This year Rapunzel started 4th grade, which means she starts at a new school. Pele' started her freshman year in High School, so two new schools and two new commutes.
Rapunzel has been planning her commute for the last year. She now walks to school and walks home afterwards unaccompanied by doting parents. She informed us months ago, politely, that she would prefer to walk by herself and so we accompany her to the end of the driveway and hug and kiss her and then she sets out alone.
My father can't entirely get past this.
Father: "does she run all the way to school?"
Me: "I'm not there so I don't know."
Father: "does she meet up with friends?"
Me: "Well, I'm not sure actually, maybe sometimes?"
This solo behavior is in contrast to Pele' who liked the company of a parent even when she was not feeling very talkative and was always walked to school and was usually holding hands damn the torpedoes or any sneering teenagers. Pele' has zero patience for sneering teenagers, demonstrating that at least one of my "you can go fuck yourself" genes will stay in the gene pool after I am gone.
I asked Rapunzel at one point about why she wanted to be alone (probably because I had paranoid thoughts that she did not want her peers to realize that the two weirdos in the area were her parents) and she said, in a very civilized way, that being along gave a person a different perspective, one she enjoyed from time to time. Maybe she is embarrassed by her two weirdo parents in which case I think it is extra classy that she considered our feelings so nicely in her response. Rapunzel, if you ever see this and you were embarrassed? Totally ok. I embarrass myself some days.
So Rapunzel walks to school. Check. Cue Pele'.
Pele's high school is about four miles away and she is taking an extra elective which means she has to be there at the ass-crack of dawn. We confer and after much hemming and hawing during which I consider the route (mostly ok for the US but not separated from cars beyond an occasional bicycle lane and including two nasty-ass intersections) and the hour (see ass-crack comment) we decide on her talking the city bus which stops conveniently near to our home. Tada. Contraption Captain works out the schedule and on day one of school she marches out to get the bus to school. What could be more normal?
Yeah well this is the US where our city buses run on a best effort basis. She sits out there and waits and nothing happens. She waits. Nothing. She waits. Did I mention that Pele' is mildly obsessed with punctuality? Pele' is mildly obsessed with punctuality. Possibly a lot obsessed. She and Contraption come running home totally breathless and if you think she gets in the car you are mistaken. They get on their bicycles and she is escorted off to school and just makes it, go team.
The next day we tried and struck out on the bus again and by day 4 were were pretty well trained to bicycle. If Contraption Captain is not available to ride her home she rides in to school on the back of his bicycle (recall it is giant and recumbent and comfortable for riding) and takes the (over-crowded) bus home and if he is available to assist (most days) she rides her bicycle in and rides her bicycle home with him again.
This raises the obvious question of "why does she need anyone to ride with her at all?" The easy answer is "she prefers the company and feels safer with company." The less easy answer is that I'm scared for her to ride by herself. I'm scared some asshole will kill my daughter with their SUV.
Some people think this is silly of me. I was at a soccer game a few weeks ago and this mother who has a kid at the same school asked how Pele' got to school. I said we had tried the bus but it had been unreliable etc. etc. and so we were bicycling but that was nerve-wreacking also yet Contraption was accompanying her. She didn't understand why I was worried about the route and repeated that we lived very close. She said "you can bicycle of course, it is easy for you, for us it is too far." I said that I was worried about the car traffic at El Camino and she looked blank. She explained, more severely this time, "For us it is too far of course but for you, a very easy ride."
I smiled politely and said nothing else.
What I wanted to say was "I wish everyone who was driving their kid in to school but thought my kid should bicycle and who had no idea why that might make me nervous would park their SUV on a steep hill, release the parking brake, and then run in front and lie down so their own car could roll slowly over them." Because fuck you lady. Fuck you lady because I have biked past your house many times, it's hardly too far and your kid doesn't even have an early class, she's just a lazy fuck and so are you. Fuck all of you who do jack shit but enjoy telling me that what I do is easy or not enough or too protective or whatever the fuck your problem is.
I feel better now, thanks.
I told you about Rapunzel in an effort to show that my anxiety has a single focus: death by automobile. My 9 year old walks to school solo and I am cool and not obsessing. I know it's a decent neighborhood. I know she can look after herself. I know she can stay out of the road. There is risk to all things but the risk created by Rapunzel walking to and from school is not far from the risk of getting out of bed on a cold day.
The risk to people on bicycles is real. Redwood City Girl died last year on a "safe" route and was even held at fault for dying. An experienced bicyclist was just killed by a delivery truck who turned left into her in an area where bicyclists love to swarm and train. The conclusion from that death was "maybe we should ban bicyclists from Skyline." As a friend said "How come the answer is never to ban the cars?"
As long as this country continues to take such a lackadaisical attitude towards the safety of our children on their way to school (and their parents and other relatives on their way to work or the store or wherever) I have to be the one who does the due diligence. Maybe I can sort a route I feel ok about. I hope so. But right now I have her bicycling and I have a set of experienced adult eyes watching for her and that's what I need to feel ok about this.