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.
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?”
“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?”
“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?”
“Are you going to get into a car with a stranger?”
“Are you going to run in the opposite direction of any white van?”
“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?”
“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.