Suburban Snapshots

Self-Preservation and the
Oblivious Grade Schooler

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

This isn't going to be a sweet, poignant piece about watching kids grow, finding their own way in the world, every day leaving us more and more. No. This is going to be me, a fairly new parent, asking you, who've parented longer than my six years, when I can reasonably expect my kid to stop being so perilously oblivious to her surroundings. At what point do you think I'll be able to say, even twelve times instead of sixty-thousand, "Stay to the side. Watch for that intersection. Here comes a giant, loud, bright yellow school bus," and have her actually snap to attention? Because this week's experiment with riding a quarter blessed mile to school has ended only with multiple new grays and an escalating alcohol dependency.

"It was so much better in the 80s" nostalgia was fresh in my head after some Facebook quiz or other about Alf or Shrinky Dinks or some shit that I was probably too poor to have had anyway. "Let them free range, give them space, parents today are so overprotective." So I did, I let her ride her bike to school on Wednesday, and despite the thirty new gray hairs and hoarse voice, again on Thursday. She wore a very nowadays helmet and I did my best to hem her in against the grass for the trip from our driveway to the bike racks.

"HIIIII HANNAAHHHHH!!" she shouted gleefully as she veered into my right ankle. "WAIT UP EMMMIEEEEEE!" she giggled and sped ahead of me while swerving into the middle of the road. She doesn't think to look behind her as she maneuvers around parked cars and pot holes, she steers wobbly and one-handed with every wave, she is always, always looking anywhere but where she's going.

I don't have the constitution for this.

Our ride home Thursday afternoon wasn't the nag fest of our morning trip into school. I only corrected her when she drifted toward a minivan out of which dangled the arm of a classmate, flapping a disembodied good-bye. That night when she asked to ride with another girl up the short street directly across from the driveway where I was sitting with a friend I said, go ahead, kid — I'm no coddling, overprotective mom! I am all kinds of chill. After all, I was raised in the 80s.

I watched Anna and Katie ride up the small hill while my friend Steph talked into the side of my face. The girls looped around at the top, and then Anna stood on her pedals and started pumping her hardest back down toward us. She's forgetting she has to cross a street to get back over here, I knew. I bleeping knew. Steph knew too, and then we both saw headlights. I'm not sure who stood first or who yelled "STOP ANNA" loudest, but there we both were, flailing in the driveway, watching this kid head straight for a car.

Anna stopped after far too much shouting. The driver must have seen Steph and me standing there or he saw the girls on their bikes, and I don't know what it is that causes your immediate reaction to be, "Oh thank God she's safe NOW COME HERE AND LET ME THROTTLE YOU," but I could barely speak between clenched teeth as I told her she was done riding her bike for the entire long weekend. D-O-N-E done.

I didn't touch her or even yell, but she read me. She rode an atom's width from the curb on our trip home, looked straight ahead, listened to my direction. But for how long? Just a week earlier she'd done the same thing on foot, darting into a busy street when she spotted friends on the opposite side. We spend so much energy doing everything we can to keep our kids safe and alive, can't they throw us a goddamn bone once in a while?

I remember being a kid and doing dumb things. Sometimes I still do dumb things, but I also spend a lot of time trying to avoid dying. I just need a little confidence that some day Anna will work harder toward self-preservation. I need someone with older kids to tell me that eventually they at least become somewhat more aware of their surroundings, that they can understand peril without living in fear of their own mortality. And I need a sponsor, because if this keeps up much longer I'm going to have to start going to AA meetings.

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