“Wait, there’s the bus!!! See you at home.”

Phew. OK. No saving. When he got home I showed him the route. I explained how he was getting on the bus near our house on a one-way street, but his school was on a two-way street, so he had to make sure he was going in the right direction. I was kicking myself. Why would I expect him to just know this, having never ridden a bus? I had let his enthusiasm cloud my judgment a little bit.

Which brings us to today. He was trying the trip to school solo for the first time. The night before at dinner we’d impressed up him the importance of texting us when he got to school, every day. It was the last thing I told him as he left the house this morning.

I got out of the shower at 7:50 fully expecting to see a text on my phone from him, and my heart dropped into my stomach when I saw that there wasn’t one.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t want to call him. If he was sitting in class and had forgotten to turn the ringer off, he would get in big trouble. I decided to get dressed and call the school. They were nice, but explained that the attendance office wouldn’t get the attendance sheets until 9am. OK, thanks, I told them, not sure what else to do. Should I ask them to go to his room and check? Did I really want to be that parent?

Jake is forgetful. Last year, when he started walking his sister home from school, he forgot her three times in the first two weeks. It became a running joke. But after a few times of walking all the way back to school to get her, he got it. He never forgot again. So was this that? Was this Jake just forgetting, despite the reminders? Probably.

But what if it wasn’t? What if something horrible happened, and I lost an hour of doing something about it waiting for the attendance sheets? What if something terrible was happening to him right that moment and I could have stopped it if I hadn’t waited until 9am?

This was so much worse than him taking the wrong bus. Then I was in contact with him. Now I was just left wondering.

I calmed myself down. He was at school, I was sure of it. I got Fiona to school and set off on my bike for an event in lower Manhattan. I tried not to think about 9am, but of course that’s all I could think about. When the time to call rolled around I was on the Manhattan Bridge, which has a very narrow two-way bike lane with no place to safely stop. As soon as I got off, I called. After what seemed like forever, the nice woman on the phone told me that Jake’s class had 100% attendance. He was there.

Of course he was.

He finally texted me at 1pm, letting me know that he’d forgotten to text. Uh, yeah! I let him know how worried sick we’d been, how we’d called the school. I’ll let him know again when he gets home. Several times.

I set up a locator for his phone. He still has to text me each day, but this will be a little peace-of-mind back-up in case he forgets, and will be helpful if he gets lost. But I don’t want to use it. I don’t want it to become a crutch. When I was growing up it was on me to let my parents know where I was. Once I left the house, that was it – they had no way to contact me. And while I know technology has changed, I still want Jake to have that same sense of responsibility.

There’s a part of me that almost wishes I hadn’t answered his first text when he couldn’t find the bus stop. He has to figure this stuff out. On the other hand…I’m his mom. It’s hard to just stand by and watch him flail, even if it’s for his own good.

Originally posted on Selfish Mom. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 0. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.


  1. says

    Oh there is so much joy and worry ahead of me, isn’t there? My husband tells me all these stories about taking public transit in NYC by himself to school in the 80’s and it freaks me out. I want our son to grow up here and love it like we do, but man it’s going to stress me the eff out.

    I’m with you though – have to let them figure them out. Only way to learn. (with the side benefit of giving us anxiety attacks!)

  2. says

    OH NO! But you predicted it. I’ve had the same experience but no bus. It’s so hard to let them do it and fail. The principal sent me away. He assured me that he was there and to give him space :)
    It probably won’t be the last hiccup but Jake’ll get it right.
    So scary for you in the meantime though.

  3. says

    I think you found the perfect balance of supporting and giving space. You didn’t text him, but you were there when he needed you. That’s parenting at its best. Kudos, Mama!

    • says

      @Christy: Thanks, Christy. Still trying to figure out what a good balance is for me. My problem is, once I have an electronic crutch, I tend to use it. Now that I can pinpoint his location (or at least his phone’s location), I have to stop myself from doing it – not easy!

  4. Cara Robinson says

    I think technology has made us “born worriers” (and I am one too!!) much worse. I miss the days where when someone left you had no way to contact them until they came home and I didn’t worry. Now if I don’t get a text back or the phone goes right to voicemail I worry.

    • says

      @Cara Robinson: That’s so true. Our parents just sent us off each day and assumed we’d made it to school. They had no reason to believe we hadn’t unless someone told them otherwise. Now we assume someone DIDN’T get somewhere unless we get confirmation that they did! Ugh.

  5. says

    Sounds like you’re the one learning and getting used to the new independence….not him! But that’s the way it should be, right. I think in the city, we give our kids more independence earlier than parents in the ‘burbs where there is no public transport. and it’s nervewracking. But look on the bright side: no drinking and driving worries down the line!

    • says

      @Nancy: That’s exactly what O always says, and he’s right. The fear of my kids getting into a car with a drunk driver – or as a drunk driver – is something I won’t have to worry about nearly as much as other parents. On the other hand, I worry that they won’t know how to drive!

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