At the beginning of the last school year I tried to assemble a group of kids, a Coalition of the Willing, even a small one, to walk to school together. This was an ambitious undertaking. At the time, I didn't realize that I was embarking on a doomed mission.
That year, my daughter and the classmates she'd known throughout elementary school, were heading off to middle school. This big transitional period essentially meant that they were switching from a school at one end of the street to a school at the other end.
The schools aren't exactly on the same street, but they are near enough, and while the girls were entering a larger school with older kids the logistics of getting to school hadn't changed much. I should preface this by stating that I may have been the only mom in town who allowed her children to walk to the elementary school alone.
Just so you don't think I'm some deranged lunatic, you should probably know the elementary schools in my town are specifically designed to be within walking distance from the students. We have four of them in a town the size of a small pea.
This, however, does not stop parents from reversing down their driveways, pulling up two feet and unloading their kids right in front of the school. There are a few kids who walk but most, if not all, are accompanied by watchful, anxious parents.
I am not a watchful, anxious parent. Or perhaps, I am when I need to be. I just don’t think the need is all the time. With the new year, the new school and the new independence that comes with becoming a 5th grader, came a new opportunity to reintroduce the concept of walking to the other parents. I was sure the parents would see the error of their ways
especially when considering at every corner stood crossing guards whose sole purpose was ensuring a safe passage. The kids were old enough, they were mature enough and gosh darn it they could do it!
Call it sheer optimism, call it overwhelming desire, call it rational thought, but I believed it would work. This time I would amass a coalition of the willing, a coalition of the walking, a coalition of the willing to walk. This time I would find a group of hearty souls or at least one other kid to walk with my daughter.
Given the history, I should have realized there was no basis for my belief. Even if kids were up for it, the parents decidedly were not. Walking to school is a quaint notion. It simply isn't done anymore. Not even if there are no buses. Not even if it is good exercise. Not even if it develops responsibility and fosters independence.
For a year my daughter walked alone, setting out on bright, sunny mornings, passing four or five of her able-bodied friends' homes along her leafy, suburban way.
When she miraculously lived to enter the sixth grade, I thought, this must be the year. But September started out just as lonely as the ones before, until the day I caught a glimpse of hope through the front living room windows. There in the early morning light outside on the sidewalk was a classmate.
Racing to the front door, I waved and shouted, “Kayla! Kayla! Are you walking? Come back. Take my daughter with you.”
And, now, the two set out on their six-block sojourn through the wild sidewalks of suburbia. Together.