To bike or not to bike?

When it comes to my kids' independence, I don't think I'm all that uptight . I have never been the type to hover over them at the playground; I preferred to sit on a bench and let them play on their own, and if they grazed their elbows or skinned a knee (or, during one memorable time, slipped, did a face plant on the metal stairs and got a black eye) themselves, well, all the better to learn their lesson the next time. As they grew older, I had no problem with drop-off parties, sleepovers or camping trips.

There's only area where I am completely paranoid, and that is letting them walk or bike to school by themselves.

 Growing up in the Philippines, I was constantly accompanied, driven everywhere and surrounded by family or caregivers until I was 15. I guess my parents' fear of kidnappers and thugs, whether real or imagined, was so ingrained in me that letting them out on the streets alone is like sending a message to every kidnapper and pedophile out there: "Here they are! Come and get them!". Even though their school is only about half a mile from our house, just I could not do it. Sure, the molesters and pedophiles might be out to lunch, but there are sure to be texting drivers who are ready to run over my kids at the next LOL they type. Fortunately, Alfie is even more paranoid than I am about this.  He grew up riding motorbikes, so he knows from experience how careless young kids can be.  So from kindergarten till 6th grade, I faithfully accompanied my daughter to and from school, or made sure there was an accompanying adult whenever she went with a friend.

All that changed abruptly this fall, when The Pea entered middle school. She goes to a different school than her twin brothers now, and it's farther away. The two schools' start and end times are almost identical, so there's no way I could walk all 3 of them to school. We toyed with the idea of Alfie taking her to school on the back of his motorcycle, but didn't know how old kids could be to do that (it wasn't really a practical solution anyway: she'd still need a way to get home, and there's no way she could fit a motorcycle helmet in her school locker).  I could have started using the van, but in the end we decided it was better for everyone involved (including the environment) if we finally started letting go.  The Pea started biking by herself from day 1 of middle school, and has biked every school day since.  And I worry about her every day.

To be fair, I don't think she's a reckless biker.  She rides with her best friend -- single file, not side-by-side -- and always wears her helmet.  She sticks to just 3 preapproved routes -- to and from school, with a side trip to the local library twice a week, and to each of her two best friends.  There's a crossing guard at the busiest crossing on her route, and a stoplight with pedestrian light at her second-busiest crossing.  She could take a more direct route, but she takes one that's a bit farther because it has a bike lane.

Still, I worry.  Late last night Alfie and I heard on the news that a 12 year-old girl was killed while riding her bike home from school.  She was struck by an SUV in a headlong collision.  My worst nightmare, come true for some other poor family.  The girl seems to have done everything right (read my Silicon Valley Mamas post for more details), but it didn't do her any good.  These days, 90 percent of the driving population seems to be talking or texting on their phones, and another 5 percent are putting on makeup, shaving, eating breakfast, reading the paper or breastfeeding their babies.   People in a rush to get to work don't bother with details like looking before they turn corners or following speed limits.  I see careless driving every day when I walk the boys to school, and I worry that The Pea will be at the receiving end of all that carelessness.

I don't really know the solution to this.   I know I can't keep her by my side forever, so I don't think driving her to school is the solution.  She's doing her part by being responsible, and everything else is out of our hands, so we just have to deal with the worry. Maybe the only way to get rid of my worries about her biking alone will be to see her get behind the wheel of a car.  Then I'll know what real worry is.  I guess it's all part and parcel of being a parent.

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