The Benbino is not a particularly rebellious or adventurous child. Though he is blessed with better than average motor skills for someone his age, he also has a cautious core that has thus far spared us the thrill of getting a call from school saying he has fallen off the top of the monkey bars, and he’s fine climbing about halfway up our Japanese maple. His taste in clothes and haircut are moderate and he remains rather clueless as to the signals a given “look” transmits.
We have taken an incremental approach to encouraging his independence. Neither Ali nor I are particularly fond of video games (for entirely different reasons, I think) but his grandfather bestows enough largess on him that he could have bought five or six Wii systems by now if he so chose – we told him he could buy one with his own money, and thus far it hasn’t been a priority. His household chore list is very short.
So when he asked, just before school opened, if he could walk the half-mile home by himself, we offered a compromise. He could leave the school grounds by himself, cross busy Buckingham Street where the crossing guard can monitor him, and walk down a very lightly traveled road into our neighborhood – and I would wait at the bottom of the hill. I try to be less than hyper-paranoid about ills that may befall him, but would feel better if he could find someone else to walk with before we let him go solo.
I told him the best way to get from the door he’s let out of to get to the crosswalk – the best sidewalk to take to avoid the bus driveway, mainly. And he said OK, sure, he’d do that. And things worked great the first week or so. Then, one day, he told us matter-of-factly that the new principal had met him and told him he was to leave from a different door in his route. We shrugged.
Then, one day, he said he had to cross the street by himself. The guard was too busy directing the traffic in the driveway where parents picked up their kids — the new principal was afraid kids would run out and get hit, though it had never happened, and had instituted a single-lane guard-assisted procedure that had the guard running between posts.
“But I was careful,” he said, and that was that.
So imagine my surprise the other day, when Ali and I were going to pick him up so we could get his passport renewed. There was no crossing guard, but there was a police sergeant at the crossing, and the Benbino and four or five other kids were clustered around him. He was directing them down to the next crossing, one which Ali and I don’t like because it empties onto a much narrower street with bad sightlines.
“It’s OK, Officer,” I said as I crossed the road. “That one’s mine. I’ll take him.”
“No, no,” the stalwart public servant replied. “He has to cross down there.”
At which point, I rather emphatically told him I was the Benbino’s father, was present, and was now in charge of him, and that the kid was NOT going a block down the road only to have to come back up on the side without a sidewalk. The cop then got all coppy, offering me an opportunity to “talk it over in his office,” and we were going at it pretty good when a lady with a clipboard appeared. I told her the principal had told my kid this was where he was to cross, and we had assumed this was the agreement, that the kid had had to cross one day without a guard being present, and that from all appearances, the school staff was not capable of the rather simple task of making sure my kid was gonna make it across the street safely. The lady said it wasn’t a matter of that, but rather that there were staffing issues. She and the cop then proceeded to discuss things, and I took my kid’s hand and left.
This little exhibition ingrained in my child I don’t know what, other than that he was not terribly impressed with the policeman’s demeanor. Then he told me the lady with the clipboard was indeed the principal herself. We drove downtown, filled out the passport paperwork, and came home. I got on the Cannondale for a cool-down ride, and when I got back, Ali said the principal had called to apologize.
I was rather unmoved, and with good reason. I told the Benbino that, try as his mother and I might to give him more freedom, the school administration was showing itself unable to deliver him across the street, and that we would go back to the old way, of me walking him to the sidewalk in front of the school and picking him up there in the afternoon. The nanny state, conceived in fear and bred in incompetence, starts early in Watertown.
Monday morning, I briefly relaxed that and let him go down the wheelchair ramp to the crosswalk in the bus driveway by himself. When I turned around the teacher on duty outside was talking to him at length and pointing down the sidewalk. Uh oh. I went back. The principal came out again with her clipboard.
“After our last encounter I thought we had things straight,” I said. “Obviously, I have to bring him all the way to this sidewalk.”
Interestingly enough, the teacher told me she had not told him he had to cross the road at a different spot, but that she told him she just wanted him to be safe. That afternoon, Ben told me she told him he had to go in a different door than the one he went in, which worked fine for the kids getting off buses and walking from the other direction, and since I saw her pointing that way, I am sure he was telling the truth. It was orders for the sake of orders.
So now we walk across the bus driveway crosswalk every day together and I drop him off only after he’s safely directly in front of the school doors. I tell him I’ll see him at 3, and out of the corner of my eye I notice whatever teacher is on duty avert her eyes, and he goes in to the penitential delight public school continues to be.