Playful, elegant, and not above the judicious use of the word “shit."

I told her she could sing as she walked and walked and walked

Every day Leta catches a bus to an after school program so that I can get a full workday in, otherwise I’d have to pick her up at around three o’clock and project manage her boredom. I tried working for a few hours one weekend after she promised me that she wouldn’t get bored, that she wouldn’t suddenly appear at my desk and say, “I know I said I wouldn’t get bored…” and well, let’s just say that I had to put a sticky note on my forehead that read: NEXT PERSON WHO APPROACHES ME AND SAYS THAT THEY ARE BORED HAS TO LISTEN TO ME TALK ABOUT MY BUTT.

She likes the program she attends and has several friends there, is always telling jokes or singing or dancing with them when I pick her up. But one morning on the way to school she asked why I wouldn’t just let her walk home from school every day. We live close enough, she said. She could totally do it, she said. And for real, she wouldn’t get bored.

“Do you not remember the sticky note I had to put on my head?” I asked her while making eye contact in the rearview mirror.

“Yeah,” she heaved knowing I wouldn’t give in easily. “But that was, like, a long long long time ago.”

“Actually, it was only—”

“I’m so much better now, Mom.” Right. Boredom was an affliction, an illness. She cured it with antibiotics.

“Do you not also remember how much it snows?”

“What does snow have to do with this?” she asked.

“Leta, there was a storm last year that dumped three feet of snow on the ground. Do you want to walk home in three feet of snow?”

“Yes, I do. I could do that.”

“Well…” We pulled up to the curb next to her school. “Let me think about it. As of today and this week you’re not walking home, okay?

“Okay,” she said and despondently grabbed her backpack to exit the car.

“PROMISE ME YOU WON’T TRY TO WALK HOME FROM SCHOOL,” I emphasized knowing full well I would never see her again considering how often she asks where her fork is when she is holding it in her hand.

“I promise. But you’re going to think about it?”

I said I would and then both of my living parents preemptively rolled over in their graves. If only Leta knew that in kindergarten I walked home two miles from school with my siblings in what is now one of the worst neighborhoods in Tennessee. It wasn’t uphill both ways, no. And it wasn’t even in the snow, but I was five and I wasn’t carrying a smart phone.

Someone should call CPS on them retroactively.

walkhome

Last Thursday night while driving home from piano lessons she decided to broach the subject again knowing that Marlo would be home the following day with a babysitter because of parent-teacher conferences.

“It’s not fair that Marlo gets to stay home and I don’t,” she said.

“You’re right, it isn’t,” I agreed. “It’s also not fair that you get to stay up an hour later than she does. How should we fix this?”

“MOM.”

“LETA.”

“I just wish I didn’t have to go to after school. There’s going to be a babysitter at home anyway.”

“Okay, why don’t you walk home from school then,” I said knowing that I was calling a bluff she didn’t know she had made.

“BY MYSELF?!” she screamed.

“You said you wanted to walk home from school. And you’re right. Tomorrow would be the perfect day to try it out. The weather is going to be beautiful and the babysitter can watch you until I’m done with work.”

“But I don’t know the way! I’ll get lost!”

“We can drive there right now and I’ll show you the way. It’s really easy. You only have to make three turns.”

“I don’t know… I don’t know, Mom. They taught us in after school that you have to make a temporary shelter if you ever get lost in the wilderness, and that really scares me.”

“So if you get lost on the way home from school you’d set up a temporary shelter… in someone’s front yard?”

“MOM.”

“They’d walk out of their front door in the morning to go to work and be all WHAT ON EARTH, and you’re like, hey. What’s up. Just going to be hanging here for a while until I can figure out how to get to my house that’s a block away.”

She started laughing hysterically.

“And then they’re like WE’RE GOING TO CALL THE POLICE and you’re like, hey. It’s cool. The after school program showed me how to do this. I’m surviving.

Through giggles she agreed that the neighborhood was nothing like the wilderness.

“How about we drive from the school to the house and then you can decide,” I offered.

I took a different route home from piano and pulled up to the entrance of her school. From there I showed her the left turn here, the stop sign, the crosswalk near the next turn, the final turn there, and then asked what she thought.

“What if I get kidnapped?” was her answer. She thought that was the perfect out, but I decided to grill her.

“Are you going to talk to strangers?”

“No.”

“Are you going to get into a car with a stranger?”

“No.”

“Are you going to run in the opposite direction of any white van?”

“Yes.”

“What happens if a stranger follows you? What do you do?”

“Run away and scream.”

“If anyone says that they have been sent to pick you up by either me or your father, what do you do?”

“I ask them for the password.”

“What’s the password.”

“[She tells me the correct password]”

“What if they have reset the password?”

“Reset the password? What?”

“Just joking! I think you’re good to go!” She did not want to hear this, I could tell. So I made another offer. “What if Tyrant walks down there and you two walk back together? I’ll be on a conference call when school lets out, but he’d be happy to walk home with you.”

“You promise he’ll be there? I won’t have to do it myself?”

“I promise.”

“YES! That’s perfect, Mom! I CAN’T WAIT!”

“Leta, what if he doesn’t know the password?”

“Um… but it’s John LaCaze. I know him.”

“LETA. WHAT IF HE DOES NOT KNOW THE PASSWORD?”

“Don’t go with him?”

“Do not go with ANYONE who does not know the password. Okay?”

“Okay! Got it!” She was so happy about this plan and talked about it several times before bed. She couldn’t wait for tomorrow! She was going to walk home from school tomorrow! I felt really good about it, too, because I’d get to see just how well I know my daughter. Also, I’d be lying if I didn’t entertain the thought of having Tyrant pretend to get lost and asking Leta to set up a temporary shelter on the lawn of a nearby LDS church.

Tomorrow finally came and on the drive to school she could talk about nothing else. Did I know that she was going to walk home from school? Oh wait, of course I knew. Sorry! She was just too excited! I asked her why she couldn’t have this reaction whenever I brought up my butt.

The time came for Tyrant to head out to her school and in the chaos of having Marlo at home all day I forgot to tell him the password. I only know this because I got a text message from him when he got there:

“What’s the password for Leta? She won’t move an inch without it! HA!”

OH WHO IS A PROUD MAMA BEAR WHO?

God, I love it when I get portions of this right. And by “portions of this” I mean that if either of my children grow up and decide to join a terrorist organization, they will be the one terrorist who always remembers to ask if they can be excused from the table.

About fifteen minutes later I heard the front door open and Leta’s giant backpack fall to the floor. I should probably mention here that (hahahahahaha!) the walk home from school is entirely uphill. Like, straight uphill. Like, totally vertical, bro. She came running to my office where I had swirled around in my chair to greet her.

“SO?!” I asked. “How did it go?!”

She was out of breath, her face a saturated shade of pink. She came to a stop about ten feet away from me, crossed her arms and blinked dramatically for about thirty seconds.

“I am not ever walking home ever again ever for the rest of my life. EVER.”

I will now bow and you can all clap and admire just how well I know my older daughter.

  • JRSF

    I don’t think anyone between the ages of 34-44 who grew up in the South will ever not look askance at a white van. I just found out that where I grew up in Memphis (Parkway Village) is where an under 18 gang member (wannabe? nobody seems clear) shot a contractor during a robbery in which the other contractor was left alive. Those were streets I rode my bike all around and through millions of times growing up, which hasn’t been that long ago. Although now I understand why Dad vapor-locks when I tell him that I drove through that part of town in his car while visiting Memphis.

    Also, I guarantee I would forget steps 4-12 on making a survival shelter. That is entirely too close to camping, which my people don’t do. Could you do a post (bonus points if we get photos with sassy captions) on making a survival shelter?

  • Lindsay Harris

    Frickin fantastic !

  • Beth Rich

    So totally awesome, and hope for mothers everywhere.

  • CheeseburgerinLaradise

    I always had the foresight not to walk/ride my bike to school. What if I got tired? Abducted? Or worse, SWEATY?

  • Heather Armstrong

    I’ve told a couple of friends back home that I want to visit the neighborhood where I attended kindergarten and each of them has said, “You can’t drive through that part of town, Heather.” That makes me so sad. But that’s Memphis, now, I guess.

    I will ask Leta to give me a step-by-step walkthrough to see if a post like that is possible. I’m thinking she wasn’t paying very close attention as being in the wilderness isn’t high on her list of to-do’s.

  • Elizabeth

    You are the BEST mom EVER!!!!

  • Melissa Murphy

    Thank you for the song that is now stuck in my head…..
    grrrrr.

  • joan newcomb

    My mother (a good Ann Arbor gal who’d walked to school through Michigan winters) taught me to walk to school when I was 10. In London, UK, which I always thought was terrifically risky. I remember it as a huge adventure. Just Google-mapped it and found it was, like, a 15 minute walk through the swankiest part of town.

  • You win the clever Mom award Hands Down!

  • D J H

    If only you could password-protect Leta in 8 years when she’s dating…

  • Jessica

    When I was in elementary school, my mom gave me the same talk. The bus stop was a quarter mile from our house. One day my next door neighbor called my mom and told her, while laughing, that I wouldn’t accept a ride home in the torrential rain, because she failed to give me the password. I distinctly remember this and I remember her saying, “Jessica, it’s me…your neighbor…Robin.” 🙂

  • I can’t even fully explain why, but this post just warms my heart. I was smiling from ear to ear while reading (particularly when the wilderness shelter came up, hehe).

    Keep on keepin’ on, Heather. You’re doing great.

  • excacly, like your post 😉

  • oh crap. i don’t have a password. have now failed at parenting. Now that that’s out of the way I suddenly feel far less anxiety about letting them play with matches and run with scissors. Whew.

  • KMC2

    There is no place like home.

    I had an office job while my son was growing up. I dropped him off at school at 8:30 for the 8:40 start of the school day. The school day ended at 3:10 at which time he would have to go to the after school program until I could pick him up at 6:00. That is a nine and a half hour day. NINE AND A HALF HOURS! At least I had time to myself during my commute, I could listen to the radio and unwind. His time, on the other hand, was more regimentation after an already regimented day. It broke my heart to have him away from home that many hours five days a week.

    He is now in college, between that, his part time job and time spent with friends, I hardly get to see much of him these days. You never get those childhood days back, and they do go by so quickly. Leta is telling you she wants to be at home. Perhaps the babysitter could keep her busy so she doesn’t get bored while you finish your work.

  • I used to occasionally walk home from school, when the weather was nice enough. It was just over 5 miles, but it was all country roads. I would often cut through the woods to save some time, and saw black bears, porcupines, badgers, and skunks – along with the ubiquitous deer. Growing up in the country was very different from the suburbs or the city, I suppose. I’d get rides from other, older kids, or sometimes in farm trucks.

  • Octopies

    Oh my gosh! I still use the password with my mom. We tell each other ‘I love you (password)’ It is a made up word that ended up being the only way to describe the insane amount of love between my mama her babes.

    Also, it is my next tattoo so I guess EVERYONE will know the password.

  • MazMonroe

    Oh I so agree. My daughter is 34 years old now. Where DID those years go? When she was 9 I had to change from working part time to working full time when her dad left us and I always regret not being able to share more time with her. Fortunately she doesn’t see it that way, she sees me as a strong woman who refused to go on welfare and worked hard to support her and myself. Needless to say we are very proud of each other!

  • KMC2

    I too am a single mom. Mortgage, car payments, insurance, utilities, food, etc…etc…etc. We do what we have to do, to provide. But being away from my son was a hard pill to swallow. I did my best to make sure the time we did have together was quality time. Sometimes we would just have lazy weekends, where we would stay in our pajamas, read, nap, watch movies and eat our favorite foods during the cold winter months. When the weather was nice, we would go on adventures…oh, I miss those days! Now the boy is planning on driving over two hours away for a concert! I am going to worry till he gets back (he just turned 18).

  • KathyB

    Perfectly know your daughter. Loved this.

  • fantastic ! hihi

  • kacy

    love it when we get it right….ha ha ha

  • Jennifer Wysokowski

    Great story! Love hearing about your two so very, very different girls.
    Living in NYC I had a little bit of a hard time letting my son walk alone–it evolved more out of necessity. Now he’s almost 15. I still worry.

  • Jennifer Cafferty-Davis

    Well done, mama! We had a password when we were kids too, same talk from our parents that you gave Leta. So awesome!

  • Emily

    This is brilliant.

  • Becky

    LOVE!!!!!!!!!!!
    I want to be you.

  • Jessica Bates

    I walked a block home from elementary school in Nashville on most days. One day, in third grade, they talked about strangers with candy. “Don’t take anything from strangers — no candy!” That afternoon I walked home with my cousin, a fourth grade boy. His friend came up to us and asked if we wanted some candy. (It was close to Halloween.) I ran and screamed the whole block home. My cousin was so embarrassed when he finally reached our house. I guess I took that candy advice a little too seriously.

  • April

    I grew up in Memphis (Raleigh/Bartlett) and when I was in kindergarten I got to walk home without my sister for the first time. We lived at the top of the hill from school – just cross the cross walk and straight up the hill. Easy right – well as soon as I crossed that cross walk the house at the cross walk opened their garage door and let their dog out, well said dog decided to bite me on the ass! I ran all the way up that hill screaming!!! My sister said she could hear me scream from a few blocks away!!! Then we changed schools to Harding Academy and spend hours on busses. I think I rode like 2 busses to get to school.

  • claudoo

    Love this, so funny, but so sweet. You’re a good mother (whether you admit it or not) 🙂 I love that she wouldn’t go anywhere with Tyrant even though she knows him, without the password, hilarious. And I love the notion of the temporary survival shelter, so funny.

  • Starla Dear

    My sister and I wanted to walk home from school once after we had just moved to a new city. I think we were 7 and 9. We are both directionally challenged and since we were not at all familiar with the route, we quickly got lost. Not only that, it was chilly November and it started snowing. We didn’t know what to do until we saw a house with a picture of the Virgin Mary in the window. We thought, any house with a religious icon in the window HAS to be safe! The elderly lady who lived there let us call our mom. Whew! It does make me think twice before letting my kids do the same — I would be driving them through the route a couple of times, and I would probably be following them in a car the first time they tried it!

  • HeatherNC

    does your password contain at least 8 characters, two of which are numerical and at least one special character? cause if not, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!

  • I mastered the art of walking and reading, so I loved walking by myself to and from school – that was at least another few chapters of my book!

  • World Of Designers

    I love this mom !