Fergus Cullen: It takes a village of bus stop moms
Since when did it become required that elementary schoolers be escorted by a parent to and from the bus stop each day? Was it part of Gov. John Lynch's anti-dropout law? Was it a clause in the Shaheen-era universal kindergarten bill? It certainly wasn't the law during the Thomson and Gallen administrations, when I played kickball at Gilford Elementary.
But it is today. The Cullens live in a neighborhood full of cul-de-sacs (six of 'em) and families raising kids. The bus pulls in empty and leaves full. If we expected our second- grader to find his way to the bus stop on his own each morning, we would be the only family to do so.
I usually take the morning walk, and Jenny does the afternoon leg. We live a quarter of a mile and a couple of bends in the road from the bus stop, which means little Jacob and I never know for sure that we didn't miss the bus until we arrive at the convention of up to 10 kids guarded by nearly as many parents - the bus stop moms and me. The scene is repeated 300 yards up the street with a different group of urchins and mama grizzlies.
It's a 20-minute round trip, 60 hours a school year. By the time our next two are through I could do this routine for a dozen years. That's 720 hours, 18 full work weeks back and forth the bus stop.
I suggested to Jenny that Jacob is big enough to go alone. Sure, he might get distracted some days by a worm or a puddle or an interesting stick. Occasionally he may even miss the bus. But it's not like he'd get lost or anything bad would befall him. Some things a kid can do without it taking a village.
Jenny gave me another one of those 'What are you thinking?' looks to which I have become accustomed, a lot like the one I got when she found me sitting on baby Fiona (gently, the way a bird sits on her eggs to keep them warm) to prevent her from wiggling while I wrestled with legs and leggings. What, you've never sat on a baby to keep one still? Liar.
The lad could walk home solo in the afternoons as well, I added weakly, trying to present something in it for her. And if he takes an extra 30 minutes to throw rocks into the pond or play on a dirt heap, great.
No way, she said. What would the neighbors think, we want our kid to be kidnapped? The schools are so effective at scaring the bejesus out of youngsters about stranger danger that it affects the parents, too. It's district policy regarding kindergarteners that if no parent is at the bus stop in the afternoon, the driver is meant to keep the child on the bus and return him to school. It's an ordinance against latch-key kids.
We could become trendsetters, I said. Once we demonstrate that kids can find their way to the bus stop unescorted, like we did as kids, everyone would revert to the old ways. The kids could even ride bikes to the bus stop, stash them nearby, and they'd be right where they left them, unstolen, for the ride back home. And if they sometimes forgot to put on their helmets, I'd be OK with that, even though that is technically illegal in New Hampshire.
Admittedly I'm not an especially safety-conscious parent. I'm skeptical that car seats have expiration dates and need to be replaced annually, no matter what the National Association of Car Seat Manufacturers says. I don't toss baby yogurt just because it's past the sell-by date. I have used bouncy seats as a restraining device.
Sure, Fiona has fallen off the couch a couple times (or was she pushed by 2-1/2-year-old Myles?) on my watch, but she hasn't tumbled down the stairs yet when I've left the gate open, like her brothers did, and they seem none the worse. Besides, she's so proud of herself when she crawls all the way up. Aren't we meant to help our children develop self-esteem?
So far I'm losing this debate.
Fergus Cullen, a freelance columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.