Several years ago, I had a conversation that I won't forget. I was talking with a group of moms after school at the boys' elementary school. As background, it was a French-immersion public school situated in the wooded lowland hills of our city. Because it was an alternative school, meaning there was a lottery system for entry, there was no school bussing. Families were on their own for transportation, and it was several miles at least from the downtown center. A city bus ran nearby, but with a healthy hike to reach the school from the bus stop.
On this warm afternoon, a mom I didn't know arrived by bicycle to pick up her children and joined the group. Being an aspiring bike commuter, I began quizzing her about where she lived, the length of her commute, how she managed it, etc. What I found out surprised me. As it turned out, she was newly divorced and had undergone many large lifestyle changes in the recent past, out of both necessity and choice. She had moved with her kids to a new home at least 10 miles from the school, in a completely different part of the city. She had also returned to the workforce. Not wanting her kids to have to change schools, they had worked out a new arrangement that involved solo commuting for her two children, a boy and a girl in the third and fifth grade (around ages 8 and 10). They got themselves up and out the door by themselves and biked about 5 miles together by themselves to the downtown bus stop, where they caught the city bus that would take them almost to their school, loading their bikes onto the bus by themselves. After school, their mom picked them up by bike and they made the trip home in reverse but together.
That these kids were capable, responsible, smart, and stuck together as a cohesive family unit was amazingly evident. What astonished me was that their mom, an intelligent and caring woman, felt comfortable to let them do this at the ages of 10 and 8. Our smallish city is relatively safe. Crime statistics are low. However, the perception of risk "out there" to our children is continually magnified. By watching TV and reading the front page of the paper, we can convince ourselves that the world is a very dangerous place. I am still a little leery (for my older kids) of the downtown bus stop where these children changed buses alone. It is a hangout of many hanger-outers. Once I witnessed a police drug-bust scene from the window of the public library next door.
"How can you do that?" I asked her, teetering between admiration and judgment and trying to appear diplomatic. "Feel comfortable, I mean, to trust your kids to be so independent at this age? And trust the world? I mean, it's great, that you are all getting exercise, being environmentally conscious, teaching life skills..." I trailed off. The question lingered "But how?"
She seemed amused and a little impatient with my question. "Well," she answered, "I came to a point, after everything had changed, when I decided that it was time I had to Act As If. That I had to act as if the world I live in is the world I really want to live in. That I have to create that world myself. The one I want to live in. I trust my kids, and I believe that the world we live in is safe for them."
Wow! I have thought about this conversation for several years now. I know that this mom was not naive. She had done many trial runs with her kids prior to starting this commuting plan. They knew who to go to if they needed help and had safety plans in place. She was not trying to wish a different world into existence, but she was actively trying to create one through her intentions and actions.
What would you do if you Acted As If??