A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the newish trend of driving children to school. I was a bit flummoxed as to why the parents in my mother’s neighborhood were taking their children one block to the school, why I so often see quarter-mile long lines of parents idling in their cars, waiting to pick up their kids. I advocated for letting children walk–for exercise, for mental acuity, for the environment.
I’d been mainly looking at this issue from one angle: I assumed that it mostly had to do with parents coddling their children and making everything as easy as possible for them. And some of that I still think is true, after reading parent feedback in the comments and emails. Parents also wrote to me about stranger danger, though statistically the world is as safe as, if not safer than, it was when I was growing up in the 1970s and 80s.
Of all the reasons parents gave me for taking their child to school, spending sacred moments with the child on the way to school and smiling one last time before they walked through the door was the one that resonated with me the most.
I drive my own kindergartner to school. We live a half mile from the elementary school; definitely within walking distance, but we are separated from the school by a 4-lane road with a speed limit of 30 that drivers consistently ignore by 15 mph. And the sidewalk is right next to the road with no grassy boulevard to cushion the blow should you trip and fall the wrong way. My son could walk a bit out of the way and for the most part avoid the road, except where he would have to cross it, but there are no other children on our block who walk to school and he’s too young to walk alone.
I have the luxury of not needing to make the decision whether to let him walk or not.
So most mornings, I park and walk my son right up to the elementary school door and stand with him in line like the other parents, waiting for the doors to open. The few times I’ve had to drop him off from the car line, watching him walk up to the school alone, I’ve had a pang in my stomach seeing my little one march off by himself.
My father and I talked about my post later that day. I told him I thought we parents of young ones know too much now–every kidnapping, death, illness, injury is there for us to discover moments after it happened everywhere around the world. While the world is safer than it used to be, it sure seems a hell of a lot more dangerous.
Then my dad said, “It’s like you young parents are shell-shocked.”
He was referring to the general barrage of everyday, albeit horrible, events in the news, but I realized: in a sense, we are. We are shell-shocked. And what did it for me was Newtown.
9/11 set a new level of stress, an event so horrible it need only be referenced by the date. It was the first time in my life, at the age of 25, I could look out my living room window and visualize the possibility of a foreign nation marching down our streets, ordering us out of our homes. Just that awareness was startling to me.
So the baseline was already raised, and there have been many events that have continued to heighten our collective alertness. But what really did it for me was Newtown.
Now, every time I walk my son up to the school, I notice which doors are left open as children enter and for how long. I notice my son’s classroom has an extra door to the outside and I think simultaneously, “Thank God, an extra exit” and “Does that make it easier for a shooter to get in?” I notice that the buzzer at the front door is worthless in the morning because everyone holds the door open for the people streaming in behind them and I think, “All a deranged person has to do is come at 8:xx a.m. Then he wouldn’t have to shoot his way in, he could just walk right through.” Inevitably, even if just in a flash, I see the image of 20 six- and seven-year-olds crouching in a classroom as they’re riddled with bullets.
One of those thoughts goes through my head 90% of the mornings I take my son to school. Those thoughts sometimes come to mind when I take my children to the library or the grocery store. And if it’s in my mind, it’s no doubt in the minds of many parents.
That’s a lot to worry about, a lot of stressed heaped on top of the regular, everyday stress of loving and caring for children.
So I don’t know. If parents need to take their children to school and see them through the doors to help them cope, maybe that’s okay. If they want to coddle the hell out of their kids, I certainly can’t blame them.
Though if I’m right, then we have to figure out a way to get through this. Because I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to raise a child whose hand needs to be held through every trial. I don’t want to raise a child who is startled by every possible danger, who sees the world as a frightening place. And if we make the world too safe for them, they will inevitably be debilitated by the awful that does happen within the wonderful. And, if debilitated, how will they lead?
Maybe we were a bit debilitated. And our response has been to shield our children–from bullets, from planes, from the heaped-on knowledge that feels so crushing. Our response has been to make laws, increase governmental power, add security, add fences, add screening, take off shoes.
I don’t know the answer. I’m overwhelmed just writing this. But it seems the more we shield ourselves and our children–the more security we pile on–the more burdened we feel. And doesn’t that make us weaker instead of stronger? Won’t that make our children weaker instead of stronger?
Photo: Star Tribune Sept. 2, 2013. Minneapolis police officer Anna Hansen said good morning to students who entered South High School at the start of the school day.