Friday, July 08, 2005

How Much Independence?

A couple of weeks ago, we were driving along and Mermaid, who is 10, asked me, "Mom, when will I be able to go to the store by myself?" It is a question I've been pondering ever since then. When I was 10, I had been allowed to ride my bike to the shopping center approximately 2 miles away and spend the afternoon there for a year or two. With friends, of course, but unsupervised by adults nonetheless. The store Mermaid is asking about is a 2-minute walk from our house, and she's talking about walking over there by herself to get something we need in the house, not hanging out there for any length of time.

It seems like I've been having conversations about this sort of thing with other parents I know a lot lately. We all (unless we had those parents who were always driving us places, which I did not) got ourselves back and forth to school or to friends' houses, walking or riding our bikes, from fairly young ages. Starting in third grade, I used to walk or ride my bike over to the house of my best friend, who must have lived at least half a mile away. Starting in first grade, I used to walk to school a mile away accompanied only by other first graders. I don't think any of the parents thought anything of this.

And yet, I don't know any parents around here who let their kids walk to school without an adult. You can practically see the school from our upstairs windows and my two kids have never gone there unescorted. Everyone says, well, things are different now -- but as far as I know, no kids have ever been taken between here and our house, or in the surrounding areas, and when I really think about it, I wonder what exactly is so dangerous? We even have a tunnel that goes beneath the street, making it so that virtually the entire journey would be taken on bike paths rather than on the street. And if I didn't want them to have to use the tunnel, I could easily escort them across the street, which is close to the house, and then stand there and watch them ride all the way to the school from there. Same with going to the store, as a matter of fact, although there is a major intersection to cross on the way there as well.

So on the one hand, I think it would probably be fine to let them go back and forth to school on their own, or maybe even let Mermaid go to the store. In some ways, she is very grown up, and if you tell her a rule about something like that, she is going to obey it. On the other hand -- Mermaid is developmentally disabled. It sucks, but it's the way things are. She is grown up in some ways and very naive in others. And it can be hard to predict when those others are going to crop up.

I know that we have a tendency to treat her like she's younger than she is. It's been going on for a long time -- for instance, on her 3rd birthday, it suddenly occurred to us that she didn't really need to keep sitting in her high chair for meals anymore, and we went out and bought a booster seat (by contrast, with her younger brother, we weren't even bothering with that booster seat by the time he turned 2). In the last few years, she's occasionally started asking to be allowed some kind of freedom or another: to play out front without an adult, to stay home alone while I run a quick errand, that kind of thing. Each time, it's gone fine. I suspect letting her take a 20-minute walk to Safeway to pick up a loaf of bread would go fine too. But for some reason, that one is harder to swallow.

In any case, I did let her have a bit of a trial run this past week. After her swim practice on Tuesday, we went to the shopping center so I could get a pedicure at the nail place just a few businesses down from Safeway. She is usually famished after swim practice, so I gave her some money and had her walk over to Safeway by herself and buy a bottled smoothie. I went over exactly what she needed to do wrt paying for it and all that, and she listened with a patronizing look on her face, because after all -- how many times has she gone through the check-out at Safeway with me? Anyway, she did just fine -- she was proud of herself, and I was happy she'd been able to do something like that without having to cross any streets. Who knows, maybe one of these days, I will send her over to Safeway for a loaf of bread :-)

No comments: