I grew up on ten acres on the outskirts of a small Southern town. As a child, my best friend and I played in the woods with my dogs, pretending to be Indian princesses or fairies until my parents called us in for dinner.
When I moved to Exile, the culture shock was extreme. So many people, so much noise, traffic, horns honking … it’s overwhelming. Watching B navigate childhood here has been, at times, terrifying – but our hard, nerve-wracking work has paid off.
From the time he was very small, we let B run ahead of us on the sidewalks. We let him barrel down hill on his tricycle.We let him walk Maya. We taught him to stop at stop lights, streets, and driveways. And, dear god, there were one or two times when he didn’t turn his bike in time as he shot down the driveway and into the street, when he ran out into the cross walk without pausing. In those moments, we were very lucky. But I remind myself constantly that the most likely thing to happen is not the worst thing that could happen.
Over the years, we have made our fellow pedestrians extremely anxious. Turns out, people have the (understandable) urge to grab a three-year-old off of his bike as he goes whizzing by on the sidewalk, or throw an arm out in front of him as he runs pell-mell towards an intersection. I have been scolded – and praised – by strangers for the choices I’m making. In the same walk I have heard, “It’s so wonderful that you’re letting him do that himself!” and “You know, you really should hold his hand. It’s not safe.” I have had strangers shoot me incredulous looks as my toddler speeds past them and I just yell, “Hey, dude! Wait for me at the stop sign!” Because, really, how dangerous can a sidewalk possibly be? ‘Well, he might fall down.’ Yeah, that’s why I have band-aids in my purse. As Mr says, quoting his tough Irish grandmother, “Just rub a little dirt on it. You’ll be fine.” (Alternately, “Walk it off!”)
A few weeks ago, B’s very best friend from Pre-K (who is a year older, and also a city boy) visited and we took them to the park near our place. When it was time to go inside, they bolted towards the street. Then waited for me to catch up and hold their hands as we crossed it together.
Lenore at Free Range Kids is one of my great inspirations. She became (in)famous a few years ago when she and her husband let their nine year old ride the NYC subway by himself. As we have done with B, they practiced and drilled before letting their boy have this adventure.