How old should a child be before he or she should be allowed to ride public transit by themselves?
I don’t have a good answer to that question, and I don’t know that one exists. If you go by the discussion I heard on my drive to work this morning on MPR News, it certainly seems like the two sides (free range parents vs. helicopter parents) will never find common ground. I fall somewhere in the middle, probably closer to helicopter than I might like to admit.
The truth is that I know more than a few adults who are afraid or extremely hesitant to ride public transit by themselves. I feel like I am forever assuring people that the city bus seems scarier than it really is while they counter with stories that begin with “I heard…” and end with something terrible happening. The idea of convincing parents that their children should ride a bus solo seems rather ludicrous in that context.
Just a few hours after listening to experts and callers weigh in on the topic, I happened upon a picture book that provided another perspective. In The Bus Ride by Marianne Dubuc, a little girl rides a bus by herself for the first time. Her bus ride looks a little bit different from my usual bus rides. Her world is populated by what appear to be scary animals. Wolves and bears board the bus with her. They seem intimidating, but in the end, they are friendly, or at least benign. The girl’s solo trip is not without adventure, but it is a quiet sort of adventure. It seems like a just-right adventure in this book.
It doesn’t answer any questions or set any guidelines for solo bus travel, but it does portray public transit as a gentle place full of community, much like Last Stop on Market Street did. That is a message that I can firmly get behind. I still have no idea when I will allow my daughter to ride public transit on her own, but I sincerely hope that she will feel comfortable doing so as an adult. Until then, we’ll be off in search of just-right adventures of our own, in books and in life. Some solo, some together.
- Lenore Skenazy’s writes about letting her nine-year-old ride the NYC subway alone (and the response she got after she wrote about it) in this essay.
- The recent NPR story about free-range parenting.
- A review of The Bus Ride from one of my favorite kidlit review blogs.
- Peek inside a bit of The Bus Ride on the publisher’s web site.
Most Sunday mornings, my daughter and I ride a city bus to church and back home again. We have waited for the bus in the rain and in the falling snow. We have shared smiles with many different drivers and riders as we all explored our great city via public transit.
So I was excited to share Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena with my daughter. How many picture books have families riding a city bus? Only a few that I know of. And none do it with the magic that Matt de la Pena brings to a simple bus ride. Last Stop on Market Street is a celebration of city living that I want to share with everyone–especially those who question my appreciation for public transit.
In the story, CJ and his grandmother are riding the bus after church. CJ asks question after question–Why don’t they have a car? How come that man can’t see? Why do they have to go somewhere after church?–and his grandmother answers them all with kindness. I couldn’t help but smile as I read the story, and at the end, when they arrive at a soup kitchen to serve food to hungry people, I was reminded to look for opportunities to see beauty in the world.
On a chilly morning like this one, I have to admit I was silently wishing we were a two car family, so we could drive to church and my husband could drive to work. But I thought of CJ and his Nana. I thought of all the little moments I’ve had with my daughter on our Sunday morning bus rides. I thought about my city and my church. I am grateful that my city has a pretty great transit service and that my church has so many opportunities to help people. Perhaps one of these Sundays, we will catch a later bus home so we can join the group that packs meals for homeless MCTC students after the service.
You can see some illustrations and read more about the story behind the book in this post at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
Two Saturdays ago we woke to snow falling outside our windows. It didn’t stop falling until later that night. Throughout the day, buses and then plows were taken off the roads. I spent the day intermittently following the various Twitter hashtags dedicated to the event (#snownami, #snowpocalypse, #snOMG, #snowmageddon, and #blizzardpeople just to name a few), reading snow-related picture books to my kiddo, and trying not to think about the book I’d recently finished (Trapped by Michael Northrop: a teen fiction ARC about a group of kids stranded at their high school during a snowstorm the size of a natural disaster).
It was just a few weeks ago that I posted an entry about my family’s joy at the first snow fall and how we navigate winter in the city. Two weeks after #snownami, I’m over it. Monday morning after the snowstorm, I climbed on top of a snowbank to stand with my feet level with the top of a city garbage can to catch my bus out to the suburbs where the sidewalks are not cleared. One morning this week, a woman yelled “Be careful!” from her car window as I walked down the side of a busy Burnsville street to get to work. I shrugged my response in a way that I hoped came across as “I’m trying!” or perhaps a resigned “What are you going to do?”
What are we going to do? Be careful where we park our cars, dress in warm layers, and just keep on with our regular lives to the best of our ability through whatever as true Minnesotans.
Also, huge thank you to everyone in my Minneapolis neighborhood who cleared the sidewalks in front of their homes. Extra thank you’s to those who live on corners and shoveled a path to the street. I love you.
When I still lived in sunny Chicagoland, my husband sold MN winters to me by telling me that it was the great equalizer. It was the time of year when we all have hat hair, red cheeks, and unfashionable but warm clothing. That is still our family philosophy when it comes to winter. We stop worrying about looking cool, and we just live and let live. Perhaps that’s the way it should be all the time.
Happy winter, everyone. Stay warm.