Letting out the lead

Over the holidays I was faced with a conundrum.  My nine-year-old son needed to get to tennis at the same time I needed to get to work.  We sat down and brainstormed our options.  Maybe Dad could take him? Nope, he had an early conference call.  Neighbours? Nah, they were on holiday at Rotto.  Babysitter? No she was working until noon.  The answer became obvious…he could ride his bike to the club.

Now the tennis courts aren’t really that far away – only 2.5 km – but to get there he would need to cross two busy roads.  The logical side of me knew he could do it.  He had been roaming our neighbourhood for years, he was responsible and road-wise.  However, the protective, motherly side threw up visions of my ‘baby’ getting hit by a car, falling off his bike or getting stranded by a flat.

Spurred by necessity, the logical side eventually won out.  Decision made, we began our preparations.  A week before the big day, we hopped on our bikes and scouted out the quietest, most direct, least hilly route.  After a few iterations, we had the optimum course chosen. A few days later we re-visited the route, with my son leading the way.  He navigated with ease.  Along the way, I taught him to dismount at the busy intersections and we practiced making puppy dog eyes at passing motorists so they would stop for him at the roundabout and let him cross safely.  We came across some glass on the footpath near the club.  I carefully swept it away so he wouldn’t get a flat.  We checked the time door-to-door – 13 minutes.

The big day was drawing near.  He was ready, but was I?  How would I know he had made it safely? I fished around in the back of the cupboard and blew the dust off the ancient carcass of my old mobile phone.  I braved the post-Christmas crowds at the shops to pick up a SIM card and forked out for a pre-paid plan.  I taught him to use the dinosaur and gave him strict instructions that he was to call me as soon as he arrived at the club.  He was thrilled with the new acquisition.  Soon he was calling me from the depths of his bedroom enquiring about what we would be having for dinner and politely requesting that I retrieve his jocks off the clothes line.  What monster had I created?  I quickly confiscated the phone until it was needed.

Finally the big day arrived.  He was ready early, so he actually headed off a few minutes before me.  I must admit, as I approached the first intersection he had to cross, I closed my eyes and prayed I didn’t see an ambulance.  Of course, there was nothing but clear bitumen.  Our paths deviated after this point and I had to fight the urge to follow slowly behind him on his planned route, hanging just far enough back that he didn’t see me.

Thankfully I thought better of it and continued on my way.  Just as I was pulling into my carpark, the phone rang – 13 minutes after he left home (but who was counting?!).  He had made it. 

I mean…of course he made it!  My confident, capable big boy!  I knew he would be fine all along.

Now I know, a short ride to the local tennis club is not really such a big deal, especially when compared to the controversial decision made by Lenore Skenazy to let her nine-year-old son take the New York City subway home alone.  But I can’t help but think that for my son’s childhood development it is actually very important. It proved to him (and to me) that he was capable of handling small challenges and it opened the door for him to handle progressively larger ones. 

They say from little things, big things grow. So I plan to do my best to keep that panicky little maternal voice in check and continue to safely let the lead out more and more so I can continue to let me son revel in the confidence that comes from his growing independence.

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