do we treat our tweens like toddlers? Because the rules say we have to.
The other day my son had to leave middle school early for the big day: Getting his braces. I planned to meet him at the orthodontist near our home and wrote a note asking for him to be excused at 1 ocâ€™lock. Naturally, I left phone numbers where the school could call me or my husband to confirm this wasnâ€™t some scam on my sonâ€™s part, and I left my e-mail address, too.
My son brought the note to the principalâ€™s office where he was promptly informed: No dice. Your mom, or dad, or babysitter (!) has to personally come fetch you.
So fetch my 12-year-old I did. But when I got to the school office, I couldnâ€™t help but ask, â€œWhy do you need me to escort him? You let him leave at the end of the school day by himself.â€
At first the secretary laughed. â€œTell me about it,â€ she said. â€œWhen my son needs to leave school early I have to go get him, too, and heâ€™s 17. A football player! He should pick me up!â€
We had a moment of solidarity and then I muttered, â€œWhat a ridiculous rule.â€ And something snapped. The secretary was no longer on my side.
â€œItâ€™s for his safety,â€ she admonished me.
â€œWhy is it safe when he leaves by himself at 3, but not at 1?â€
â€œThe school is responsible for him,â€ she clipped.
â€œHe could have forged it,â€ she said.
â€œBut I left my husbandâ€™s number, too,â€ said I. â€œAnd an email address.â€ Would any kid line up two adult voices willing to cover for him, even as he hacked into my e-mail? If heâ€™s that smart, he doesnâ€™t need school.
â€œWhy you wouldnâ€™t want to ensure your sonâ€™s safety, I donâ€™t know,â€ the secretary said, now cold as a shrimp cocktail.
Actually, I left that last little bit un-exclaimed, because I had already turned an ally into an enemy, just by poking a bit behind this scrim of â€œsafetyâ€ that really has very little to do with safety, and very much to do with schools not wanting to get sued.
Not that I blame the schools. If a kid leaves early and gets hit by a car on his way the orthodontist (who, by the way, only puts on braces during school hours in order to leave after-school hours for all the follow-up appointments), maybe some parents would sue, even if they had asked the school to let the kid leave on his own.
But thatâ€™s when we have to start thinking about changing everything weâ€™re up against. A society that encourages and rewards crazy law suits. Schools that treat growing children like babies (even 17-year-old football players). And especially adults who use the word â€œsafetyâ€ the way 2-year-olds use the word â€œNo!â€
It is a word that stops all rational conversation in its tracks. â€œSafetyâ€ brooks no give-and-take. It is the trump card we play when we donâ€™t want to have to bother thinking a little harder about which rules really make sense, and what effect theyâ€™re having on our kids, whom weâ€™d really like to see grow up and act responsibly already.
So my son and I headed off to the orthodontist together, but while he was within sight of his school he sprinted a full city block ahead of the middle-aged lady schlepping behind him. Seventh graders know they donâ€™t need their moms to pick them up from school. Itâ€™s humiliating!
Â Maybe someday the schools will figure that out, too.