A cautionary tale
I was reading a post over at Get On the Bus in which Scott talks about walking his 5- and 7-year-old daughters to school less than a mile away. He then fondly remembers walking to school by himself and contemplates this kind of freedom for his own kids (until his wife comments immediately, which was rather amusing).
Let me take you back over 30 years ago (how much over is none of your beeswax), when Ms. Cornelius was just a wee ape. Tiny, in fact, which just goes to show that from a tiny acorn a mighty (wide) oak can grow. Cornsilk hair, and a good wind could blow her over-- and since this was Oklahoma, that did happen on occasion. Mom was home with my younger brother and baby sister. So I walked home from kindergarten every day. It was through the neighborhood, after all, so what could be safer?
Until one day when it wasn't. The man pulled his car over just slightly ahead of me and got out. He asked me if I had seen his puppy, and asked if I would come with him-- he had candy-- to help him find it. I had stayed about 15 feet away from him, and to this day I still remember the T-shirt stretched over his gut, gray from being washed too much, the stubble, the thin greasy hair, the chinos. It was the middle of the day, I was three blocks from home, and I knew NO ONE on this street.
The house I was in front of had a chain link fence around the back yard. He took a step closer to me with his hand outstretched, and I ran for that fence. Cleared it in two steps and as I went over the top I caught the hem of my pantsleg on the tines on the top so I temporarily hung upside down on the other side. I could see my papers fluttering to the ground, and the man was running toward me. My hand hit the ground, and I kicked my trapped foot free and cartwheeled away from the fence. A dog next door started barking at the man and charging toward the gate. I ran to the back of the yard and climbed over into the next yard. When I looked back the man was gone.
I wanted my mama, and I wanted her BAD, so I decided to keep going. I ended up crossing two more streets and climbing through four more backyards until I got to my street, and then I ran down that until I got home, where I pounded on the door for what seemed like forever until my mom let me in. The police never found that man, and for weeks afterward, I would get scared when I heard a car pull up and stop outside our house, because I was afraid I had led him to my house.
I didn't walk to school again until we moved to east Tulsa a couple of years later, after the neighborhood started going a little more S.E. Hinton on us (particularly The Outsiders and That Was Then, This is Now).
And that was then, and this is now. It's not like molesters and creeps haven't been around forever. I am immensely glad that I was enough of a tomboy that I could climb those fences.
But I woudn't let my kids walk to school in my neighborhood, and it's much nicer than where we lived when I was in kindergarten. This experience did not turn me into a white-knuckle parent, but if the world had predators like that 30 years ago, you can't be too careful now.
And that's all I've got to say about that.