On an unseasonably cold day in early May, my second grader completed a bike safety class offered by her elementary school and the River Forest police department.
The second grade bike safety class is a rite of passage that River Forest elementary school students look forward to from the moment they enter kindergarten.
Students must complete the class to be permitted to ride their bikes to school and — this is the key part — leave them on one of the bike racks on school grounds. A few days after she took the bike safety class, when the weather finally (and fleetingly) turned nice, my daughter asked if she could ride her bike to school with a friend from down the street.
Although I should have been prepared for this question — given that she had taken the class and everything — I was not.
I stammered and hesitated and ultimately demurred, saying that I needed to speak to her father about it before she would be permitted to ride to school without an adult.
Of course, my husband is just as unsure as I am.
How do we know if our daughter — who is, as you might have guessed, the older of our two children — is ready to get herself to and from school? She is a good bike rider and a responsible, if somewhat spacey, child.
But she's seven years old. To get to school, our daughter would have to cross several streets, some busy and some less so, without a crossing guard. Once she got to school, she would have to secure her bike on one of the racks and lock it with a key that she then would have to not lose.
This is the same girl who lost three pairs of mittens and a jacket this winter. You see why I am hesitating.
On the one hand, how is my daughter ever to learn responsibility and to trust her own judgment if I do not give her opportunities to develop these traits?
On the other hand, how can I be sure that she is ready for this responsibility?
I don't think of myself as overprotective or a stereotypical helicopter parent, but I will admit to feeling panicked about the idea of sending my first-born off to school by herself. My husband, who grew up in a small town, claims that he was walking to school by himself as early as first grade.
Many of my friends and neighbors report similar experiences.
I, on the other hand, grew up in the middle of a city and attended a private school miles from my home. Walking or biking was never an option, although I did start taking a city bus home from school by myself when I was in fifth grade.