Free Range, Cage Free Kids. But Not In My Backyard.

Part of my prayers every night include hopes for my children to be safe. Safe when I’m not around. Safe to make sound decisions. Safe from harm.

I don’t worry excessively – well, no more than the average mom. I’m aware of the dangers out there and just pray they don’t happen to my kids.

Switch gears.

I was coming home from dropping my kids off at school a little earlier than usual. And traffic was backed up. Once over the hill, I spot the culprit.

A school bus.

Stopping every few feet.

I kid you not.

I clocked it.

There were three stops in just a smidge over one tenth of a mile.

Back in my day (and yes, we had color TV and drive-thru McDonald’s) we walked to school.

Blocks. And lots of ’em. In fact, in my elementary school I only remember two school buses for the whole school. The rest of us?

We walked. Alone. Well, with friends, usually. Or siblings. But no mom hovering behind the bushes. At least, I didn’t see any. And I know my mom wasn’t hovering. She usually left for work before we did.

Kindergarten through 5th grade. Used those tiny legs of ours and…..walked!

The frustrating journey down our little two lane road this morning reminded me of a blog post I read recently by Gale at Ten Dollar Thoughts. She sends you to this NYT article here and then reminds you/me of a book I wanted to read that you can find here. Statistics can be your friend. Good sound statistics typically puts my mind at ease. And Gale pointed out that according to the NYT article you’d have to leave your child on a street corner for 750,000 hours to even prompt a kidnapping. And with my kid? He wouldn’t go without kicking and screaming, causing such a ruckus the kidnapper probably let go and need a Valium to settle down. I know. We’ve practiced.

Why in the world couldn’t middle-school-age students walk a few feet to meet in the middle? These were not tiny, helpless 5-year-olds boarding the bus. These were able-bodied teens.

We talk about our children’s health. We talk about our children’s safety. We worry. We plan. We strategize. And then we notice overweight kids. And socially stunted children. Anxiety ridden children taking prescription meds.

And we don’t point the finger back at ourselves and say, “Gee. Maybe I should concentrate on raising a more independent child. Maybe I should kick junior off the couch and send him outside to play. Maybe I should take her to the park more often so she can play with children other than her siblings.”

Now, I suppose you’re wondering, Jane, why is it you were driving your kids to school?

Well, I’ll tell you.

We choose a school that is located 15 miles away and doesn’t have bus service. And now I can just hear my friend laughing because when we moved here I told her we searched and searched for a home in a great school district, where our kids can go to school with kids from the same neighborhood. Our boys were 3 and 4 when we moved here and after our older daughter’s public school experience we researched a bit deeper and found a school more suited to our children’s needs and frankly, our values.

It’s a school that encourages independence. Compassion for others. Good health and nutrition. Organic living. Environmental awareness. Respect for other cultures. Embracing our individual, unique differences. A Montessori school.

I wish I lived within walking distance of our child’s school. I wish all the kids in the neighborhood walked together. But in our subdivision alone, I can think of eight different elementary schools used by the families that live here. And those are just the ones off the top of my head.

We are not a culture that values the neighborhood school. We have strayed so far off course in an effort to please everyone. To keep our kids safe. To offer a better education.

And 15 years down the road, I wonder how that decision will bite us in the butt?


Filed under Be-Causes, children, Soapbox

22 responses to “Free Range, Cage Free Kids. But Not In My Backyard.

  1. Jane – What a terrific, real-world follow-up to my earlier post. I too have seen school buses stopping in front of the entrance to every single cul-de-sac in a block, rather than ask the kids to walk a couple hundred yards to get home.

    In the comments to my post I especially appreciated The Kitchen Witch’s perspective, which is that in hovering over our kids we rob them of independence and autonomy. A sense of accomplishment comes from doing something on your own, without step-by-step instructions and supervision. How often do kids really get the chance to do that anymore?

    Terrific post!

  2. I love Lenore’s Free Range movement. Have you checked out her blog? It inspires me as a parent to let my kids go, explore…walk the block from the school bus home by herself and dang other parents who might think I’m negligent because of it!

  3. We seem to be thinking along the same lines today – about keeping our kids safe (emotionally and physically), and also not going overboard. About recognizing what are true risks from those that are statistically improbable. And wondering how our choices will pan out as we combine them with our kids’ choices which, invariably, we must allow them to make.

    It’s all scary. It all comes with a price tag. We just do our best, don’t we. And hold our breath.

  4. As a school bus driver for eight years and driving all ages; I can tell you that we are required to have at least 150 feet between our stops.

    I do feel for the people in cars who are trying to get to work and have a schedule to keep. I do my best to be quick at my stops and make sure the kids are aware that we are holding up traffic.

    However….with all of that being said (typed), I will and do make exceptions to that rule if it involves a child’s safety.

    If you feel very strongly about the issue perhaps a phone call to the transportation dept of the school district should be placed.

    • With at least 150 feet between stops, in one mile you could theoretically stop 35 times. That’s 3 1/2 times per tenth of a mile. That’s a lot of stops.

      On another note, I want to thank you for what is probably a thankless job at times. It’s good to know there are people like you, keeping our kids safe! 🙂

  5. Hi Jane:

    I think that how independent our children are sometimes has to do with where they’re raised…my kids grew up in a working-class city neighbourhood…they’ve been street-smart from an early age (have walked to the corner store and ridden city buses alone since age 8). Street people don’t freak them out…

    Jim’s kids grew up in suburbia, and have been driven everywhere their whole lives. They would be terrified to walk anywhere or get on a city bus alone (even now that they’re teenagers). They’re so shy, they wouldn’t go back to ask for ketchup if the McDonald’s guy forgot to put it in the bag!

    Even though my kids grew up without a lot of “things,” I think they’re stronger people because of where we lived!


  6. Amen. My kids do go to a neighbourhood school. My husband drives them in the morning because it’s an early start neighbourhood school and we just can’t get there in time by walking. But in the afternoon my son walks home (a good kilometre) or to my Mom’s house (less) and I walk down and walk my daughter home, gearing up to her walking to my Mom’s alone (he’s ten, she’s seven, and he’s been walking alone since last year). I love those statistics too (and your kidnapping-attempt scenario). I am on the anxious and obsessive side, so sometimes it’s really hard for me to let them have their independence, but it’s hard to do sit ups too, and I manage those. Sometimes. You have to put the work in if you want the right result.

  7. Argh, I was behind one of those buses the other day and dang near went insane! When I lived in N.D., it was a 7 1/2 block walk to school and my mother let my 3rd grade sister walk my kindergarten butt to school every morning, sun or sleet, with no worries.

  8. This is a really thought provoking post. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we live in a culture of fear. And it is stunting us. In so many ways. But at the same time, I made a similar choice like you did. I chose a Montessori school for my son because the neighborhood schools around here are very poor and because I was SCARED that he woudln’t get a good education.

    I wish I could trust more. I wish I could send my kids out into the neighborhood to play. But I am honestly not comfortable with this. (Of course my kids are only 6 and 3 right now, but still. The idea terrifies me.)

    What are we going to do to change this? Because it is affecting so much in our society and yet instead of making things better for everyone, we are all insulating ourselves more and more. I wish I had good answers, but I need to think some more. Thanks for bringing up an important topic. You are such a thoughtful person. I really admire you.

  9. Penny

    I walked to school when I was a kid with a group of neighborhood kids. When I hit junior high, I’d ride the bus on really cold days and walk during nicer weather. In high school, I drove. I don’t think my parents were all that worried about me. Like your kids, I would’ve put up such a fight that the kidnapper would’ve needed therapy.

    I noticed that the buses around here, lately, make a lot of stops as well. More than they used to. It’s interesting.

  10. Though I have no children, I was just reminiscing of my own childhood this morning. And I was delighted – and a little surprised – how much freedom we used to have, and how much independence was instilled/expected from us. While never in a harm’s way, we would rarely spent out time indoors and/or around adults. We were free to explore the world, on our own terms. With the occasional slip-up resulting in muddy shoes, skinned elbows, or diarrhea. Light years ahead from the sterility of childhood I sometimes observe with friends’ kids growing up in suburbs, if you ask me.

    Laurelin wrote a really nice post on a similar topic a month ago. I thought you might like it.

  11. Great post, Jane. (I also enjoyed Gale’s post earlier in the week and appreciated this follow-up.)

    Last spring I was driving home along a country road when I saw an alarming sight: a school bus stopped at the end of a (not overly long) driveway where a father was sitting in a golf cart waiting for his able-bodied son with a Big Gulp sized drink, ready to drive him back to the house. Egads!

  12. My husband use to tell our son how he walked to school both ways up hill during the Chicago winters… Our kid walks from the climate controlled house to the climate controlled car–and wishes for a remote control to flip on the radio ).
    If Cole could walk the 11 miles/45 minutes to school–or if a neighborhood school fit our educational values (he attends a Waldorf school) he would take shanks mare (as my grandmother would say; his own two feet) and have stories worth telling his kids.

  13. I remember walking several blocks to school, in all kinds of weather (my kids would chime in “in two foot of snow with temperatures below zero” – just a bit of an exaggeration). I wonder now whether there really are more bad things that happen to kids, or just more access to more media to hear about the bad things all over the world. I think it’s sad that kids can no longer go off with friends to explore, to play, to learn things without adults hovering.

  14. It is not always the kid’s fault – or the parents, maybe you heard about the father being threatened with legal action for letting his 7-year-old walk to and stand by the bus stop on her own?

    Here (Belgium) is easy – public schools are great, I think all primary schools have bus services and all secondary generally have at least 2 public bus lines serving them.

    Maybe you could talk with other parents at the school and get some bus service started. Or when the boys are older they can cycle. Or you could find parents living nearby and set up a carpool service? I’m betting at a Montessori school they’d be open for that.

  15. Man, I used to walk to elementary school, middle school, and high school. No buses for us! But, at the same time, I often opted out of rides because I enjoyed walking. Perhaps because my dad encouraged exercise, I don’t know. I do find that my desire to walk hasn’t subsided with age; even though I do have a car, I prefer to take my kids, in the stroller, to the store, the park, and the library. I feel good because I’m using less emissions, less gas, and, therefore, saving money.

    I don’t know where I was going with that comment but whatever. I’ll blame the meds.

  16. We wonder, indeed. I can sympathize with you – I walked to school every day and so did all my friends, since we all lived within a one mile radius of the school, more or less. Did I get the best education there? Meh. Not so much. But there aren’t private schools in Israel… Which sucks. But then when I hear about all the horribly sad differences between public and private schools in the US and how only the parents who can pay can give their kids good education – well, there’s a problem there too.

    My point is, I think that the subject of schools for anyone between the ages of 6 and 18 hasn’t yet been solved properly and it’s going to take a great deal of work to be able to get good, accessible education for everyone.

  17. When we lived in a small town in the midwest, our middle and high school kids walked several blocks to take a city bus to school. Youngest daughter walked about six blocks to elementary school.

    When developers built suburbs and didn’t put in sidewalks didn’t help. Do they even build “neighborhood” schools any more? Don’t they build them all on busy roads now? In our neighborhood, the kids have to be at the bus stop by 6:40, an obscene hour for a 6-year-old.

    I’m with you about the pointless stops–assuming it’s not on a highway.

    Speaking of schools, don’t miss Waiting for Superman.

  18. I am in exactly the same spot. After having sought out the neighborhood where I wanted them to walk to school, I chose a school that is no where within walking distance for many of the same reasons that you give. What I see as an impact is the erosion of our neighborhood. There are probably 10 – 15 kids on our street and very few of them attend the same school. In fact, they are all at different schools.

  19. Recently, I read Jodi Picoult’s “19 Minutes.” When I think about my failures as a parent, it is wondering if I strengthened my oldest enough against the bullies. I wonder if my soon-to-be 6-year-old has the emotional strength to fight them. I do not worry about my middle children as much because they seem stronger. My heart is filled with worry and believing that I have failed. Thanks for letting me know I am not the only one who worries and doubts.

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