Tag Archives: difficulty

She Wants to Ride the School Bus, but It’s Not Working

This cartoon popped up in my Twitter feed via @BrentTodarian. I haven't found the artist yet.
This cartoon Yehuda Moon cartoon (produced by Rick Smith & Brian Griggs) sums it up – but for parents making this decision every morning, it’s not quite so simple.

“It’s not the first two streets that are the problem; she can cross those. It’s that last street, because it doesn’t have a stop sign. And people drive SO fast through town.”

We stood in one small circle of conversation among many others, the room buzzing with questions about the first week of school. Flocks of small children swooped around our legs, swiping cups of lemonade before flying off to bring mayhem to some formerly-quiet corner of the church.

“It’s frustrating, because I really, really wanted her to ride the bus to school. It’s good for her to learn to take the bus and to have that independence, and to know that if she’s not out there on time she’ll miss it.”

I play with the edges of the paper coffee cup, folding the handle up and down as I listen. The coffee is thick and almost greasy somehow, leaving its mark on the sides of the cup.

“But I have other kids, too – honestly, if I have to wake them up anyway to walk her to the bus stop, it’s just easier to stick them in their car seats.”

Yes, the agony of organizing multiple children for school runs. Pulling the sleeping child out from under their blankets, draping that floppy, unwilling weight over your shoulder as you run out the door, returning to the house to pull a second droopy kid from bed. Tears falling from those bleary eyes, always, mama frazzled and late.

We talked through a couple of possibilities. There aren’t any other kids on her block going to the same bus stop, so a walking school bus (uh… to the school bus?) is out. The problem is that one street that’s hard to cross.

Almost all of the east-west streets around here stop at every intersection, but the north-south streets normally go eight blocks or so between stop signs. Of course, this means that traffic on these streets is much faster and that they’re more difficult and dangerous to cross. They’re designed so that people passing through by car can make good time – but they don’t add value to our neighborhoods.

I can think of three women just off the top of my head this morning who are driving their kids to school because there is a street too busy for their child to cross. I accompany my capable children every day for this same reason. The profound irony of this, of course, is that 20% or more of morning traffic is made up of parents doing just that. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

When we begin to talk about a Montessori City, we’re talking about a place where kids can practice age-appropriate behaviors without being unnaturally constrained by their environment. This is entirely do-able, but it’s going to require us to make some changes – and the sooner we allow our kids to live full lives right in their own neighborhoods, the better off our whole community will be down the road.

“It takes me seven minutes to walk her to the bus stop, longer if her little brother insists on walking. It takes me ten minutes to drive her to school. I think I’ll let her take the bus home, but I’m going to start driving her to school. This just isn’t working.

Why the Winter Bird Sings and How You Can Too

Sometimes all we need is a reminder of just how free we are.

It’s early on the second day back to normal, after that endless streak of snow days at the beginning of the year.

“Mom, can we go to the playground?”

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The playground…In the dead of winter?

Well, I guess I could blog about it. Sure, let’s go.

We go potty (or “go potty”) and don 27 pieces of outerwear (I count), some more than once, before crunching down to the end of the block. The temperature is in the mid-twenties, which feels unbearable in November but by January makes hats and mittens seem overdone. I can feel the beginnings of sweat at my hairline as I pull Mae across the squeaky snow and over the street-edge snowbanks in her bright new sled. I tell the five-year-old who doesn’t like to walk, the child who requested this trip, that when I was her age I walked to school every day all by myself.

She isn’t impressed.

The park we are going to is right in our neighborhood, only four or five blocks away. It takes up most of one city block and has a playground, a gazebo, a big open field and a ball diamond. After fighting the shifty sidewalk snow and a recalcitrant preschooler all the way here, my legs are ready for a break. I breathe a sigh of relief as we walk up…

…and see that, of course, the sidewalks in the park haven’t been cleared. Wearily I gaze across the field of unbroken snow and contemplate turning right back around to go home.

I’ve been hooked by the idea of winter cities, places that embrace their climate and celebrate life through every season. I can picture a miniature sledding hill in the middle of this park, sidewalks shoveled to the playground, kids playing on the playground and making snowy igloos in the baseball diamond.

Someday. Today is… different than that.

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Abigail is suddenly inspired and leads the way, powering her way through the snow with her strong little legs. She stops in the gazebo, where the snow is shallower, and lays down for a minute before plowing on to the playground.

In the meantime, I have Mae in the sled and am trying to stay upright as I gracelessly drag her through this impenetrable snow bog. I’m scarcely twenty feet off the sidewalk and am beginning to wonder if we’ll even make it to the playground at all.

“WANT OUT! WANT WALK!”

Ignoring her requests is ineffective as she attempts to launch herself out of her wee chariot. So out she comes..

But the snow is “doo deep.”

“WANT UP!”

What have I done? What am I doing here? It’s the middle of winter and we walked to the playground?? What kind of crazy was this? I’m plowing through knee-deep snow carrying a two-year-old who has ever been in the 98th percentile for both height and weight, dragging the sled in which she now refuses to ride. Those prickles of sweat at my hairline have turned to droplets in a hurry. I stop and take a breather.

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The sky is feathery gray and blue and has that heavy, steely look it does in winter. It’s like its colors have been put on mute for the season. There are birds flittering around the tree beside me. I can’t tell what they are, but I hear a bluejay across the park.

I pause. You can’t see the birds in this photo but a flock has hidden itself in these trees, dancing through the branches and singing their little hearts out in the middle of this Narnian season, free birds who “leap on the back of the wind,” however cold it may be.*

Their song baffles me. Don’t they know how cold it is? Don’t they long for the spring, iwth its gentle breezes and plentiful food? I think that I might sit huddled on a branch, waiting for the season to change.

And I wonder… am I waiting for an easier season, too? Don’t I wish there were fewer clothes to put on, fewer mittens to find, beautiful clear sidewalks to walk down? Don’t I wish for fewer dishes to wash, fewer early-morning wakings, beautiful little rooms that stay clean once I clean them?

Have you ever put your life on pause until spring? I have.

Maybe life is just too HARD right now. We lower our heads and hunker down, wishing for the storm to pass and waiting for an easier season to venture out.

But there’s beauty in the storm.

How much do we miss if we confine our dancing, confine our singing, to the days when the sun shines warm on our faces? How much of life passes us by if we flee indoors to escape the blowing snow that needles our cheeks?

Abandoning the sled in the gazebo I press on, feet sinking deep into the dense snow.

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The playground was amazing. The slide that the girls normally fly off at top speed, landing on the hard ground in a crying crumple, is nearly snowed in. They slide down and then off the end on an invented luge run that extends the ride by a good fast four feet. Abigail faces her nemesis, the monkey bars, now plopping painlessly into the snow when she loses her grip. Every snowdrift is a little fort, piled up around slides and stairs, ready for hideouts and playing bad guys.

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Getting there was arduous, but oh, was the journey worth it.

So much of this life is in how we face it. Whether it’s a dark night of the soul, the winter of our discontent, or a polar vortex, we’re birds in a cage with an open door. And sometimes it takes some doing, but gathering our courage and being willing to endure discomfort can make all the difference in how we experience this cold season.

The trip back goes faster. We’ve already broken the trail out to the playground, so getting back to the sidewalk is much more manageable. Over the snowbanks we clamber, cheerfully kicking aside snowplow-flung chunks of ice to arrive back home, to the favored lunch of hot tomato soup and Sunbutter sandwiches.

That thing you’ve been waiting to begin, that thing you’ve been waiting to be over with… will you settle into it this week? Take a little leap into the storm, put on a coat and find a spot of beauty in it? Will you decide this week to sing a song of freedom?*

I’d love to hear. Feel free, as always, to leave a comment or email me at tulip.lane@outlook.com. And stay tuned for an exciting announcement about an event that you will LOVE coming up next week!

Because livable places are better.

*I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou

The Courage of Children

In a crabby Monday morning voice, Abigail announces, “MOM. It is NOT FAIR that Dora gets to go places and do things all by herself without even her parents and I DON’T. Humph!”

Referring, of course, to the children’s television show Dora the Explorer.

Would any of us be satisfied living vicariously through television? What’s the point of filling our children’s minds with stories of capable children if we fail to allow them to develop these capabilities themselves?

This is the first of two articles on cultures that teach their children to independently navigate their communities. Come back on Tuesday, April 2, for thoughts on walking to school in Switzerland.

a successful purchase!
a successful purchase!

In Japan, they have a tradition called “Hajimete no Otsukai,” meaning “the first errand.” And man, is it INTENSE.

I was introduced to the concept by a book on our shelves with the same title. It’s a sweet story of a little girl who demonstrates perseverance and bravery as she goes to the store to buy milk – by herself, for the very first time (there’s a lovely video of the book being read on YouTube here). She meets with difficulties like skinning her knee, a speeding bicycle, and being ignored once she arrives at the shop, but presses on and successfully completes her errand.

A small thing, right? Not for a small child. I discovered that real life is a little more complicated (surprise!) when I found a Japanese TV show based on the same premise. Several of the children break down into tears either during or after their errands – this is scary stuff for a little kid! And yet, you can see by the end that they are so very proud of these accomplishments.

I’ll admit it – I got completely sucked into these videos and stayed up wayyyy too late Sunday night watching them, one after another after another. Some of videos I watched were from the television show; some of them were amateur videos shot by parents hiding behind bushes. They’re all full of classic dramatic tension, and even with my very limited knowledge of Japanese I could hear myself cheering these kids on.

And yet… I was often uncomfortable. They’re so young! But as I kept watching, I noticed a few things. The mothers were often firm, but always encouraging. It was clear that this was not punishment – it was something these parents believed to be important for their children to accomplish. And it was remarkable to me how the children’s mannerisms changed as their journeys progressed. At the beginning they were almost always timid, looking back to their mothers, unsure. By the end of their journey (or shortly thereafter for some of them) they had their heads held high and their arms were swinging. They had done something they weren’t sure they could do, and they were fit to burst.

The irony here is that we are the Self-Esteem Nation. Collectively, we want nothing more than for our kids to feel good about themselves. We think that high self-esteem will make them happy, successful adults. But that’s not quite the direction that the research points. In fact, we’re learning that “[t]he habit of unearned praise interferes with learning, and giving an “A for effort” only succeeds in giving students an inflated sense of their abilities.”

What does build self-esteem? As the article I linked to above notes, “doing estimable things.” So… what type of “estimable things” are we opening up to our children? How are we helping them discover that they can do hard things? Going beyond parenting, how can we as communities support our children in this way?

I’ll end with the thought that began this whole inquiry for me. Every week, CJ brings home a newsletter from school in her Friday Folder. This note was included this past week:

We’re starting to work on recognizing coins and their value. I grew up with a corner store within walking distance of my home. I knew exactly what a dime was and how much it could buy. We’ve found that most of the children do not know the value of most coins. Please allow your child to sort your change and then name the coins including how much they’re worth.

We don’t have a corner store within walking distance of our home. I look at the neighborhoods we’re considering for a move into town, and wonder if we’ll ever have a corner store (not liquor store!) within walking distance of our home. CJ is going to have to learn the value of a dime by rote and the value of a dollar pegged on a farmer’s market donut. It’ll do, and she’ll grow up functional. But I can’t help but wonder what we’re missing out on by teaching them parceled-out skills rather than offering them whole experiences.

How do you help your kids discover that they can do hard things? What do you think of the idea of this rite of passage? What kind of challenging errand can you think of having your child run? And as a community member, what would you think if a three-year-old came into a store unattended?

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