Growing up in Houston, the car was how you got there. Didn't matter where there was; 100 miles, 10 miles, or a mile away, you were using vehicular motion to get there. Odds are, it wasn't even a car - it was just as likely a truck or a Suburban, truth be told. The sprawl that was - and still is, to a very, very large extent - Houston living almost requires a car to go to work, church, the gym, the grocery store, the library, almost anywhere. The exception was school and my friends' houses in the neighborhood - then, I had the freedom to get myself around, my first step toward independence and responsibility.
Here in Fayetteville, the town is much smaller. The traffic is lighter and the distances between here and there are shorter. It's a very bike-friendly community, with the recently-completed Razorback Greenway the crown jewel of a regional trail system. When considering how to get from here to there, it's a totally different calculation than in the big city. With the kids getting older and both of them now proficient bike riders, riding to school together seemed like a natural thing to add to our school week routine.
Of course, thinking something is a good idea and then actually going through with said good idea are two different things. When Justin and I talked about the actual mechanics of the kids riding to school, we realized that despite our best efforts, we did still have helicopterish tendencies. How would we know the kids would get to school without adult supervision? How would we know they would come straight home? How would we handle not having 100% positive control of those little people from door to door?
My job change presented the perfect opportunity to work this out. I took a month off when I changed jobs, and as it was the month of April, the spring weather gave us the perfect opportunity to do test rides with Mom in preparation for going it alone.
We found the best route that kept the kids off of the busy roads as much as possible; there were still two pretty big roads to cross (and without crossing guards at the school, which I just don't get), but we practiced stopping and looking before crossing. We talked about how to judge how fast a car might be going, and that it's always better to be safe than sorry. We walked our bikes across the streets the first couple of weeks, easing our way into the skill of a "cold start" on a bike.
The last week of my time off came and it was time to let the kids do a dry run. I knew they were responsible enough, and certainly adept riders, so I wasn't worried about crashes. Still, though, there's that moment as a mom when you realize this is it - my babies are going off on their own and I'm trusting them and THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD to take care of them. As they rode down the street and around the corner together, then passed out of sight, I caught my breath and said a little prayer that everything would be fine.
Of course, everything was fine. They got to school just like I had countless times when I was in elementary school, and they made it home together in the afternoon, no problem. No big deal, Mom, their body language said when they walked in the door that day. Why would you worry?
I know these days, most parents probably aren't comfortable letting their kids ride to school unsupervised. I have to say, I think that's a shame, for so many reasons. My kids have gained a little bit of independence and understand the responsibility that goes with it. They get some extra exercise to bookend their school days. I've come to appreciate, though, that the most important lesson I've learned from allowing my kids this freedom isn't for them, but for me. If I don't take these little steps along the way that allow them to get just a little bit farther from me, and to help me learn that they are capable and trustworthy, how will I ever let them take the car keys and drive away? How will I be ready for them to go to college?
Childhood isn't just about the kids growing and learning, it turns out. There are going to be plenty of times along the way where the lesson is just as important for Mom and Dad as it is for the kids. I'm not sure what else is in store for me with the passing years, but I hope that I will remember this first step and balance my fears with their need to grow up and grow independent.