You may have heard of Lenore Skenazy. She's the Queens, N.Y., mom who allowed her 9-year-old son to ride home alone via subway and bus. She wrote about it in her column in the now defunct New York Sun.
That's when all hell broke loose. Lenore was quickly labeled "The Worst Mom in America" and all the morning news shows came calling. I remember watching her explain how she'd given her son, who had ridden these same routes all of his life, a subway map, a Metro card, a $20 bill and change for the pay phone in case he needed to call home.
The trip itself was uneventful, a nonstory. It was the "but what if?" factor that fueled the interviews. What if he hadn't made it home? What if there'd been an accident? What if? What if?
As often happens these days, this event led to a book deal and a blog called "Free Range Kids — How to raise safe, self-reliant children (without going nuts with worry)."
Skenazy makes a convincing argument for allowing kids the freedom we took for granted when we were growing up: "The crime rate in America is back to where it was in the early '70s ... So the strange fact — very hard to digest — is that if YOU were playing outside in the '70s or '80s, your kids today are safer than you were! ... Most of us used to play outside in the park, without our parents, without cell phones, without Purell or bottled water and we survived! Thrived! We cherish the memories! And if you believe the million studies that I'm always publishing here, kids are healthier, happier and better-adjusted if they get to spend some time each day in ‘free play,' without adults hovering."
I do cherish my memories of roaming the woods around the Sandy Flats area of Gainesville with my friends. My parents didn't send me out with a GPS locator or a cell phone, just the admonition to be home before dark. By junior high, I was allowed to ride my bike downtown to meet up with my girlfriends and squander my allowance in Woolworth's and McClellan's. If my parents ever worried about me, they never let on.
Maybe it's because they hadn't watched 2000 episodes of "Law and Order" and all of its gory corresponding franchises, many featuring predators stalking young girls much like my daughters.
They didn't have the benefit of CNN and Fox News, constantly broadcasting sensational news from around the world, making tragedies on the other side of the globe feel like they were happening next door.
When little Jessica McClure fell down that well in Texas, the world watched as the rescue attempt went on for 58 hours. All I could think was that she was almost exactly the same age as my Molly.
When surveillance video of Carlie Brucia's kidnapping in Sarasota was aired, I thought how much she resembled my Rachel.
These tangential connections can lead a parent to feel the world is a far more threatening place than it actually is. At least, that's what happened to me. My girls never rode their bikes downtown or much of anywhere, for that matter. I hovered as they played in the yard, ever vigilant for any sign of danger, which, as it happens, never appeared.
When 20-year-old Molly took a 10-day supervised trip to Israel, I was a basket case. I couldn't enjoy what proved to be a life-changing experience for her. I was too busy worrying about suicide bombers and missiles from Lebanon. Not that my worrying would have changed things one iota. It just made me miserable and Molly uncomfortable whenever she phoned.
Molly is now living in Mississippi. She came home for our Passover seder, which coincided with the beginning of spring break.
Rachel, now 15, rode back with her to Jackson, where she spent a joyful week with her adored big sister. When first considering how to get Rachel home, I figured I'd drive the 450 miles and retrieve her. But by then I'd discovered Free Range Kids and my husband and I agreed this could be a good learning experience for all of us.
I initially thought of the Southern Crescent, the train that passes through Gainesville and goes clear to New Orleans. I learned that one of the places it doesn't go is from Jackson, Miss., to Atlanta. That is, unless you go by way of Cincinnati and Charlottesville, Va. A one-way ticket is about $250 and the trip takes two days. Uh-uh.
Ultimately, Rachel rode Greyhound. In a little over eight hours she was in Atlanta. There was bus change and a two-hour layover before she could catch a bus to Gainesville, so we opted to pick her up in Atlanta.
I used the excuse that I wanted to try a new Caribbean restaurant in Buckhead but actually, well, you know ... baby steps, Lenore. I'm taking baby steps.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears regularly every other Friday and on gainesvilletimes.com.