He €“ Izzy — has ridden this route solo a dozen times before. It’s a straight shot on a commuter train and, as always, he was being met at the other end by his friend’s family. But today’s conductor was appalled to see a boy riding alone.
For some reason, the conductor wouldn’t talk to me, even though Izzy called from the train when the ordeal began. The man had no interest in hearing me state what Izzy had already been telling him: We believe a child of 10 is perfectly capable of taking a half hour journey by himself.
So instead the conductor and his superior got off at Izzy’s stop and then, as the train just sat there (I’m sure no one was a rush to get to their families on Christmas day), they awaited the police. I got a call from the friend’s dad who was waiting to take Izzy home. “We cannot leave the station,” he said.
“The police have to decide what to do next.”
A few minutes later a policeman got on the phone and asked what had happened. I explained that my son often takes this train and that, in fact, the first time he did, we had asked at the railroad information booth, “What age is a child allowed to ride alone?”
There’s no specific age, the agent replied. But personally, she thought 10 sounded good, if there was someone waiting at the other end.
The police officer listened and agreed this sounded reasonable. He said as much to the conductor and the boss and they got back on the train. My son was free to go. The policeman wished me, “Merry Christmas.”
But if I had been given a summons as a delinquent parent, or hauled into family court, or had my child had been taken away from me, this would not have been very merry at all.
Free Range Kids seems like a pretty innocuous idea: Give our kids the freedom we had as children. But in reality, we are up against not just a bunch of well-meaning folks who fear for them, but against some powerful authorities, too. When the policeman got on the phone, my heart stood still.
What we have to remember, I guess, is that all civil rights movements have had to stand up to people in power who were legally right, but otherwise wrong. And we have to stand up to bad laws, too.
So my gift today was a lesson: I finally learned that Free Range Kids is a rights movement. We want to reclaim our children’s right to take part in the world, and our right, as parents, to let them.
It’s not exactly the gift I wanted. But at least I’m not under arrest and I get to keep my son. I’m extremely grateful for that.
Peace on earth. Good luck to us all. €“ Lenore