Why One Mom Lets Her Son Walk to the Bus Stop Now

Hi Folks!
Here’s a short, sweet post by Seattle reporter Denise Gonzalez-Walker, who did something radical: She met her neighbors. It changed the way she’s raising her son:

By Denise Gonzalez-Walker

 

I recently finished a temporary job that gave me new perspective on the Free-Range philosophy. Working as a U.S. Census canvasser, I went door-to-door in my community, verifying addresses and other mundane information, like if someone had turned their backyard into a new condo development.

  Think about it for a minute: Would you be willing to knock on every door in your ‘hood?

  My area of the city is “colorful,” with everything from tidy cottages to messy shacks with broken-down cars in the yard. It’s where my family lives. Where my son catches his bus.

 But I’ve always wondered if I should trust my neighborhood. The census job gave me chance to find out.

 A few women I met acted as if I was nuts. Who knows? The bogeyman himself might be lurking behind that next door, waiting to snatch me, torture me and kill me, they’d say. I hated those exchanges, which made me feel anxious and paranoid.

 My 11 year-old son also worried about me at first. Talk about turning the tables! When I came home from my first day of training and relayed that a census worker in another state had been killed on the job, his eyes grew big. 

“Shot?” he asked, “Stabbed?”

 No, I told him, the worker had died in a car crash while driving between locations.

 By the end of my job, our group of canvassers had visited 32,000 homes. The calamities, in total? One minor car accident and a dog bite. In other words, reality matched what the statistics say about the risks of walking door-to-door and — gasp — meeting people in your community.

 By knocking on those doors, I came to trust my neighborhood a lot more. So when my son asked me if he could start walking alone to the bus stop two blocks away, I didn’t hesitate. “Sure,” I said. “But be sure to watch out for cars!”

 ###

18 Responses

  1. So true that our fears impact our kids. Sounds like an interesting job. We had a canvasser come through our neighborhood recently too. I’m sure other areas are more… interesting than ours to do that in.

    I’m not surprised that people worry about what can happen to a woman going door to door. Our fears get played on so much for ourselves as well as our kids.

  2. I had the opportunity to canvas for the heart and stroke foundation, but I’m much too busy with my little ones. It would have been really nice to meet a few more neighbors.

  3. Sounds like an interesting job. I couldn’t do it…I don’t speak Spanish and a majority of my neighbors don’t speak English.
    But I feel the same about my neighborhood. I don’t know my neighbors by name but I know a lot of them by sight and we wave and say high even if we can’t really speak to each other. I actually trust them and we look out for each other’s kids. It’s like an unspoken understanding.

    And even blocks away…I trust that those neighbors are very much like the ones on my own block. Last Friday I let my 7yo son and 6yo daughter walk home from school together while I waited for my 8yo to get out (her class was LATE and I was so aggravated). My son promised to watch his sister when crossing the street and to be careful. They stopped to pet the dog a block from our house and made it home safely. They were so proud. (The school is 1 1/2 blocks up and 1 1/2 blocks over from our house.)

    The other day I wrote a blog about a free-range walk I took with my kids were I left my son guarding his bike outside a local market. Surprisingly it wasn’t the leaving him outside (which I felt was perfectly safe with all the people from my neighborhood around) that got me in trouble with the parenting police. It was because I didn’t “know” where my kids were when I left. I said I had to go find them.

    And they were especially upset that my 3yo was out there and I didn’t know where. I knew she was safe. She was with her older siblings and they know they aren’t allowed to leave our block. They were either in our yard, at my son’s friend’s house or down the street at this friend’s brother’s house where they hang out a lot. And that is where they were. I was reamed for not keeping track of my kids and neglecting/endangering them. What I found at the house was my 4 kids, plus the 3 that live there (they were actually next door from where I thought at another friend’s house) plus about 8 other kids between the 2 houses and 5 or so adults.

    How much more supervision do they need? I actually felt bad about them being down there thinking the parents would be upset but there were so many kids already at the house I don’t think they even noticed the addition of 4 kids, including another toddler (there were 3 other kids around 3 years old there).

    These are good people, normal people just like me. I find it sad that we are such a distrusting and paranoid society any more. I used to hate living in the city when my kids were little thinking how unsafe it would be and that they would never be allowed out alone like I was but now that they are older I realize it is no different then when I grew up and I love it here. I feel safe in the throngs of the population and trust that my neighbors will look out for mine and other just as I will do.

  4. I think the fear of censure, of lawsuits and attacks by ‘well meaning’ neighbours is the worst fear of all. If you can’t trust the people in your neighbourhood not to rat you out to CPS/CPA for being free-range what does that say about your neighbours? If a school has to take away all the playground equipment because a child *might* fall and *might* get hurt, that says a lot about the world we live in. It only takes one parent to stick their nose in, or sue, and bam! We all suffer. [/rant]

    I’m almost at the point where I’m thinking Gabe can play in the yard by himself. When I know I can trust him not to go down to the street I’ll let him. He’s on his way to 3 years old. Right now we always go out together and while I garden and pull weeds he runs around and does his own thing.

  5. Great post. I often think the biggest fear is the fear of the unknown. Once you start knowing… getting to know your neighbors… walking your streets, they don’t seem so dangerous after all.

  6. Think about it for a minute: Would you be willing to knock on every door in your ‘hood?

    Does it say something about me that I answer “Of course”, or something about the asker that they bother with the question?

  7. Jen brings up a good point. My biggest fear with free-ranging isn’t that my kids will get hurt or abducted or molested or even that they will get hit by a car because they didn’t look both ways when running across the street to get their ball (a new privilege my 8 and 7 year olds just earned). My biggest fear is that some nosy neighbor is going to call DCFS because they consider my parenting to be neglectful and endangering my children.

    Right now it seems most of the kids on our block are allowed the same freedoms as my kids. There is almost always someone to play with. But I would love to send my kids off to the park. It’s around the corner, half a block away. But I’m afraid someone will call the police because 3 children are unattended. The park is almost abandoned during the day other then when school gets out (it is right nest to the local public school) because kids aren’t allowed to go without a parent and parents are busy.

    I almost feel like I need a lawyer on retainer to fight the inevitable law suit that will come. Sad.

  8. I just loved your idea. I have a project, my life-project, that is strongly related to that idea. I am a social scientist, and I learned, in the theory and in real-life, that the most important thing to well being, for several reasons, including economic development (the World Bank itself published a study where it´s mentioned that the trust between people is very important to economic growth).

    I would like to maintain contact with you, if you wish, about that topic. I think that kind of action is urgent nowadays.

  9. I just loved your idea. I have a project, my life-project, that is strongly related to that idea. I am a social scientist, and I learned, in the theory and in real-life, that the most important thing to well being, for several reasons, including economic development (the World Bank itself published a study where it´s mentioned that the trust between people is very important to economic growth).

    I would like to maintain contact with you, if you wish, about that topic. I think that kind of action is urgent nowadays.

    My e-mail: guilhermearbache@yahoo.com.br

  10. We met all our neighbors selling Sally Foster wrapping paper for school. When my son was in kindergarten, I went with him, but this year he was in 5th grade and I sent him out alone. They remembered him year to year and some even waited for him to come. I got to know the neighbors as well. It was fun to meet those folks that we don’t see on the street.

  11. Great guest blog post! I was very saddened when, a couple of years ago, our school district “outlawed” the kids walking door to door to sell Girl Scout Cookies or get signups for whatever-a-thon was going on. My waistline may thank the lack of visits from the Heavenly Cookie Kids, but my anger at the CSI-in-Real-Life mentality – the media and parents tendency to blur primetime crime with actual reality – overshadows my 2 pound weight loss.

    I’m so thankful all four of my kids are free range, and always have been – even before the “movement”. I love everything Lenore does and I hope this changes from that “movement” to COMMON – and FAST.

  12. […] Why One Mom Lets Her Son Walk to the Bus Stop Now Hi Folks! Here’s a short, sweet post by Seattle reporter Denise Gonzalez-Walker, who did something radical: She […] […]

  13. I was wondering if you saw this: http://www.news.com.au/travel/story/0,28318,25553965-5014090,00.html

    wonder how long til they make a child-version (or a school or creche insists that children be tagged ‘for their own good’)

  14. Really Great Post. I remember my school days FRIEND.

  15. I’ve been told that allowing my almost-13 year old free-range daughter to travel alone by subway from Manhattan to Brooklyn (as she has done to and from school for three years) makes life difficult for other parents whose kids want to go it alone. Increasingly the issue is evening travel (well before midnight, I might add), and while we have a few additional protections in place (like frequent texts and messages), she still has the freedom of movement she wants and that we want her to have. We will not instill paranoia in her; she will take risks, and we will support her by taking appropriate responsibility. The statistical chance of her being kidnapped or otherwise harmed is far outweighed by the chance of being hit by a cab crossing a Manhattan street.

  16. Oh, Joy. *That* argument. Don’t let your kid do this or that because *somebody else* doesn’t want to parent their own children and enforce their own rules.

    I’m all for the village, kids are a lot more able to roam if other adults feel free to tell them “Yes, I know you’re cutting school, and you either go or I tell your mom”, but there’s a limit… and that’s kinda where you’ve already said your daughter is doign what she’s allowed to do.

  17. My husband and I are raising our 10-YO daughter to love dirt and adventure. I don’t hover, but I always know where she is. I recently started letting her ride her bike alone to a local park about a mile from our house. I admit the first few times were a bit nerve-wracking, but I sucked it up. She comes home dirty, wet (there’s a creek thru the park), a bit sunburned, and happy.

  18. I’m not surprised that people worry about what can happen to a woman going door to door. Our fears get played on so much for ourselves as well as our kids.

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