Independence 


It has been a bit of a struggle this school year in dealing with Mario and his voracious streak of independence. Actually, let me strike the word “struggle” and change it to the word “battle.”

We never had this issue with Ri. She begged to be driven to school every day and enjoyed if Rocco and I walked with her on the other days. She had zero desire to trek 1.3 miles to school.

Since the end of last year’s school year, Mario has been pleading with us to allow him to bike or walk by himself to school. Jon and I would discuss it here or there but never arrived at a decision (yes, we are the ultimate procrastinators). Then, the school season arrived. And there stood Mario, at our sides, begging to bike by himself to school.

The bike ride is a simple one. Straight down the main strip with one small downhill at the end. There are three crossing guards spaced out at different sections of the strip. Kids are walking and biking along the strip from 7:30 until 8:15. 

But they are typically with an adult.  

“Typically with an adult.” These words scorched Mario’s ears. He did not hear anything more. Then came the persuasive arguing.

“You let me bike to the library by myself. You’ve biked with me to school and back and told me I did a great job. I am responsible and call you every time I should.” And so on and so forth…. On and on…. 

So, in a fit of whining fatigue and  unbridled trust, we let Mario bike to school two days straight. The first day, Jon followed Mario on his bike. When Mario got to the hill to go down towards school, Jon stopped him and told him he did a great job. Mario had no clue he had been following him and he broke down in tears.

“Why did you follow me, dad? I thought I rode by myself.”

Jon apologized and took off down the street. Mario thought that Jon was upset with him, so he biked towards where Jon drove. He couldn’t find Jon. One of our friends approached Mario and saw that he was sobbing. Mario called Jon from the friend’s phone and told him he was sorry for yelling at him. Jon felt horrible. He reiterated that he just wanted to see how well Mario biked to school, and he waited to give Mario a hug at the end of the hill.  The next day, we let Mario bike all by himself. He did great, policeman waved at him as he went by, and he called and said that he got home after school.

But that night I talked to my mom and a couple of girlfriends and all of them thought that having Mario bike to school at age 8 was a bad idea. I had been questioning in my own head whether I should continue to allow it. On the one hand, Mario craves independence and loves achieving physical feats. He was so excited to go to school those mornings. He felt awesome. 

On the other hand, he’s only eight. Other kids likely crave independence from their parents too, but they arent allowed to bike all the way to school. Jon and I have always given a lot of leeway in raising Ri and Mario. But what is the limit? If something happened to him on the way to school, I knew I would never forgive myself. Yes, something could happen to him when he’s in fourth grade and riding by himself but that feels different than allowing him in third grade at age 8. Besides, the fourth grade school is much closer to us. But he’s also a responsible 8 year old about to turn 9 year old. And he craves the independence so why not continue to give it a chance? It is a safe neighborhood, there are crossing guards, there are police. Parenting is ping-pong in the head. 

In the end, Jon and I pulled the plug. We sat with Mario the night before school and told him that for the time being we did not feel comfortable with him biking by himself. We discussed our concern for his safety at his age. We told him that we believed in him and we believed he was responsible but that he was just too young to go to school by himself. 

He was absolutely deflated. He cried. He gave us his case as to why he felt he was responsible and able to bike down to school. He begged for us to change our minds. It broke my heart. I was still so torn but I could not go back on my position at that point. 

The next morning, he did not want to get out of bed. He did not want to eat cereal. He did not want to go to school. I was sick to my stomach. Why had I allowed him to bike to school in the first place only to take it away. Why would I give him a tiny taste of it only to pull it back? I was beating myself up all day long.

After school that day, we allowed Mario to have a friend over to spend the night. When I got home from work after fretting all day, Mario and his friend were having a blast together. They were playing basketball and video games. Mario had nothing to say about not being able to bike to school. As it is many times with kids, the worry we put on ourselves is lost on them after a few hours. Over the weekend, at random times, Mario continued to bring up his wish to bike by himself. He made his case on how responsible he was and how he stayed on the sidewalk and how he would never let a stranger take him. We listened and continued to mull over what to do with him. My “all or nothing” personality was shining bright in my thought process. Either he can bike everyday by himself or nothing at all…either I eat an entire sleeve of cookies or none… either I win the race or don’t run at all. Maybe I needed to learn to loosen the reins of that  personality trait a bit.

On Monday morning, as I made his waffles and talked with him about his day ahead, I flexed my rigid trait and told him that we would just see how things go throughout the fall and the spring. I also told him that I had arranged for him to be able to walk with a couple of friends once or twice a week (I didn’t include the fact that I or another mom would be walking behind him).

Sure enough, this past week, he got to walk with his buddy (and yes, I walked far behind them to make sure they got to school on time). He also got dropped off  by Jon and picked up by our sitter. And he biked to school with me a couple of days. Jon and I allowed him to bike home by himself those days since our babysitter was waiting for him and she could call us to let us know he made it back to the homestead. 

And with each day, all ended up being just fine. 

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