Parenting is a mix of science, information and baggage. The baggage your parents loaded onto you will be shucked off your shoulders onto your children. And I usually enjoy doing it. “My father made me… so you are going to …”
Our family had a rule, you either learned to ride a bike before kindergarten, or you walked the mile to school each day. I was a tremendously uncoordinated child, so there I was, my five-year-old legs, trudging to school each day and trudging home. For a while my first-grade sister would take pity on me and pump me on the fender of her back tire—until it broke.
It wasn’t a bad walk, and even my short little legs could do it in about a half hour. We lived in a pretty cold place, it got to about ten below during the winter and as the number two child of nine, we didn’t always have hand-me-down hats, boots and mittens, but we always had coats.
The worst part of the walk was when Dad would drive to work and he would pass right by us in his heated automobile and sometimes he would wave. I thought that showed an extreme lack of regard for the wellbeing of children, even cruelty and while it may have built character, the character it built is the one that I’m trying to avoid in my own children.
This year, I’m watching as the school bus drives along the very street my son walks in the dark. The bus could stop where it has all his previous school years, right by our house and there it would pick up three children, but instead, this year it drives right on past them. It’s really too dark to see if the bus driver waves. These kids do have hats and mittens and maybe even the best coats money can buy, but these kids have something I didn’t. They are smarter than I ever was and they have a higher disdain for irrational behavior. They can think of no reason for this lack of consideration—none except that it’s “the rule.” Intermediate school children of age ten and eleven are deemed able to walk a third of a mile, so the rationale is that they should be made to do so. The other children are younger than my son and so they now have to be driven down to the bus stop each morning—for safety issues.
Walking doesn’t build character. What is engendered in that five blocks and ten minutes is a moldering cynicism. It’s just long enough form a credible theory against irrational bureaucracy. It’s another inevitability that I wish my son didn’t have to learn— that rampant bureaucracy plus the lack of reason equals stupidity.
What I have learned is something I already knew. All of my effort to effect change with the school has made a difference. The bus stop has been relocated .03 miles closer to us. That means not only will the children on this end still have to be driven, but now the three who come the other direction, will also have to be driven.
I’m reminded that when it comes to bureaucracy, it’s always best to leave well enough alone.