Teaching independence

Letter to Nikisha (Six years nine months):

Dearest Nik,

This morning I watched you walk out the front door to head to your bus. Alone. The scared feeling I get every time you do that has gotten smaller with each passing day. I know now that you’ll be just fine without me attached to your schoolbag until you’ve stepped up that first step onto the bus. I know that when I hear the bus round the corner at just before 4PM every weekday, you’ll be walking through that door in just a few minutes.

Each and every time you do, I feel relief. And pride.

But do you remember at the beginning of the school year? That day when we both got scared and the only thing we wanted to do was cry?

I remember that day so clearly. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget it. It was the first time I ever felt so terrified that I’d lost you and I didn’t know what to do. I waited at the bus stop until every last kid got off the bus. When you didn’t, I panicked. It was only the second day you’ve ridden the bus, so the bus driver had no idea who you or I was. I ran home and hopped in the car to look for you. Heart pounding and tears running down my face.

I can only imagine how freaked out you were when you realized you got off at the wrong stop. You tried to find your way home, didn’t you? But when you thought all hope was lost, you sat on the curbside and cried.

That was when the nice lady walking her dogs noticed you. She helped calm you down and gave you the confidence to find your way home. You did. I wish I had your confidence so I could look for her and thank her for helping you. Maybe even give her the biggest bear hug ever.

Except I fear that she will tell me how awful I was for not waiting at home for you. What a terrible mother I was because I hadn’t thought to walk around the neighborhood with you to show you different ways to get home. I’d probably cry so hard in agreement that I wouldn’t be able to explain that I had gone looking for you. That the thought of you having to go through this never crossed my mind until it happened. That I’m sorry I’m so pathetic.

I vowed from that day to do whatever it took to prevent this situation from happening again. But I couldn’t go about it the wrong way. I’m sure that other parents in my situation would choose to not let their kids out of their sight, but your mama? No. I was going to teach you what needed to be done if the situation arises again. Not that I want it to, but I’d much rather prepare you for these situations now instead of waiting until you’re “old enough”.

I believe you’re old enough now.

We started off slowly. We took a stroll around the neighborhood to familiarize ourselves. Now you know where the other bus stop is and how to get home from there. You carry an emergency contact card just incase you need to tell an adult.

In the beginning I continued to walk you to and from the bus. I wanted to make sure you got off at the right stop from now on. When you and I were both confident enough for you to make your way home alone, I started waiting for you on the porch instead.

Over time it got to the point where you’d walk to and from the bus while I watched from a distance. I wanted us both to feel like you could do it on your own. Eventually I started waiting inside for you when you got home.

And now? Now you leave the house when you’re ready.

It makes me beam with pride to know that you are becoming more and more independent. I can’t believe that you wake up on your own in the morning, get your cereal and milk (if you’re hungry), get yourself dressed, and feed the cats all with some time to spare.

Then you look at me and say in a very confident voice, “I’m going now, mommy. I love you. Bye!” I just want to cry.

Love, mama

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