Friday, 12 December 2014

May The Road Rise To Meet You

It's finally happened, what I've been waiting for - the consistent ability to stay in my pyjamas on a school day. OK perhaps not the greatest aspiration. But - after years of trying to get all three boys out the door to school on time, making sure they were fed, watered, dressed ("It is below zero out - no, you cannot wear shorts to school!"), with permission forms signed and with lunches made - the luxury of not having to fit in my own getting dressed to walk them to school is a blessing. It gives me valuable time to do something like eat my own breakfast. What has changed? My 7 year old son is now walking to school on his own.

To be accurate (though accuracy is not a quality particularly prized here at Pop Culture, we value shock, humour and good storytelling more) this is a return to form. In past years, the youngest has been walked to school by one of his older brothers. This year, with both of them attending other schools and leaving at different times, I was back in the position of walking him to school. It does have its benefits - holding his hand crossing the street, seeing who his friends are and interacting with them - so, when he asked me a few weeks ago when he would be able to walk to school on his own, a part of me was hurt that he didn't want me there. A larger part of me was happy though - ah, freedom.

Some might be shocked I'd let my son walk to school on his own - to them I say, pbbbt. Cue sound of grandpa talking about the old days, "When I was a boy I would walk 20 miles to school... uphill both ways... through snow in bare feet... fighting wolves... with an old potato..." But I did walk to school as a boy from a young age and for a good distance - and I loved it. It was one of the memorable and important parts of the day. It started out by accident on my 6th birthday in Grade One in mid September. My mum didn't show up to pick me up and I assumed that since I was now six I was expected to walk home - a good half hour walk through downtown Toronto crossing major streets like Eglinton and Yonge. And so I set off. My mum arrived shortly afterwards, hauling my younger brother and sister - road construction had prevented her from getting there on time. Panic ensued as no one knew where I was.

I was eventually brought home by a police officer to greet my distraught mother and all my birthday party guests. After that I KNEW I could walk home - I had made it almost the whole way without incident - it was simply that last turn off I had missed. Now I wouldn't make that mistake again. Given my stubborn vehemence my parents arranged for an older neighbour girl to walk me to school and back. I responded by running away from her. I know, what a jerk. But I was incensed that I wasn't being given my due. Eventually my parents accepted it and I walked to and from school from then on, eventually walking my younger sister and brother as well.

It wasn't without incident - I remember a mean dog, getting in a fight with a bigger guy who didn't like me walking by his house for some reason, being stuck in a huge mud pit since my rubber boots couldn't escape the suction, to name a few - but that's what made it so great. How could I tell my son I didn't think he could handle a 3 block walk to school when I had that experience myself.

We started slow (as I did with my older boys). Walking with him shorter and shorter distances, watching to make sure he looked when he crossed the street etc. I would watch until he disappeared from sight, waving at him comically whenever he looked back to see if I was still there. It gave me a pang in my heart when he stopped looking back but it was overridden by my pride at how big and independent he was getting.

So this Monday was the moment when I would watch him from the front porch. I asked him if he was ready for me to let him go the whole way himself. He smiled and nodded happily and then moved in to give me a big hug and mumbled into my stomach. I couldn't hear what he said so I crouched down and asked him to say again.

"Except on snowy days," he said.

"Snowy days? Why, you worried the cars won't see you?" (Projecting - I was worried about this).

"No. So we can have snow fights."

They say down in Who-ville that the Grinch's heart grew 2 sizes that day.

I smiled. I knew that it wasn't that he didn't want me there - he just wanted to be able to prove to me he could do this on his own.

The first few days went really well - he only looked back once on the first day and then not again after that. He started out walking, but by the time he crossed the first street, he was running - so excited to be on his own. Then yesterday it snowed here. A lot.

We looked at each other with knowing smiles. It was a pleasure to get dressed and when I came downstairs he was already outside with a clump of snow as big as his head in his arms. We've had some good snowball fights both yesterday and today - both of us starting the day off right. With a fun adventure.