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Back to School boldly

August 2, 2015
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

A few days ago, an essay made the rounds on social media in which a mother compares Back to School in the '70s with Back to School in the 21st century. While her story included quite a bit of exaggeration for effect, it rang true to this former schoolgirl, who started kindergarten in 1977.

I was an emotional kid who felt sad when I outgrew a favorite outfit. This happened quite often as I quickly became the tallest kid in the class on my way to my adult height of 6'1." Maybe this is why I found myself wearing more skirts than the average girl. A skirt that was calf length in September could become a knee length skirt by May. It was just as well because all my pants were patched by October (can you even get nice patches for pants anymore?) since I took a dive-bomb approach to recess, and still have the knee scars to prove it.

I suppose back to school shopping has become more complicated than when we were kids. Today, I had no trouble finding all the 7th grade supplies for Bryan. His backpack that lasted him from pre-K through sixth grade is finally replaced and the new one on its way from the UPS driver. We will get him registered today new kid in a new town in a new school. He has a new Dr. Who hoodie for a fall jacket as well as a Dr. Who tee. He needs jeans and cargo pants, a couple of shirts and good sneakers, then he's all set until it's time for a winter coat.

What's more complex about sending kids to school now is the concern for safety. I am plenty concerned about safety. Apparently, though, not concerned enough. In kindergarten, I walked 1.1 miles home from school and sometimes to school (other days, if I was ready on time, I joined a neighborhood carpool in the morning.)

With my older children, in 2001 when my third grader began walking three blocks to and from the elementary school I had attended with my kindergartener, I opened my front door to concerned moms who'd taken it upon themselves to deliver my children home, and fielded calls from the principal and a social worker. To this day I don't think I have an answer for them. It was three blocks up a slight incline that might be called a hill in the mornings and reversed in the afternoons. They could almost see our house from the corner after they left the purview of the fifth grade crossing guard.

In some schools, older children aren't even allowed to enjoy the responsibility and privilege of serving the younger children as crossing guard. They struggle to find volunteers for the sometimes cold, wet, thankless job, or they hire an adult. I believe this gives children the message they're not responsible enough, they're not competent, they can't do it. Is this what we want?

Other parents call the police or child protective services if a child is seen playing alone, whether in the neighborhood or at the public park. Imagine a child playing in a park! I was an only child, and though I did have friends, I had to entertain myself quite a bit. It was a good thing. I was not that kid who whined, "I'm bored," and as an adult, the staff here at Estherville News will corroborate that I always find some mischief to get into. Similarly as a parent, I allowed my children to find their own fun, within reason.

Some argue that there are more people out there today who will harm children. But there are fewer who actually do. In spite of the headlines that go viral around the Internet, the FBI reports abductions and other violent crime is down. The greatest decrease was right here in the Midwest a decrease of 7.6 percent in all violent crime over 2013, and a larger increase over the last 20 years.

I'm not worried about a stranger abducting Bryan. I have a feeling he'd cause them to have a change of heart and they'd bring him back in a short time. Of course I'm a bit worried about sending my last child, my baby, into what has been for many kids the ghastly halls of the seventh grade. But even if it's awful, he'll learn that this, too, shall pass. And I don't think he'll have an awful time as a new Midget. It seems like a terrific school.

We have to allow our children to take more risks as they grow. Life is about risks. Tweens and young teens are doing the hard work of finding out who they are. If we don't let them out of our sight, they'll find some other risk to take, and what they choose, based on their inexperience and lack of impulse control, might not be at all healthy.

It is the start of back to school season, but meanwhile, we have a great deal of August. I plan to make the most of it.



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