This morning my six year old asked me when she would be old enough to walk to school by herself. She was watching two sisters walk ahead of her, towards the open doors of her school. "How come they get to walk to school by themselves?" she protested.
I pointed out that their mother was just across the street, following their progress with an eagle eye. She sighed and trudged ahead. I was thinking to myself - yeah, you can walk alone to school when you are walking across your college campus to class, sister! I mean, who wants to let their kids walk anywhere alone these days? Maybe if we lived in a tree-lined suburb where hoards of children filled the sidewalks, ambling to school together. But we live in a city and I drive her to school. She's free to play in our backyard, and sometimes to play in front of the house with the three children who live next door - but that's about it.
All of this got me thinking about the extraordinary amount of freedom I was given as a child -- I was a child who also grew up in the city. Sure, in retrospect, I think my parents were a bit too lenient, but those were different times. All that independence did however make me strong and street savvy and resourceful. I'd like to strike a balance with my daughter, but right now all I can muster is letting her play in front of the house, drawing with chalk on the sidewalk with the neighbor children, all the while knowing that if I'm not peering out of the window looking out for them, her grandmother is, or the the mom or dad or grandparents of the other children, will be.
My own solo traveling began at an early age. On Saturdays I would strap on my roller skates and leave our house to glide (if you can call rolling on those old metal wheels "gliding") to the PATH train station about 10 blocks away. From there I would get on a train to Greenwich Village and roller skate to a pantomime class. (Really.) I was probably in sixth or seventh grade, and all of my classmates also traveled alone, by subway usually, to our class.
Later I took the train in to go to other classes, like acting and voice. I had a key to our house and during the school week often came home for lunch by myself (sneaking a little TV time in, since no one was home). The really big trips entailed my mom driving me through the Lincoln Tunnel into the Port Authority, where she would wait with me until the Adriondack Trailways bus would pull up. Then I would board the bus and travel almost two hours north to Ulster County where my father lived in a rambling house by a lake.
I remember the first time I took the bus by myself - how my mom made sure that I sat in the front near the driver and how I talked his ear off the whole time. Eventually the ride became just another normal part of my routine, and I would do homework, watch the scenery and read.
One of the positive things that came out of this I suppose -- besides the aforementioned independence -- is a love for travel and a fearlessness to do it, alone. I'm not known in my family for fearlessness -- quite the opposite. When I left New York on a fellowship after graduate school that would take me near Russia, I planned some solo travel there. I also bought all sorts of insurance to get me home and get me medical evacuation if needed. My cousin's eyes grew wide as I reviewed my policies with him. So yeah, I'm not exactly a carefree person. (How many 20-somethings do you know that carry a travel policy for accidental amputation?)
The point is, I went on those trips -- and I did it my way. As summer approaches, I am about to take my daughter on her first international trip (OK, it's only Canada, but still!). I hope the journey fosters in her a lifelong desire for (considered and careful) adventure and exploration.
Now you'll have to excuse me as I'm overdue to call the Passport office.