Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Flashing Green

When our dear nonlinear ones were here from the United States of America last month they asked me "What are the flashing green lights for?" I explained that is our great Canadian universal socialized street crossing scheme. The scheme that says, hey I have the right to cross the street at many many many intersections. And, I expect the government to help me do it!


I was driving to work today. Shame. Shame. The back route I usually enjoy has been less enjoyable since school got back in. Today around the corner near the high school it was entirely clogged. Rainy and a bit dark near eight there were cars everywhere. Slow, silly cars.

When I was a kid no one drove to school. Before the age of 16 anyway, then it was the ultimate coolness. My parents lived in the house I grew up in for a long time and I remember when the phenomenon hit my old street (a block and a half from my elementary school); the street would clog up with cars. Lots and lots of cars. Then fancy signs about how/where/when to stop -- and not stop. I thought it was weird, not for the logical environmental reasons, but more because I thought schools were put close to people so they could walk there. I love right now that my kids can walk to day care and that I get a walk around the block myself is a mental/physical health bonus, too.

Today in my self-conscious mode of analysis of the drive to school culture wondered what it would will take for my kids to walk to school. I have often wanted to wander the edges of what I consider to be a very expensive form of helicopter parenting; the safety conscious stuff. Count me keen to avoid the mode where I had to go to the 'safety store' to childproof A LOT. The busy inventories that, while they may suit others, would land me in the loony bin should I engage even a bit with that sort of worry. The hypoallergenic everything, the super-safe toys and overall pursuit of purity that raises my suspicion. I was shocked as a parent to discover one of the biggest brands is something called SafetyFirst. I felt like I'd been dropped into some junior Coast Guard brigade with poop! How much of it is about actual risk and how much is just a sales job for already overly freaked out parents? Of which I am one. I always enjoyed the "look offspring X really just loves poking around with a stick", or "offsprings y-z, don't they just love to wash dishes". It is liberating and practical and cheap and more....!

But, today, I looked at all those cars this morning and I got it. I realized that I could be one of them. I hope it's just a matter of perspective and conditioning. Maybe it is just my current separation anxiety, which is considerable, but looking at all those cars I sort of thought, yeah. I guess I should get off my high horse and admit driving the kids might be the way to:
1.) see my kid until the very last minute.
2.) know they are safely at school.
3.) deliver them to a school that we think is the absolute best option for them.

I hope that I don't drive the kids to school. From the get go I want school, like everything they do, to be a permissive developmental bargain. You will conform to this institution in exchange for an additional measure of independence, discernable in the following ways.... I will make you go to school but I will at least trust you to walk the six blocks to get there. I will trust you to learn the right routes and to obey crossing signs. I will teach you to respect yourself and begin to protect yourself from the earliest possible age. I will support you as a member of this community to achieve the degrees of safety you deserve.

We have of late read the excellent book LonPoPo**. My daughter asked me today, at the age of four, if I would leave her at home with the door latched while I went to pick up her brother from childcare, a half a block away. The trip would take me 5 minutes or less. I said no, but I would think about it. I felt she asked me because she wanted to show me she knows a new risk and can keep herself safe, alone. She wanted to prove it. I believe she feels the liberty because she knows the danger. (Or maybe she just wanted to totally act out and role play the risk [highly likely] at the moment, so... no we won't leave you at home Princess Smartypants!)

Where do you stand on these dangers? Is there a definite right age for your children to be alone, apart from you as a parent? Do you think safety is an important factor in your decision to drive -- or not to drive -- your child to school? October is walk to school month. Tell me, will/do, your child(ren) walk to school?

** Young, Ed. Lon Po Po : a Red-Riding Hood Story from China. Scholastic, 1990.

Dedication: "To all the wolves of the world for lending their good name as a tangible symbol for our darkness."

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Blogger Mad said...

You read LonPoPo to your 4 yr old? My near 4 year old would have nightmares for a week. On that topic, I don't really anticipate my fears limiting my daughter. I have to work so hard just to enable her to overcome her own fears. As for walking to school? Get back to me on that one when she finally feels comfortable leaving the room I am in.

7:12 p.m.  
Blogger mo-wo said...

I continue to chase after the harsh Disney crush with other literature. Classic Grimm's Fairy tales and the gruesome seems to have cachet these days.

We have a really great Greek and Roman monsters book right now that has me thinking about the success of the Disney franchise. Recognizing that branding was key in the ancient pantheon's as well.

I find children's marketing and media literacy fascinating.

NB: there are days my children are frightened of the spooky music on the Scholastic Corduroy film or Thunder Monster on Little Bear.

8:24 p.m.  
Blogger nonlineargirl said...

I know this is not the point of your post, but in my desire to collect and share the different intersection lights around the continent, I must say: in New Mexico at some intersections the lights are arrayed horizontally. At one intersection (but at not others) the turn arrow was to the right of the red light for the cars going straight. Very confusing to an already disoriented visitor.

9:55 p.m.  
Anonymous cheesefairy said...

I have the same thoughts, living across the street from a middle school, so the kids are at least 11 years old..still with the cars everywhere. Makes me curse old-lady style under my breath as I try to wheel my stroller around the idling SUVs. But it's a french immersion school and I'm led to believe they are quite rare so maybe many kids are from out of the catchment? Still - live where you learn and all that.

I only just 2 weeks ago realized how well positioned we are to raise bi-lingual kids in this neighbourhood - elementary has an immersion stream and is three blocks away (just like in my childhood, snif) and high school 6 or so. My children will be walking, you bet. I walked 30 minutes to high school. All the best conversations with my friends happened to and from school.

And I would probably leave the 4 year old for 5 minutes but that's just me now - there are a lot of ways to injure himself in our house that my son hasn't discovered yet. I have always been notoriously slack w/r/t safety. Hmm or more: it's not my main neurosis.

1:36 p.m.  
Blogger L. said...

Four was actually the age I started leaving my children alone for (extremely brief) errands.

7:28 p.m.  
Anonymous cheesefairy said...

came back to mention that most people are also scheduled in afterschool programs...soccer, dancing, swimming, etc. so getting from point A to point B needs to happen faster. when *I was a girl* I had no extracurriculars so if I took 2 hours to walk home from school it was fine.

and then noticed my previous comment's tone a bit...holier than? not my intention.

7:42 a.m.  
Blogger kittenpie said...

We walk, though of course I go with her at this point. I notice a fair number of drivers though I do know of one or two who are on their way to work with the drop-off, so that makes sense. When she gets older, I think we will probably look to something like having a few of the kids from the block walk togethr so they can have some independence, but still a bit of safety for a little while longer, at least until middle school, when I expect them to be able to walk alone, for goodness sake, if not before. I think by ten it should be fine, really. Of course, we have no major streets to cross on the way, which helps, maybe?

9:48 a.m.  

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