For four years, I never thought twice about traveling an hour and a half each way on a train and two subways just to get to high school. Or traveling via subway and public bus to a softball game in the depths of a pre-hipster Brooklyn. (We didn’t exactly have yellow buses carting us to our sporting events.) Or walking through Harlem to get to the Metro North stop. And when I was first pick-pocketed, I was only 14.
Someone asked me the other day if I would let my daughter do that. Travel around a city by herself on public transportation as a young teenager. The truth is, sometimes I wonder if I should even write for this blog. Or if I should post photographs on Facebook. Or Instagram. Etc. Etc.
I grew up in the Bronx. My mother is not from the Bronx. She was petrified almost every single day that something would happen to one of her kids. But somehow she still let me take the three hour round trip to Manhattan every day so I could go to a great school. Yes, there were freak-out moments. If I missed a train, or didn’t have a quarter to call from the pay phone, I came home to a very hysterical mother. But we got through those moments. And roaming around all of the boroughs of New York City at 14 made me the person I am today. It made me a much better person. I learned about different cultures, different opinions, different lifestyles. I became not only book smart, but also a little street smart. I definitely became more knowledgeable about the world. And I learned a lot about myself and my capabilities.
I want this for my daughter. I want her to go, do, explore, wander, learn without fear. But, selfishly, I also don’t want to be afraid. I want her to learn how to look both ways to cross a street while holding my hand. And then I want her to be able to cross that same street without holding my hand. I want her to run down the block to play with her friends. Or ride her bike to the park. Or go into the city on the bus to explore. And I don’t want to worry the entire time she’s gone.
I don’t want to feel scared. My husband and I often consider ourselves lucky; we are of a certain age that we are on the cusp of two very different generations. The older generation and the technology generation, or Millenials if you will. By birth, we are both grouped into Millenials. By nature, I think we’re both more a part of the older grouping. Yes, we had computers, but not until middle school. Yes, we had cell phones, but not really until college. We both spent a very, very long time without Facebook pages. We both still believe in being outside, being active, giving handshakes and eye contact. But we also had Nintendo, I-everything, and text messaging. We both believe in letting our daughter have independence and exploring her world. And while technology can be very handy, we also realize that media, social media, and crowd mentality can cause unnecessary fear.
My mom’s favorite line was , “It’s not that I don’t trust you, it’s that I don’t trust everyone else.” I get it. When I was in college I interned with NBC Nightly News. That internship was rather eye opening. I learned that the news is mostly about ratings, and while the stories were true, they were almost always blown out of proportion. The summer I was there was the “shark attack summer”. Day after day, there were stories about shark attacks. The truth is, there weren’t any more incidents involving Jaws lookalikes that summer than any other summer. But that is what they chose to focus on to drive ratings. And it worked. Ratings skyrocketed and the amount of people swimming in the ocean plummeted. Murder, kidnapping, war, shark attacks. True, yes. Common? Well, do your research.
Fear is an interesting emotion. Many times it’s not even based on facts or logic. But fear can take control so easily. Panic, anxiety, depression. I can’t speak for prior generations, but I certainly feel like I hear these words over and over again amongst members of my generation. Does it make me a better parent if I worry? Will you judge me if I choose not to worry?
The only fear my daughter knows at this point is the fear I introduce to her.
The truth is, I do worry. I worry about crowded places because of the Boston Marathon Bombing. I worry about public transportation because of September 11th. I worry about eventually sending my daughter to school because of Newtown, Connecticut. I worry about going to my date night in Cincinnati because ISIS hacked the website to the restaurant where I had reservations.
But then I think, my grandfather came back from World War II and still let his kids play on the streets on the Bronx. My husband’s father came back from Vietnam and still let his son ride dirt bikes in the woods. Men and women fight every day so I can let my daughter play in the streets of Cincinnati. It’s a different world, yes. But it might be a better world.
I need it to be okay for us to let our kids play. On their own. Outside. Without us worrying. I need them to make independent decisions. And feel like they’ve earned responsibility. Because the world can be a scary place. And I need our kids to be brave.