This is how they grow up, quietly and quickly and right under your watchful eye

I am standing at the fence as I do every day, waiting for the bell to ring and the tsunami of energetic children to come spilling out of the school. I brace myself, as I do every day, for Simon’s enthusiastic hug that will one day knock me clear off my feet. Tristan too still hugs me, but in a more reserved and shy way that leads me to believe that while third graders still bestow public hugs upon parents, I’d best be prepared in case fourth graders do not.

We’re headed toward the car together when Tristan stops. “Mom, can I walk home by myself?” he asks. We’ve talked about this a few times before. We live exactly 0.9 km away from the school, down one reasonably quiet and safe street with a sidewalk and two very quiet streets with no sidewalks. We’ve walked it together on many occasions, and I know Tristan prefers to walk. Most days, however, we have to drive as I make it to the school from work with barely a few minutes to spare, and we still have to drive over to pick up Lucas from daycare a couple of blocks in the opposite direction.

I take a searching look at his face, weighing in my mind the walk, the traffic, the buses, the snow, his relative trustworthiness, how long it will take me to pick up Lucas and make it home, and my mother’s reaction if and when she ever hears that I’d let him walk by himself. Another part of my mind is busy admiring the fat snowflakes caught in his gorgeous eyelashes and how his gray-green eyes mimic the stormy clouds above us. He looks so grown up to me in that heartbeat of a minute, pleading his case not with words but by simply returning my gaze. It’s the briefest of exchanges, and yet it resonates with me as a milestone in progress. I can trust him or not, trust the world or not. The choice is mine.

“Are you sure you know the way?” I ask. I make him describe it to me, each corner and turn. We’ve walked it a dozen times and driven it a hundred — I’m pretty sure we could both do it blindfolded. I briefly wonder if we should ponder this more, hold a family council and debate the pros and cons, but in this moment I trust my instincts and acquiesce.

“Okay, but you go straight home,” I tell him. “And if you get lost, I want you to step back from the road and just sit down on someone’s lawn, okay? No wandering around. If you make a wrong turn, stop moving and I will come and find you.” It’s less than a 10 minute walk with three intersections. There is really so little chance of him being lost that I can only laugh at myself and the lasting impressions of the time I got lost the first time I walked home by myself from a new school back in 1975. Remember that one, Mom?

As expected, Simon also wants a piece of the deal once it’s brokered, but I’m having none of that. First, being older must come with some privileges, and second, I think walking home is enough of a test without being responsible for minding your little brother at the same time. Simon, who generally prefers driving to school over walking anyway, is easily persuaded that walking alone is more of a second or third grade sort of activity.

As we pull out of the parking lot, I scan my rearview mirror for signs of Tristan and can see him bobbing along in the stream of children burbling down the sidewalk. It takes me only a few minutes to retrieve Lucas, and although respect all traffic laws regarding speed and full stops, I do forgo the usual end of day chat with his caregiver in my haste to pack him up and get him out.

We pass by the school, and I begin scanning the sidewalk and snowbanks for Tristan’s blue snowsuit and black watch cap. There’s no sign of him on the way home and as I pull in to the driveway I catch sight of him, swinging gently and patiently on the porch swing, with not even a self-satisfied grin on his face.

The next day when I meet them at the fence, I expect Tristan to ask to walk home by himself again. I’m secretly pleased when he does not. He may have trod a few more snowy footprints on the road to independence, but I’m glad he still knows I’ve got a warm car standing by for those most bitter and blustery days.

Author: DaniGirl

Canadian. storyteller, photographer, mom to 3. Professional dilettante.

14 thoughts on “This is how they grow up, quietly and quickly and right under your watchful eye”

  1. I’m not looking forward to the day Rachel ask to walk on her own. She seems to know she can walk on her own at the Y lot and Kindermusik, but of course she needs to stay right with me.

  2. Oh my but how I loved reading this post. You truly know how to express your emotions. I’m a grandmother now but have been where you are and it was so nice to relive it again through your story today.

  3. Love, love, love your blog and I don’t want to leave a comment to dampen this time of independence for your little guy. Get him a “walking buddy.” He really shouldn’t be walking home alone. Sorry, just had to say that.

  4. Ha! It’s true, Mom, it’s true!!

    Thanks all for your sweet comments. This motherhood thing is pretty universal, isn’t it?

    Thanks for your thoughts, Carol, but there’s no way I’d ever let him do it if it wasn’t completely safe, and the right time for him. There’s no doubt in my mind on either count.

  5. what a big step – for your son, and for you! i got emotional just reading your post, and thinking about the day my boys will ask to do the same – sniff, sniff!

  6. Awesome Tristan! Terrific Dani!!

    At 9, I was walking to school by myself. I think a short walk at that age is fine.

    At 10, I was taking the subway by myself. Now, THAT’s too young.

  7. Love this post.
    Just ONE of the great word pictures:
    “…bobbing along in the stream of children burbling down the sidewalk.”
    Plus, oh, my how far you’ve all come!
    Thanks, Dani

  8. I am not particularly looking forward to having this discussion with my own daughter. Luckily, she’s just in kindergarten now, so I have a few more years at least.

  9. Ah, the road to independence! Way to go Tristan, and way to go mom 🙂

    We’ve just made arrangements for our son to leave his daycare of almost 5 years, and move to the before and after school program at his elementary school… I wonder if subconsciously I was trying to avoid this eventual milestone?

    They get so big, so fast *sniff, sniff*

  10. Oh gosh, I am so glad my oldest is not yet at that point!! I’m a total control freak and I think I’ll have such a hard time even sending them to school…not know what’s going on in their day etc. let alone walking home alone! I cringe thinking of it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *