Jewish World Review Sept. 29, 2009/ 11 Tishrei 5770
Walk the walk? Not today's kids
By Tom Purcell
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | It was a long walk for a 4-year-old.
It happened in 1966. My older sister Krissy, eager to get me out of her hair, gave me a coin she'd made from a piece of cardboard.
"You can buy candy with it," she told me.
Candy was a rarity in our home, but I knew just where to get it.
I remember slipping out the back door and making my way up through the woods and onto Diane Drive. It was another 200 yards to the "little store," our name for the mom-and-pop shop at the bottom of the hill.
I entered the store and reached my grubby hand above my head and set my fake coin on the counter. Beneath the counter, through the glass, was a spectacular display of penny candy. I stood there mesmerized by the incredible potpourri of sweets.
Unbeknownst to me a great hullabaloo was taking place at my house. Krissy and Kathy, 7 and 9 respectively, were instructed to keep an eye on me while my mother went downstairs with a load of laundry.
When my mother returned a few minutes later, I was nowhere to be found. Kathy, apparently, had gone upstairs to her bedroom. Krissy and I were left together for only a few minutes just enough time for her to cut out the coin and get me out of her hair (though I don't think she expected her runt brother to actually slip out of the house and walk to the little store).
Panic overcame my mother as she searched the house.
This story came to mind as I read a recent article in The New York Times on kids and walking. Today's parents are in a continuous state of panic and worry. Most won't let their children walk anywhere alone.
Consider: It's routine for parents to drive their kids to and from school even if school is only a few blocks away.
At some schools, there is a rigorous process for picking children up. Parents must display their kids' names on their dashboards. A school official radios to the building and the kids are then escorted to the cars.
Parents who attempt to buck our worry-prone culture one lady allowed her 10-year-old son to walk a mile to soccer practice face the wrath of family, neighbors and local authorities.
When a cop saw the boy walking alone, he stopped him and drove him to practice. Then he reprimanded the kid's mom and told her that if anything had happened to the boy, she would have been charged with child endangerment.
To be sure, we're an uptight control-freak culture these days. Our paranoia is stoked by sensationalistic news stories and 24/7 coverage about children who have been abducted.
The truth is, statistically, the world is no more dangerous for kids now than it was in the '50s, '60s and '70s, when 10-year-old kids were free to walk all over the place.
Consider: There are roughly 40 million elementary school-age children in America. Each year, 115 children are abducted but more than 250,000 are in car wrecks.
I am certainly sympathetic to the challenge parents face. A friend of mine is determined to allow both of her children to experience some of the freedom she had as a child.
She allows them to go out into the yard and the woods to play but she's filled with worry as she tries to monitor, unnoticed, from the window.
Which reflects how much times have changed.
On the day I disappeared in 1966, my mother got my sister Krissy to fess up that she'd made me a coin out of cardboard and told me I could buy candy with it at the little store.
Shortly after I arrived at the store, Mom pulled our station wagon into the store's parking lot and rushed inside to greet me.
Lucky for her this happened in 1967.
Had it happened now, she'd probably have to deal with the police and child welfare officials and maybe even an embarrassing report on the evening news.
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© 2009, Tom Purcell