The old joke — never that funny, actually — is about a rich lady who takes her grown son on a vacation to Florida. When she gets to the hotel, she lavishly tips the bellhop to pull her son out of the limo and carry him upstairs.
“Can’t your son walk?” the bellhop asks.
“Of course he can!” says the mother. “But thank God, he doesn’t have to.”
Now fast forward to the bus stop of a typical American suburb. The time is 3:30 p.m. and a couple of cars sit idling. (Let’s not even get into the Al Gore aspect of this.) At last the school bus arrives, dropping off moppets aged 6 or 8 or even 12. Said moppets dive into the car that’s waiting for them — driven by mom, dad or a nanny — and a couple of blocks later, usually after insisting the radio station be changed to Disney, they are safely back home.
Can’t these children walk? Of course they can! But thanks to an increasingly warped view of what makes for a good American childhood — and a good American parent — they don’t have to.
Now, forget all the clamor about how fat our kids are getting, and how out of shape. Let’s talk about what this personal limo service does to their view of the world. When parents pick their kids up from the bus stop, those kids are left to assume it is wrong for them to even consider walking home. It must be too hard, too dangerous, too strenuous – too impossible for someone their age. Message from parents: You’re a wonderful, amazing, precious person!
But you’re not up to a two block walk.
Sift through the emails on this blog and you’ll find tails of parents picking up their kids from the bus stop even when it is on the same side of the street as their home — even when it’s on the same block as their home. Some parents pick up their kids in golf carts, because they live in a gated community — presumably gated to keep the traffic (white slave and otherwise) out. So these are not just parents worried about cars or creeps. These are parents worried about allowing their children to take even one, single, cul-de-sac step without adult supervision.
Obviously, they’re only trying to do what’s best for their kids. But the “what’s best” job description is expanding so much that pretty soon, concerned parents are going to be cutting their teenagers’ food for them. (Oh. You already do?)
When most of us walked to the bus stop as kids, it wasn’t because our parents were negligent or unloving. They simply trusted us and our neighborhoods.
Today, believe it or not, our neighborhoods are no less safe. Nationally, the violent crime rate is back down to what it was in 1970 (and lower than it was in the ’80s). So there’s no reason not to trust our towns.
That leaves our kids. Why don’t we trust THEM? Were we so much stronger, faster and smarter? Are Americans, in fact, de-evolving? This seems unlikely. (Until you watch reality TV.)
October 8th was “International Walk to School Day,” and I’m very sorry I missed it. But maybe it’s time for Walk to School Month. Or at least Walk to the Bus to the School Month.
Can’t your children be chauffeured to and from the bus stop? Of course they can. But thank God, they don’t have to be.