The Day the Carpool Screwed Up and Other Accidental Free-Range Kid Adventures: Your Stories Needed

At a lecture I was giving yesterday, one parent asked a good question: What if you WANT your kid to go knock on a friend’s door to play, or ride their bike around the neighborhood…but the kid shows zero interest?

That reminded me of a story told to me by a Washington Post reporter. Her son was  8 at the time, and one afternoon the carpool picked him up, dropped him off at home and drove off. But…

The house was locked. It was a day the boy was supposed to stay at school. Somehow the carpool mom didn’t know that. The boy didn’t have a key and he didn’t have a phone.

For about an hour, the mom started getting calls from a number she didn’t know, so she didn’t answer it. But finally, when the calls persisted, she picked up. It was the local little Korean grocery near her home. Her son was there, he was fine, they just wanted to let her know.

WHAT??? The mom raced to her car and drove over there in a panic: Her son had been locked out! He’d walked to the grocery on his own! He was with these people he didn’t know! She leapt out of the car, ran into the store and…there was her son, standing next to the grocer, putting trays of meat on the shelves together.

Her heart melted.

As for the boy? One of his happiest afternoons ever.

So, yes, sometimes things go wrong. And given our proclivity for organizing every moment of our kids’ days, it’s rare. But it also may be the only time we get to see how competent, capable and grownup our kids really are. And it may be the only time the kids get a taste of (and for) freedom.

Not that I”m suggesting we deliberately screw up a plan so we can watch our kids rising to the occasion. (Well… Okay, no. I guess I’m not.) Just that I’d like to gather stories like this — times when something went WRONG, which allowed us to see how much there is RIGHT and smart and strong about our growing kids.

If you’ve got a story, please share. – L.


Well, no one's home. I guess I'll have a little adventure.

Well, no one’s home. I guess I’ll have a little adventure.


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73 Responses to The Day the Carpool Screwed Up and Other Accidental Free-Range Kid Adventures: Your Stories Needed

  1. PacMom October 26, 2016 at 11:19 am #

    My Girls were 13 and 11. THey bowl Saturday Mornings 1.5 miles from home. One Saturday I ran errands and lost track of time. WHEN I got to bowling alley they were gone. I asked the manager who told me they tried to call and when I didn’t answer they said they would just walk home. I drove the route I thought they would take and didn’t see them. After trying a couple more I went home and there they were! They had carried their 13 lb balls home too. I asked why they didn’t ask someone else’s parent for a ride but they didn’t want to “bother” anyone. They had already gotten themselves lunch too!

  2. Michelle October 26, 2016 at 11:45 am #

    This is not my kids story but my own and it did take place in 2000. We were on vacation in “the country” and I was nine or ten years old. We had been there about five days and met some other family. There was a fair in town and my parents had other plans, so they let me go with that mom and her two kids. At some point she wanted to leave the fair, I did not, so she left me there. Yup, without calling my parents for permission or worrying about how I would get home. At some point I decided that I’d like to go back to the hotel and started trekking along the highway with mostly no sidewalks. After a while couple stopped their car and asked where I was going. I gave the name of the hotel and they informed me that I was going the wrong way and gave me directions. So I turned around and though I still did not know where the heck I was going, I found the hotel. My parents had not been missing me yet since they did not see the woman. When I told them what took place they were NOT pleased and gave her an ear full but no one thought of suing anyone or involving the cops and CPS.

  3. Vveat October 26, 2016 at 11:54 am #

    In 3rd grade I missed the bus that was chartered to take our class to a field trip on the outskirts of the town. Instead of going back home I went to the regular bus stop, asked people to figure out which public bus (as it turned out, needed a combination of two) will get me close to the location. I rode the bus, transferred without a problem, then hiked up the mountain for half an hour to reach the place. Big proud moment and seeing the surprised faces of my classmates and the teachers was so worth it.

  4. K October 26, 2016 at 12:10 pm #

    A not very inspiring story from my own childhood: when my sister and I were 6 and 7, we got home from school and my mom wasn’t there. I had a key for just such an occasion, but we’d never had use it. Let ourselves in, and had no idea what to do. Didn’t do it usual after school routine. Never changed out of our uniforms. Don’t think we had a snack or started homework. Just sat around, not really sure what going on. 45 minutes later, my mom got home. She’d hit traffic or something. We were fine, and safe, but we did not shine in the space we received via the mistake, like you might hope.

  5. Ann in L.A. October 26, 2016 at 12:17 pm #

    And, every kid should have a house key!

  6. brian October 26, 2016 at 12:32 pm #

    My kids dont need a house key because we don’t lock the doors…except on vacation and then we return and try to figure out which key it is…

  7. James Pollock October 26, 2016 at 1:06 pm #

    Here’s a story.
    My ex-wife and I were divorced (you probably figured that out already) and so we had a visitation schedule. Then she decided to move out of state and this meant that airlines were involved in visitations. At first, she had to pay extra for “unaccompanied minor” service because the airlines wouldn’t sell her a ticket for a 10-year-old to fly on unless she paid extra for the UM service. This meant that I took my daughter to the airport, then had to go through special processing at the airline counter, get a pass to enter the secured area even though I wasn’t traveling, and wait at the gate with my daughter until the plane left, and had to come in and show ID and sign paperwork in order to retrieve her when she came back.

    Well, as soon as my ex-wife could find an airline that would sell her a regular ticket for my daughter to fly on, she did. At the time, she thought West Virginia was where she wanted to live… but West Virginia doesn’t have major airports in it, so my daughter was flying to Charlotte, instead. My ex-wife would meet her at the airport and they’d drive from Charlotte to wherever in WV they were going (no, I didn’t know then and I don’t know now.)

    You’re thinking “oh, no, the airline stranded her someplace” but, no, the airline delivered her to Charlotte, just like they were supposed to do. But North Carolina was in the midst of huge ice storm and the highways were closed. My daughter arrived in Charlotte to discover that she was in a state neither of her parents were in, nor was anyone but herself responsible for her.

    She quickly figured out that the airport was FULL of people who’d had their travel plans disrupted. She decided that the safest place for her to be was the military reception center in the airport, which gave her a place to sit and an electrical socket to plug in her electronic amusement devices, while she waited for the roads to clear sufficiently for her mother to reach her.

  8. James October 26, 2016 at 1:18 pm #

    My mother will kill me, but……

    My mother, siblings, and I were shopping one day when I was in grade school. School had ben canceled, but by noon it was a beautiful day. Anyway, after shopping we pack the car and I go to put the cart away. My siblings all shut the door, so my mother assumed we were all in, and drove off. I walked back to where we parked, and saw the car drive away.

    I remember being annoyed, but I knew the way home, and knew my uncle (Mom’s brother) lived on the way. So I started walking that direction. My mother picked me up after I’d gone about a quarter mile. She was mortified. I had been looking forward to her brother picking on her about it!

    My own kids are too young to go wondering off TOO much, but the other day while I was gone my wife had to do something in room away from our kids (grab the laundry or something). The dogs wanted out, so the boys (one 3 years, one 18 months) opened the front door and let the dogs out into the fenced-in yard. My wife found the door wide open, the dogs wrestling in one part of the yard, and the boys happily playing in their sandbox.

  9. Suze October 26, 2016 at 1:41 pm #

    My Dad told me this story …. Him and my Grandmother were out shopping with me tagging along. I was maybe not quite 3 years old. My Dad looked at my Grandma and asked where I was; she replied that she thought I was with him and he replied back that he thought I was with her. So, I went missing. Apparently, they heard faint crying in the distance and there I was, in the store window display sitting there bawling. My Dad said at least I had the good sense to go somewhere where at least someone would see me and wonder what was wrong !! (story circa 1966)


    When my son was around 3 years old he was playing with the little neighbour girl from up the street and our next door neighbour’s young son (all kids involved where 3, 4 and 5 years old) They decided they would go watch a kids movie at the next door neighbours so I said fine to his mother and all 3 went in. I was out on my front porch reading. They were in and out; obviously not watching a movie but still fine and happy playing. I kept reading then all of a sudden, out came the mother and the son; they get in the car and leave. I just thought the other little girl and my son were outside somewhere. I looked around, called and called and started to get in a panic as I had never ‘misplaced’ my son before. Here, after calling for 10 minutes and on the verge of tears I see the head of the little girl stick out the top window of the next door neighbour’s house. Her and my son were still in there and the neighbour and her son had no idea and just left. Fortunately enough, she came downstairs with my son and was able, with some prompting to get the door unlocked so they could get out of the house. I was kind of mad at my next door neighbour as she was kind of dim-witted to not think they were still in there but she apologized when she got home and I told her what happened. At the end of the day, really no harm done !!!

  10. Sarah October 26, 2016 at 1:43 pm #

    When my daughter was 4, my husband and I took her to Walt Disney World. Of course the main fear is getting separated in a place like that. One day I took DD to the Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground while my husband went to check out the line at a favorite character meet and greet. DD went into a climbing structure that had one way in and one way out. I parked myself at the exit and, naturally, DD went out the entrance.

    I went quite a while without panicking as we had discussed this, but after fifteen or twenty minutes, I approached a “cast member.” Just then, DD comes leading another cast member by the hand. She had sought one out when she realized she couldn’t find me and told that worker to call my cell phone.

    Honestly my husband and I have joked since DD was about 18 months old that we could he abducted by aliens and she would be just fine without us.

  11. Tim October 26, 2016 at 1:48 pm #

    My 7 year old son was supposed to stay after school for a play rehearsal and we were planning to pick him up afterward. But the teacher screwed up and put him on the regular bus home that day, so there was no one to meet him at the bus stop when he arrived and no one at our home. He had never walked to or back from the bus stop by himself before but he very calmy walked himself home that day and let himself into the backyard. He didn’t have a house key so he ate leftover snacks from his lunchbox and played with the dog for an hour or so until we realized what was going on and had a neighbor go get him. We were mad at the schools screw-up of course, but we were very proud of how he handled himself and he was pretty excited about his little adventure.

  12. Ater October 26, 2016 at 1:50 pm #

    My not quite 4 year old took the dog for a walk the other day. I was at work, and my work from home husband was in the middle of a long phone meeting. The 2 year old came into his office and said “Nick is outside” at which point my husband got up, dropped his phone, and bolted out the door. He made it down the stairs and saw him calmly holding the dog’s leash in the grass. He told my husband “Noodles needed to go potty.”

    When they got back to the office, the 2 year old was chatting away with my husband’s coworkers on the phone.

    I honestly don’t know how to feel about this. He’s so tiny, yet he averted a major accident.

  13. WendyW October 26, 2016 at 1:52 pm #

    My dad was in the military, so we always lived far from grandparents. Starting when my sister and I were 8 & 10, we would be put on a plane every June and flown to my grandparents to spend summers there. In August we were put back on the plane to get home. We followed this routine most years until partway through high school. We always made a connection in Chicago, and knew that airport as well as our own, as long as things went right. The year we were 14 and 16, our flight out of Chicago was cancelled, and we were put on standby for a flight the following day. Two teen girls, stuck in an airport 500 miles from the nearest family members! Trying to talk to airline personnel when the whole planeful of angry people were trying to do the same was fruitless. A phone call (pay phone!) to my grandfather resulted in the advice to talk to a security guard (pre-TSA), who then acted as our advocate to deal with the airline. We were put up in a nice hotel (top floor per my request!) with transport to and from the airport and meal vouchers. This was of course standard procedure for such situations, but as young girls we had no knowledge of this and didn’t have a clue about what our course of action should be. The security guard was a perfect person to ask. He knew all the ins and outs, and he was happy to help. It was probably the only unusual event of his week. The next day we were safely home, with a new adventure under our belts.

    Thirty years later, my husband was worried about me taking a non-stop cross-country flight alone, and all I could do was shake my head and laugh to myself.

  14. that mum October 26, 2016 at 1:58 pm #

    My kids a couple of years ago (so they would have been 8 and 9ish) got dropped off by my partner at the swimming pool, she did not get out of the car. They ran in, discovered that the pool was closed that day (something random had happened and it was an unscheduled closure). By the time they ran back out she was gone and was not headed back home, did not have a cell. They have a phone at the pool for people to use so the kids tried home, then tried me at work. After about an hour they finally got a hold of me. They were a little upset but not panicked. They just waited at the front of the pool where there is a bench.

    What I leaned? I got them to memorize my cell number too as I they had not done that yet. It came in handy when I was out garage saleing with my sister—she had my kids and we were in two cars, luckily my eldest knew my cell number cause I did not know my sisters!

    Cut to yesterday:

    I got a call from the eldest form school, she’s almost 12 now. Wanted to hang out with a friend after school and me pick her up- I said no cause I was not sure I could get away from work and she didn’t have details or a real plan… school is not walking distance from home.

    Then I get a call from my partner at home—kids are not home yet and its over 20min past bus time.
    What went through my head: the bus driver did say the route was changing, did the eldest decide to just stay with her friend without permission? but the youngest would never do something like that, she’s way too compliant. Then I thought—well if they were stuck somewhere they know to ask for a cell phone or have a parent call me, or if they are downtown, go to the pool or mall to call.

    They got home ½ hour late—huge traffic jam (small town this in not a normal occurrence).

    Not a big deal, my partner was worried but she’s more of a worrywart. I know my kids can problem solve.

  15. Macbyrne October 26, 2016 at 2:01 pm #

    My 5 1/2 year old started ‘big girl school this year’. Within a week, she was asking to walk to her grandmother’s, who lives about 4 blocks away. We live in a small-ish town, and she knows the way, so I said ok. We planned it out, made sure she was comfortable with walking the way, made sure she knew what to do if she got to Nanny’s house and she wasn’t there, etc. Tried to cover for all contingencies.

    Then one day, about 4 weeks into her school year, there was a miscommunication, a hiccup, what-have-you. She thought she was being picked up, Nanny thought she was walking to her house. My daughter waited at our designated pick up spot for 20 minutes. When no one showed up, she calmly walked back to the crossing guard, explained what had happened, and gave the guard our phone number. The crossing guard called me, I called Nanny, daughter was picked up. Nanny and I were a little frantic, but my daughter was as calm and cool as if this happened every day!

  16. Jana October 26, 2016 at 2:02 pm #

    It’s not interesting, but here it is: When my son was six years old, he just started his new school at grandma’s for six months before going back to the US. He was not really familiar with the neighborhood, since we were living in a different country (even continent), visiting grandma only in summer for several weeks. His teacher and an after-school caretaker were responsible for keeping him at school till my (or grandma’s) arrival. One day, still very early into the school year, they somehow completely forgot about him. My son went to have his lunch at a school cafeteria, then got himself dressed and left. He came safely to grandma’s, who was completely shocked when he rang her bell… I think we underestimate our kids’ abilities and worry too much!

  17. Jeff Ericson October 26, 2016 at 2:09 pm #

    My son Miles was 7. We had just moved to Pittsburgh, about a month before. Totally new environment, city, everything. I dropped him off at school in the morning, already thinking about the 14 things I needed to get done. It never dawned on me that the area seemed really quiet for a school day – I just assumed I was late, even though I thought we were on time. About 45 minutes later I got a call from my 4 year-old’s preschool, about 4 blocks away. “Miles is here, please come get him,” they said. “You mean Dj – Miles goes to a different school.” Finally they convinced me. I had dropped him off and left, but there was no school that day. He waited alone at school for a little while, then decided he had to walk home. After a couple of blocks he recognized that he was near his brother’s preschool and went there. He knew my number (so did the school) and called.
    He was super excited that he had done this by himself – not a bit scared. I cheered him on – mom wasn’t very happy, but she was glad to know how resourceful he was.

  18. Nymphadora October 26, 2016 at 2:13 pm #

    I had taken all of my kids to a party at a friend’s house, and a huge group walked to the park via the greenway. My oldest daughter, then probably 7 or 8, needed to use the restroom and went ahead of us. Well, the backs of the houses all look the same from the greenway, so she over-shot the gate into her friend’s yard. We all got back to the house, talking while the kids played, for probably a half hour, and when it was time to go, my daughter was nowhere to be found.

    I frantically set out to find her, strolling the greenway with my baby with me, while my other two stayed at the party house (older brother crying at this point). I went back to the playground, and there was my daughter, along with an older couple and a young woman and her dog, and two police officers who had just pulled up to help.

    My daughter didn’t know my phone number (believe me, we rectified that immediately), and she did not know the street address of the party. What she did know to do, though, was to find someone with a dog to help her. She knew that “dog people” are good folks, and since the “dog girl” didn’t have a phone, she in turn summoned a couple who did. She knew to go back to the playground. Best part? The officers gave me zero grief about “losing” my child.

  19. Angela Brengman October 26, 2016 at 2:20 pm #

    I have a story of how wonderful it is to raise free-range kids. This past Columbus Day, my husband and I went fishing with some friends on their boat while our 10 and 8-year-olds were in school. We left the house all at the same time, about 7am. My children walk to and from school every day and we knew they are OK for a couple hours by themselves anyway so we told them to go inside after school and we would be home around 4pm.

    The adults decided to go fishing offshore; we live on on the Gulf Coast, since it was a beautiful day in the normally still very humid Texas fall. At around 2 pm we started back to shore and wouldn’t you know, we ran out of gas. We were out of cell phone service, even 911 wasn’t working, and we didn’t have a radio so we were stuck waiting for someone to come by. We were out there until 10 pm. All-the-while my children were at home, expecting us to return shortly after they got home. At about 7 pm, when it was getting dark, my 10-year-old thought something might be wrong so she walked to each house on the street until someone answered the door and asked them what they should do. This is how we were found by the game warden and “rescued”.

    Talking with that neighbor the next day I was never so proud of my children. This neighbor explained to me how calm both my children were when explaining the situation and how impressed they were with my children seeking help, even though they didn’t know these particular neighbors. I never doubted them for a minute, though next time we go fishing we;ll monitor the gas more carefully.

  20. Dee October 26, 2016 at 2:25 pm #

    This does describe why I will generally answer my phone. I think it’s stupid when people don’t. If it’s sales, just hang up!

  21. Taed October 26, 2016 at 2:38 pm #

    When my son went to middle school, he came home and was on his own. This went fine for a few days, until the day that he forgot his key and his cell phone. The routine was that when he got home he was to check in with a parent just to say hi. My wife and I were in one car that day, and when she picked me up, we realized that neither of us had heard from him. No worry, as checking in with us wasn’t something that really interested him. However, when we got home, it was to an empty house. So we called his phone, expecting he went to a friend’s house. Nope, phone was in the house. So, we phoned his primary friends, and no luck there either.

    After about 30 minutes, we happened to go to the front door (we had come in the garage door), and there was a note saying that he forgot his key and phone and so was at the neighbor’s house, who is a nice woman that we are friendly with. When we picked him up, we did not mention any worry or anything, but praised his problem-solving and good choices.

    But we made a few changes: His key then became attached to his backpack. He didn’t like carrying the phone anyway, so that was no longer expected. And most important, while he knew our home phone number of course, he didn’t know our other numbers, so we wrote them down inside his planner. It’s been about 5 years, and we haven’t had any problems since.

  22. Missus H October 26, 2016 at 2:46 pm #

    I picked up my second grader at the school bus stop. We had a disagreement about whether to go to the playground or home. She stormed off in one direction. I stormed off in the other, believing that when she realized I hadn’t followed her she would turn around. I got a block away and turned around, and she wasn’t there. I went around the block to head her off since I surmised that I knew where she had gone, but before I found her my cell phone rang. It was an unfamiliar number and voice. I answered, and everymom’s worst fears were confirmed. A stranger had my child! She had doubled back and was on the school bus stop corner, and when she didn’t find me there she’d asked the nearest grown-up to place the call for her. She’s in third grade now and walks home from the bus stop alone, although she is the only one of the eight kids at our stop to do so. I keep hoping to infect the other parents with my Free Rangedom, but alas, not yet….

  23. Taed October 26, 2016 at 2:47 pm #

    When my son went to middle school, he was on his own after school and had his key and cell phone. He was free to do whatever he wanted after school, but if he didn’t come home, the cell phone was to be used to just call us and check in.

    On the first day of this, we hadn’t yet heard from him getting home, but it was the first day and a new routine, so the timing wasn’t anything that we’d worry about.

    But we did get a call from his friend’s mom looking for the friend, who was about 30 minutes late at that point. I suggested that they probably went to the park, and that would also explain both of them not answering their cell phones, so that’s where she headed. Got another call, and nope, not there. But about 15 minutes later, she found them coming home.

    It turns out that my son had some foresight and took some money with him that day. He and his friend went out of their way when coming home and my son bought milkshakes for them! And they didn’t get the cell phone calls since they need to turn off their phones at school, and they had no reason to turn them back on.

    I praised him for doing something new and for also buying for his friend and was clear that he was free to do stuff like that any time. But… he just needs to call to check in when doing something different.

  24. Stephanie October 26, 2016 at 2:53 pm #

    Just yesterday my daughter, who always takes the bus home, was supposed to walk home with friends who live near the school and are regular walkers. She’s 6, her friends are siblings who are 7 and 8; they are all in different classes so don’t see each other much during school. At the end of the day she couldn’t find either of her friends and since she hadn’t walked before she didn’t know where to wait. When she saw another student crossing the street with her mom, my daughter joined them, thinking she’d get to her friends’ house and everything would work out somehow. The mom stopped and helped her find her friends, who were waiting at the other end of the parking lot. I’m so proud of my daughter for being brave enough to seek out another parent, a stranger, for help and I’m so pleased that parent helped her rather than jumped to the conclusion that something horrible was going on.

  25. L Adams October 26, 2016 at 3:03 pm #

    My kids were 5 and 7 and it was the middle of winter. We lived in a rural area about 2 miles up a two lane highway from a gas station. The kids liked to play in our wooded neighborhood and often adventured around there, but always stayed within view of the house. One day they said they wanted to play “runaways” so they packed backpacks with some snacks and flashlights and went outside. I thought how cute they were and smugly patted myself on the back for not stopping them from their adventure.

    45 minutes later they hadn’t come back inside, which in 15 degree weather was unusual. So I went outside and looked around. They weren’t in their usual spots. I saw their footprints in the snow and it looked like they went down our street and turned toward the two lane highway. I began to panic. I jumped in the car and raced down the road, seeing their tiny footprints in he almost non existent shoulder. Every time I rounded a curve I was sure I was going to see an ambulance or my kids hit by a car.

    I drove all the way down the road, two miles, to the gas station. I pulled in to get my cell out and call 911. But instead I saw my kids, exiting the convenience store, smiling and waving at me. They’d bought snacks with a few dollars they’d put in their bags.

    They of course were in trouble for leaving and not telling me their plan and trapsing down a highway by themselves. I was so glad they were safe and grateful it turned out well. And I was proud of them, although I didn’t say that at the time, for knowing their way, finding the gas station and not getting hurt. They managed just fine and weren’t even scared.

  26. BL October 26, 2016 at 4:18 pm #

    “What if you WANT your kid to go knock on a friend’s door to play, or ride their bike around the neighborhood…but the kid shows zero interest?”

    Unimaginable when I was a kid. The question wouldn’t even have been asked.

    (I suppose there are outliers for every issue, but I never heard of such a thing back then.)

  27. Amanda Wooldridge October 26, 2016 at 4:39 pm #

    My daughters were about 14 and 12 when this happened. I was working late and they decided to fix dinner so I wouldn’t have to. They started to cook and then realized they didn’t have a key ingredients. So they counted their money and sent the youngest to the corner market (about four blocks away) on her bike. When I got home, dinner was made, they’d set the table and it was a lovely evening. They were proud of their resourcefulness and so was I.

  28. Anna October 26, 2016 at 4:41 pm #

    I don’t have a story, just an observation. Am I the only one who finds it amusing that the mom didn’t answer because it was an unfamiliar number? Not being a cell phone person, I find that current custom quite bizarre and unfriendly, so to me it’s interesting how that anti-social practice stopped her from finding out her son needed her and her kind neighbors were taking care of him.

  29. John October 26, 2016 at 5:28 pm #

    I’ll just take this occasion to confess my very worst “parenting fail.”My daughter was 4, we spent a nice day in Manhattan and were taking the subway home to Brooklyn. At the transfer I exited the train, too confidently expecting that my daughter would follow me. But my daughter thought the doors would open on the other side and went there instead of following me. When the doors closed I was banging on the door and she was on the other side. I went upstairs frantically to notify the MTA what had happened (the station happened to have a staffed booth). At the same time, I knew that the other passengers on the train (especially an elderly black woman who had smiled at us) had seen what had happened and would not let anything bad happen to my daughter. I got on the next train. At the next station there was my daughter with a woman, waiting for me. She gave me a sympathetic smile and got on the train.

  30. John October 26, 2016 at 5:44 pm #

    In September of this year during the third week of school, two kids (aged 10 and seven) of friends of ours were locked out of their house after getting off the school bus. They have older siblings with house keys and normally the older siblings are home first or had come home with them on the bus. Well, the older siblings ended up having after school commitments and so the younger kids were not able to get into their house. They decided that they would come to our house (my wife is a church minister and I am a stay at home dad for the moment) and knew someone would likely be at. The kids have been to our house before but it still felt nice that they felt safest coming to our house and knew that my wife and I would look after them until someone got back to their house. The kids did not stress about being locked out but made a mature decision that made sense to them. Kids are much resilient and able to make smart decisions that we don’t give them credit for.

  31. John October 26, 2016 at 5:50 pm #

    For Anna,

    Having had only a cell phone for years, generally if an unknown number shows up on the phone, its a telemarketer or someone wanting to sell you something. I agree it can be anti-social, but there are people with home phones that get three or four telemarketers a day. Cell phone do not have a “phonebook” and so generally an unknown number will be an annoyance as their number is not listed anywhere. It can be an issue where emergency numbers or medical offices do not have caller ID of any sort and so people ignore unless someone leaves a message.

  32. Erin October 26, 2016 at 5:52 pm #

    When I was maybe 9 or 10 my mom was driving my sister and I to our riding lessons. We were pulling a horse trailer with our horses in it on the freeway, and the truck broke down. This was, of course, before cell phones. We needed to get in touch with my dad so he could come get us. So my mom sent my sister and I to find a phone while she stayed with the horses. We walked along the highway for oh, I don’t know, maybe a quarter of a mile, hopped the fence and climbed a little hill to a house we could see from the road, knocked on the door and asked the little old lady at home if we could please use her phone to call our dad. At the time I thought it was a huge adventure. Now that I have kids of my own, I realize how anxious my mom must have been sending us off like that. She frequently gave us the opportunity to flex our “free range” muscles, so to speak.

  33. Anna October 26, 2016 at 6:15 pm #

    “Having had only a cell phone for years, generally if an unknown number shows up on the phone, its a telemarketer or someone wanting to sell you something. I agree it can be anti-social, but there are people with home phones that get three or four telemarketers a day.”

    Don’t I know it – at my previous home, my landline used to get horrible telemarketing, from companies that were obviously exploitative frauds.

    However, on the other hand, it’s happened rather often that I’ve been in the situation where I’m calling someone I know on a phone unfamiliar to them – e.g.,my emergency cell, my husband’s phone. Assume any stranger calling you is an enemy (is that adult stranger danger) and you’ll miss all those calls.

  34. James Pollock October 26, 2016 at 6:19 pm #

    ” Assume any stranger calling you is an enemy (is that adult stranger danger) and you’ll miss all those calls.”
    That’s why there’s a voicemail feature.

  35. lollipoplover October 26, 2016 at 6:47 pm #

    Last year, a really bad thunderstorm hit our area just as my 9 yo daughter and her friend was set to bike home from school. We had a back-up plan in place that she should always bike home, except for storms. We have a healthy respect for lightning. I told her to wait out the storm or we would pick her up.

    So I put on the bike rack on my car and drove up to the school to pick them (and their bikes) up, but I couldn’t even get near my school with all of the traffic and parents illegally parked. I watched the girls them past the cars, while crazy winds and pounding rain came at us, completely horrified.

    She beat me home. Completely drenched to the bone, she grinned ear to ear at the puddles she rode through and the wind that made her almost fly through the air. She watched for lightning (it hit after she came home) but never felt any danger. She was thrilled. When she wrote about the bike ride for a creative writing piece for school, her teacher expressed what a awesome imagination she has and how adventurous and interesting her stories always are. Yeah, some imagination!

  36. Stephanie October 26, 2016 at 8:16 pm #

    No big story here but this is why my kids all get house keys. It’s two miles from the elementary school to home, so I usually drive them, but if my car should ever break down, they will have to get themselves home. My high schooler would have to walk about 5 miles, but she knows how to get herself home too.

    My oldest has accepted rides home from the parents of various classmates through the years. We have rules about accepting rides from parents – it has to be a reasonably good friend of hers, not an acquaintance, and I prefer that it be parents I have met – that rule hasn’t worked out every time because parents around here can’t stand to see a kid walk home alone, but at least it has always been a parent she already knew. Now that she has a cell phone, it’s easy for her to text me to say she got a ride, which helps. The rides with parents I didn’t know personally all happened when we lived a 5 minute walk from the school, so it was pretty absurd that they weren’t comfortable with her walking.

  37. Jess V October 26, 2016 at 8:58 pm #

    Our family went on a mountain bike race/camping trip this summer. My 3 1/2 year old, Olivia, met a friend who was 6 and lived on the land we were camping at. The first night, they went exploring on their bikes (it was basically a big field with some trees in the distance). The friend went farther than what my daughter was allowed to go, so she came back to our campsite. Meanwhile, my wife went to go get her, as it was starting to get dark. My wife found the friend (who said Olivia went back b/c she’s not allowed to go that far) and panicked. She was riding through all the other campsites screaming her name and telling everyone her 3 year old was lost. I heard someone yelling the whole time but didn’t realize it was her. i had to go run after her yelling that Olivia was eating dinner at our campsite.

    Even little kids can follow directions and deserve more credit than they’re given.

  38. diane October 26, 2016 at 9:13 pm #

    A couple of years ago when my son was 10, he stayed after school for a project and was told he’d be there till 6 pm. With the other child, I took my husband across town to retrieve his car from the mechanic’s. 5 pm traffic, so it was slow going, and I get a phone call from the school. They had finished early, and could I pick him up? Without thinking, I said, “why don’t you walk home?” He replied, “Okay” and hung up. I panicked a bit, because he had never walked the 1.1 miles home alone before and I wasn’t sure he even paid attention to the route on the occasions we walked.
    Of course, traffic was twice as bad and it took me forever to get home after dropping off my husband and I was nervous the whole time. I get home, and there he was, watching TV, not fazed at all. He said he had been a little nervous but mostly proud.
    After that, I let him walk more. And the next year, I required him to walk a few times a week when it wasn’t convenient for me to get out with a newborn all the time. My daughter is 9 now and walks the same route alone every day, while my son walks to and from his middle school every day. I guess I’m becoming more free range, and they are, too!

  39. Meg October 26, 2016 at 9:38 pm #

    My two sons were flying to visit my sister. The younger one had never been on a plane. I purposely picked flights that didn’t involve changing planes, but the best laid plans…. Their plane had a malfunction and they were forced to change flights in Phoenix. They knew no one, and had no help from the airline staff. They were required to navigate through the large and busy Phoenix airport, find the different flight, and then notify the relatives picking them up of the new flight number and arrival time.

    And everything worked out fine, and they had one of the best vacations of their lives.

  40. Sara October 26, 2016 at 9:48 pm #

    We are big believers in free range kids. My daughter has been walking home from school since she was 7, and has been allowed to go to the park by herself since she was 8. She’s 10 now, and one day a new friend from the neighbourhood came to ask her to play. I let the friend in and she went up to my daughter’s room. It was only a few minutes later that I realized that the girl’s mom was outside in front of our house, waiting for her daughter to come out! She asked if she could take the girls to the park. I told her that our daughter was allowed to go to the park alone. The girls played at the park a few more times and the mom would always go with them. After a few weeks of this, the mom started letting her daughter come over on her own, and let her go to the park unsupervised too.

    One more… a few weeks ago my daughter forgot her lunch and the school called to ask me to bring her a lunch. I take the bus to work, so I would have had to take a taxi to the school to bring her some lunch since the lunch hour bus service is pretty sporadic. But I realized that if she can walk home from school, she can head home at lunch and pick up her lunch! I was worried that the school administrator wouldn’t let her do it so I tried to sound authoritative when I said “It’s ok, she has a key, she can walk home and get her lunch.” They let her! I learned later that the administrator checked with the principle, but they decided that since “her mom says it’s ok” she could do it. I was so pleased!

  41. Jessica October 26, 2016 at 10:17 pm #

    I love your story! And you are so right about sounding authoritative. It is incredibly hard for me– my voice wobbles and cracks when I have to stand up for myself. But recently the school secretary told me that something was “policy” and I managed to look confident and say “I understand; however, he’s my son and I’d like to do it this way.” And it worked! I did have to go cry in the car to recover but hey, that’s life.

  42. CrazyCatLady October 26, 2016 at 10:30 pm #

    When my kids were little, I read them the Little Critter book “Just Lost”. Little Critter goes to the mall with mom and siblings and stops to tie his shoe, and when he stands back up, he can’t find his mom. He goes to a toy store, an employee notices him alone, and asks if she can help. He ends up with mall security who pages his mom and she meets him in the security office. These Little Critter books, we read them a lot (and thinking back, they are pretty free range!)

    When my daughter was almost 3, one slow morning we went to Target, her, myself and my infant son. She wandered off. I figured she was hiding in a rack of clothing, and didn’t worry about it much, as when I was little, that is what I had loved doing. After about a minute or two, I was paged on the intercom – when she couldn’t find me she found a store employee and asked them to help her find her mom. The store employee was great, said that because she came to them, they could just page me. Had I come to them, they would have shut down the whole store!

    After that, I made a point (especially with middle son who had speech issues) to point out people who worked places to my kids, so that if they got separated, they knew who (what color shirts) they could go to to get help. (Middle son when we went to crowded places I wrote in Sharpie on his arm “Call Mom” and my phone number with instructions that he pull up his sleeve and show the employee. He never did have to use it, despite being my runner.)

  43. Beanie October 26, 2016 at 11:10 pm #

    I don’t think it’s weird to not answer unknown numbers, especially on a cell phone. Telemarketers and debt collectors have gotten hold of my number and refused to let go (and I’m a debt-free person who never buys anything over the telephone). My cell phone is for my convenience–I’m not a person who feels the need to answer every call immediately, especially while in a public place or while I’m busy doing something else. I actually find it rude when people answer the phone when they should be interacting with me, the person in front of them. This has caused me to miss a phone call from my child’s teacher (I was helping in my other child’s classroom), but really, couldn’t she help him through the cafeteria line since he’d forgotten his lunch?

  44. K October 26, 2016 at 11:23 pm #


    We took my 2.5 year-old to a music festival. The morning of the first day, I noticed a friend’s facebook post in favor of one of those GPS kid-trackers. And I rolled my eyes, but then I thought that maybe it would be smart to at least have a (non-GPS) contingency plan. I considered Sharpie on the arm, but went with the probably-less-reliable phone number in his pocket, and tried to teach him to find a grownup and say, “Can you please call my mom? Her phone number is in my pocket.” (In practice, he managed “Can you please take my phone number in my pocket?” and I wasn’t 100% sure strangers would be able to understand him.) He never got put to the test.

    When I mentioned my plan to my mom (feeling pretty proud of myself, like I’d covered all my bases), she said, “You’re going to take your eyes off him?!” as if it were unthinkable, and as if he could only get lost if I did something wrong and irresponsible. My response was something like, “Not intentionally.” If I’d had my wits about me, though, I would have told her that OF COURSE I was going to take my eyes off him. I was going to let my sisters take him for walks, my husband bring him to get a drink, I was even going to see him sitting at my feet, look up to watch the show, and look back down a few seconds later! As if the only way to ever parent is to literally never blink because you’re so busy watching your kid!

  45. Leah October 27, 2016 at 12:10 am #

    I don’t have one for my kiddo yet, but I do from when I was 4. I went on a field trip with the church to Knotts Berry Farm. We went on a bathroom break and when I came out, the group had left. There were no cell phones then. So, I went up to a group of elderly ladies waiting in line for Bigfoot Rapid. I was a bit frantic. They said don’t worry, come on this ride with us, then we’ll help you find your group. I had the best time on that ride with those ladies. They were a hoot! They also bought me a lemonade on the way to the lost and found. Said they missed their grandkids being so small. They gave my pastor a taking to for not counting heads before leaving the area. That was fun to see too! Anyways all was well that ended well. My mother, however, didn’t trust the church with me for a long while after that. I think I was 7 before she let me go with them again. Not because she didn’t trust me though, she didn’t trust the pastors counting skills lol!

  46. Tina October 27, 2016 at 5:26 am #

    A friend from Houston was in NYC with her husband, and 2 kids. The husband had business meetings. Friend decided to rent bikes and take the kids on a ride in Central Park. They got turned around and she realized they were running late for meeting her husband for dinner. She told the kids to hurry up, and she is concentrating on figuring out how to get back to the rental shop. Her son calls mom, mom. She turns and looks are realizes her daughter isn’t with them. She makes a quick decision, they are close to the rental shop she goes there and tells them what has happened. She calls her husband and leaves her tired son with the rental people. One of them goes with her and looks for the daughter. They find her sitting patiently on the side of trail where it forked.

    The 11 yo told her Mom, “Well when I lost sight of you I followed the trail to the fork. SInce I didn’t know which way you went I just stopped and stayed put because that is what you do when you get lost. But I didn’t have my whistle. The family camps a lot in Texas – so the child applied the wilderness skills she had been taught (Hug a tree and stay put) to being lost in the middle of Central Park. She wasn’t scared because she knew Mom would back track and find her.

  47. Kimberly October 27, 2016 at 6:13 am #

    Teacher solution for parents that don’t answer unknown phone numbers. I’ve worked for years at a Title 1 school, where the parents couldn’t waste minutes on telemarketers or collection agencies. They tend to have unlimited Texts though. I often would let kids text parents from my phone when mix ups about pick ups from after school practices happened. Our school was built in a quiet small town residential neighborhood 50 years ago, but is now bounded on three sides by 4 to 6 lane farm to market roads with 45 – 55 mph speed limits and no side walks.

    In 16 years of teaching I’ve only had 2 problems from parents/kids having my number. I had to call the police for a wellness check when I got a accidental call from a parent and could hear a fight including very violent threats against my student’s mother. (There was a history of domestic violence, the father’s parental rights had been terminated and there was an RO following a parental kidnapping)

    The other was an irate call demanding to know who I was and why I as calling her child. I told her I’m Ms. Last Name and student called upset because she was struggling with her math homework. I had been driving. When I got home and heard the voice mail, I had returned the call. Would she like her daughter to come in early for tutoring – she could get breakfast in the cafeteria and bring it to my room? Mom apologized turned out my 4th grade student had used big sister’s phone. Mom and big sister were butting heads about boys, parties and other teenage stuff.

  48. K October 27, 2016 at 6:42 am #

    I was a free range kid-unfortunately my parents stopped this with the younger children, and they didn’t play out because of all the mischief my sister and I got up to when we were their age. My sister and I were still fairly free range, taking the train to the nearest city by ourselves as teenagers and stuff, but our younger siblings were not, and were playing in the front yard with a parent watching at the age a friend and I went on a walk and ended up on the other side of town.

    I was left home alone as a teenager, looking after my siblings while our mom was in hospital having a baby, three times. Usually just for a day, but one of those times, she was in longer due to complications giving birth and an eventual C section. She didn’t plan for this, and expected she would only be gone a day.

    We ran out of food, so my sister (a year younger) and I put our savings together to take the bus to the supermarket with our younger siblings (one aged about 7, and a pre-schooler and a toddler), buy ourselves a couple of frozen pizzas (as well as pop tarts and chocolate), and then we decided, instead of going home, to take another bus and go and visit our mom in the hospital, meet our new baby sister, and then ask her for more money to buy food for the next day as well. Neither of us had been to that hospital before, but I knew which bus to take.

    Mom was so surprised to see us all.

  49. Linda October 27, 2016 at 8:12 am #

    My 3 & 5 year olds wanted to set up a lemonade stand this summer so I helped drag out a table and mix up some juice while they made signs. I left them in the front yard to sell while I went back inside to get some work done. When I went out to check about 15 minutes later, only the little one was there. Her brother had decided business was too slow so he left her to man the table while he went door to door inviting all the neighbours to come buy some lemonade. He made a bunch of new (adult) friends that day, the little one was proud to be in charge of pouring the juice and collecting the money, and they ended up making a killing, enough for a trip to the toy store. And I got the kitchen cleaned in peace!

  50. Anna October 27, 2016 at 9:55 am #

    ‘” Assume any stranger calling you is an enemy (is that adult stranger danger) and you’ll miss all those calls.”
    That’s why there’s a voicemail feature.’

    The point is, in this story, it meant the kid couldn’t reach the mom during that time.

  51. Betsy in Michigan October 27, 2016 at 11:52 am #

    It’s absurd to think that people should INSTANTLY be available on their cell (or home) phone Maybe they’re driving, maybe they’re on the can. Often they get back to you quite quickly. Very few people have my cell phone #, so I often don’t answer an unknown (and yes, this election season, we get at LEAST 3 unwanted phone calls a day on our landline, even on the Do Not Call list). I check my messages on both phones.

    My 15 year old doesn’t WANT a key – we have one hidden (safe sub, 1 mile from the police station, nuthin’ to steal except a TV and some computers, etc.). Came in handy last weekend when she forgot her cell (as usual) and walked the 2 miles home from youth symphony (which I asked her not to do again w/out contacting me somehow, as I spent an annoying half hour looking and waiting for her, ’til she reached home and called me on my cell).

  52. pentamom October 27, 2016 at 12:23 pm #

    “This does describe why I will generally answer my phone. I think it’s stupid when people don’t. If it’s sales, just hang up!”

    I generally don’t, from 9 to 5. If it’s sales, and you always answer, they will call more.

    But that’s what having a physical machine (as I do) or checking your voicemail is for.

  53. pentamom October 27, 2016 at 12:24 pm #

    “The point is, in this story, it meant the kid couldn’t reach the mom during that time.”

    No, not answering didn’t mean that. Not checking voice mail is what meant that.

  54. pentamom October 27, 2016 at 12:26 pm #

    And it’s not assuming anyone calling is an enemy. It’s knowing for a fact that most of the time when my landline rings, it’s a waste of my time.

  55. JennaK October 27, 2016 at 1:24 pm #

    My kids would walk/ride their bikes the 1.5 miles home from school when the oldest was in 5th grade. At the time, my kids were 10, 9, 7, and 5 almost six (with two more who weren’t school age yet). One day, they were really long in coming home. When they did finally get home, they told me that their sister had fallen off her bike (she was the 5-year-old) and they hadn’t been able to convince her to get back on to ride the rest of the way home. They don’t have a phone so they found some adults in the area, construction workers working on a house (there was a lot of construction going on between our house and the school) and asked them to help. The construction workers were able to coax my daughter back on her bike and wipe up her tears and send my kids on their way. I was glad they weren’t afraid to find help and all made it home just fine. I’m sure I have a lot more stories, but that one was the first to pop into my head.

  56. diane October 27, 2016 at 10:26 pm #

    I’ve got one more, and it wasn’t exactly a “something went wrong.” I think I shared it before, though. Last year my kids were really late getting home from school, so I loaded up the baby to trace their route. I found them in high spirits. They had stopped at a big mud puddle and discovered hundreds of tadpoles! They spent a half hour playing with them. I was so glad they took the time, in this concrete urban area where we live, to enjoy a little nature spontaneously. What a treasure.

  57. CrazyCatLady October 27, 2016 at 11:35 pm #

    Phones can be tricky. My cell phone doesn’t work at home, except in precise locations, depending on the time of year. My husband has the same cell phone…it doesn’t work when he is at work. Mine works intermittently when out and about…depending on where I am, I might get voice mail…or I might get it in a week. I also need to turn the volume down when in meetings (often) and due to size, it does not fit in my pocket so vibrate is pretty much useless.

    I much prefer that people use my land line, but of course, that doesn’t work when I am out and about. I DO try to answer my cell phone even if I don’t know the number as my kids will often let their batteries run down and then use a friend’s phone, which may be from some other state altogether, depending on where they bought it (on vacation) or if they have moved. Not saying this to vilify anyone…just something to keep in mind as the kids get older. 9th grade is when my kids get their phones, so that I can pick them up from school if they decide to stay after for tutoring. Even before that, they do end up at the library on their own and such, so it is possible that they could have other numbers that I do not recognize. But…I suspect the mom in the story does not make the mistake of not answering the phone any more.

    And yes, there are times when I CANNOT answer…like when I was with my daughter during her sleep study and she was supposed to be napping…or when in meetings, in the doctor office talking to the doctor, or driving a car, unless I am in a spot I can safely pull over. So far…my 9th grader has not realized that when I am 5 minutes late getting him from tutoring, it is because of traffic, and I just can’t answer without risking a ticket. (And, this stupid smart phone is a pain to answer when you don’t have full attention to swipe exactly the right sideways swipe!)

  58. Semele October 27, 2016 at 11:57 pm #

    Our kids were 5 1/2, 3 1/2 and 1 1/2. My husband and I went out of town for the weekend and a trusted babysitter was staying at our house with the kids. Our 5 1/2 year old son woke up and came out to the family room while the babysitter was in the garage feeding the cats. He looked for the sitter, didn’t see her, and concluded that they (the kids) were alone in the house. He woke up his brother and sister, got them into their shoes, and opened the front door. By this time the sitter was back in the house and stopped the kids from leaving, asking what they were doing. Our 5 1/2 year old son’s response? “I thought we were alone in the house, so I was taking S and K to the neighbor’s house to ask for help.”

  59. M. October 28, 2016 at 9:19 am #

    This didn’t happen to my kid but the daughter of a good friend. She’s in 1st grade and started riding the bus this year. The first week of school, her 2nd or 3rd time taking the bus home, there was a mixup and her grandparents, who were supposed to pick her up at the bus stop, didn’t. The bus let’s her off at the entrance to their neighborhood across a very bus street. They had not discussed any emergency procedures with her about what she should do in a situation like this yet because she had only just started taking thr bus.

    In any case, when she saw that her grandparents weren’t there she decided to act. She asked some older boys to help her cross the street (she’d never crossed a major road like this on her own before), which they were happy to do. Then she walked the 1/4 mile or so through her neighborhood to her house. Once there she sat calmly on the front stoop, looking at a book from her backpack, which is where her panicked dad (my friend) found her about 20 minutes later, safe and sound. His response (and how he relayed thr story to me) was irritation at the grandparents for the mistake. “Anything could’ve happened!” and whatnot. But I had a different take: “Look how independent! She did exactly what she should’ve done without any prior instructions! What a capable young lady, you should be proud!”

  60. Papilio October 28, 2016 at 11:03 am #

    “Not that I”m suggesting we deliberately screw up a plan so we can watch our kids rising to the occasion. (Well… Okay, no. I guess I’m not.)”

    It’s almost Halloween, perfect opportunity to get all your followers over to the dark side, and you write *this*?

  61. BMS October 28, 2016 at 11:18 am #

    This isn’t really a ‘parents screwed up’ situation but more a ‘my kids really come through in a crisis’ situation.

    My husband had been complaining of chest pains on and off for a couple of weeks, and I threatened his miserable existence if he didn’t get himself to the doctor. He went to the doctor, they did an EKG, and immediately bundled him off to the hospital downtown. He texted me where he was going just as I had gotten on the commuter rail back to the suburbs. Naturally, I was freaked out. To make matters worse, his phone died shortly after that.

    I came home to drop off my backpack and told my kids (14 and 16) to 1) eat something that wasn’t ice cream for dinner and 2) do their homework. The 14 year old found and gave me the portable charging device, having taken the message from his dad that his phone was dying. I took off for the hospital. In my absence the 14 year old made homemade pasta, from scratch, with the pasta maker he requested for Christmas. Yes, ok, there was flour everywhere. But he made dinner for himself and his brother, put away the leftovers, and they both did their homework and were in bed when I got home at midnight. They had also both done their laundry without being reminded.

    The next day, my normally glued to the bed 16 year old got out of bed early to go with me to rescue my husband’s car before school, after which he made himself an omelette, and made sure his equally slow to start brother got out the door on time. The 16 year old only has a learners permit, so this was his first solo drive, which he handled with no worries. I went to work, and then straight to the hospital, to learn that my husband had narrowly avoided a heart attack and had had a stent installed. The boys took themselves to their after school activities, ordered pizza for dinner with my blessing, and generally took the whole thing in stride.

    Husband has made a full recovery, but I am so, so grateful that my kids could just take charge of the house without any hesitation or worry. I know some of their classmates who can’t cook, can’t do laundry, and whose parents are afraid to leave them home in the evening alone. Years of teaching them to do stuff, giving them freedom, and trusting them progressively really paid off in a pinch.

  62. Librarymama October 28, 2016 at 11:38 am #

    I forgot to notify my kindergartener’s daycare that she no longer had soccer on thursdays. So no one picked her up at the stop. Luckily, the first few times we walked to the stop we talked about how to walk to her daycare…so just just walked over. She arrived in her daycare and said, “Hell-oo!! Proud day.

  63. Catherine Caldwell-Harris October 28, 2016 at 11:56 am #

    Be grateful the helpful stranger was an immigrant. Immigrants still have the relaxed attitude that it is okay for strangers to keep an eye on children who were accidentally separated from their parents.

    When these things happen to me, my first thought is not to be afraid for my children’s well-being. I do not fear them being on their own (they are twin boys age 6). I not fear them waiting somewhere being taken care of by strangers.

    But what I fear is enough to make me panic. I fear the reaction of on-lookers and strangers towards me. I fear the strangers’ being horrified at my mistakes and neglect. I fear troubling them, I fear making them anxious, I fear making the strangers confused, worried, upset; I fear interrupting their day and their schedule. I fear them calling the police.

    Why I am I concerned about the negative reactions of strangers (including simply discomfiting them) so much more than about my children’s saftety? Simple statistics. I live in a neighborhood that is safe and economically well-off. My children are resourceful, brave and hardy. My children getting hurt given their resilience and the safeness of the neighborhood is a very low probability event. Strangers getting mad at me for me getting separated from my children is a high-probability event.

  64. Catherine Caldwell-Harris October 28, 2016 at 12:20 pm #

    My story.

    When my twin boys were 4 they got bikes and the 3 of us would tool around the neighborhood together. At some point after they had been riding for 6 months or so, one boy got it into his head that he wanted to take a few loops around the blocks near our house on his own. But he didn’t tell me this was his desire. He took advantage of a moment when I had to stop because his twin was petting a dog or I was fixing the brother’s fallen-off bike chain.

    I looked up — Oops, Elias was gone. So Raymond and I rode around looking for him. When we got back to our house, Elias was in the neighbor’s driveway. Neighbor very concerned for me etc. I told Elias he couldn’t go off on his own. But I couldn’t actually stop either boy going off on his own. I simply am not willing to be that restrictive, I need to be able to stop biking to let one boy explore what he wants to, and the other boy will stop too, ride ahead, etc. I have to trust that the other son will stay near by. And in the prior 6 months they had always respected this.

    Then 2 days after the above episode, Elias did it again, snuck away on his own when my attention was diverted (as it will always be given I am one person keeping my eyes on two free range children). I found him 5 minutes later on a street admiring some tulips. I didn’t lecture other than saying that we needed to stay together because people, including the police, could get worried if they saw a young child alone. Then, a day or so later, he did it a third time. Both of these times I found him within 5-10 minutes.

    And then he never did it again, and we are two years on from the events described.

    (Lenore, I sent you another missing child story on Sept 15 2016 — low key relaxed strangers looked after Elias when we got separated after a school event at night.)

  65. Nicole R. October 28, 2016 at 4:42 pm #

    When my son was just starting second grade (and changing buildings) there was a big bus snafu on the first day. He and a little neighbor girl were among those put on the wrong busses. When they didn’t get home with the others at our stop, my husband and neighbor drove to the school to see if they were still there, and I stayed behind in case they showed up on another bus. – They did, after explaining to the other driver where they lived, and were both fine (and wondering what all the fuss was about!) Neither of them worried, because they were together and both knew their addresses. The other kids were far more worried that they were missing!

  66. Tricia October 28, 2016 at 5:12 pm #

    My son is in first grade. About a month into the new year, his class was cleaning up the classroom in preparation for the end of the day. My son was unsurprisingly not paying attention and packed up his desk and left (approximately 20 minutes before the end of the day).

    Once he got out to the playground, he realized, “Whoops. I should still be in class.” But due to security concerns, all doors are locked while children are in session. My son could not get back into the building.

    Instead, he wandered over to the after school center. They immediately called the school office who relayed his location to a panicking teacher because “What if…”

    When I asked him about it that evening he seemed extremely nonplussed about all the hullaballoo. “What do you mean ‘what could have happened?’ I went to after-school because that’s where I go when school’s over. It’s unlocked and they have snacks.”

  67. Harrow October 29, 2016 at 7:09 pm #

    LOL The Korean put him to work.

    The Korean put him to work and he had “one of his happiest afternoons ever”.

    This story is beautiful on just so many levels.

  68. Tracie Bezerra November 1, 2016 at 12:42 pm #

    My daughter, now almost 22, is high-functioning autistic. When she was ten, she was on a swim team at the city pool. She had been going for months and did fine being dropped off outside the entrance and then coming out to find me in the car at pick-up time. One day I dropped her off, and then headed over to the library where my son and I were going to hang out until it was time to pick up his sister. Just as we were about to go inside, where I would have had to silence my cell phone, it rang. The call was from an employee at the gymnastics program next door to the city pool. Both my daughter and I had forgotten that this was the day her swim practice was moving from the city pool, which was closing for a few months for renovations, to a neighborhood pool across town. My daughter had arrived to find the pool closed, come back out to the parking lot to find I had driven away, and then walked next door to the gym to find a grown-up who could help her. She was upset and crying but handled the situation exactly right! I went back to the city complex and she was there waiting – still in tears. I was SO proud of her!

    I will never understand the current fad of infantilizing our kids – I want mine to be as independent and capable as possible. My daughter will have the coping ability of an elementary school-aged child for her entire life, so being able to find someone to help her in a pinch is a vital skill. Her life is challenging enough without my teaching her that the world is a scary place.

  69. MomofAnxiousGirl November 1, 2016 at 9:16 pm #

    But the original question was “what if the kid shows no interest?” I think the parent was expressing the same concern that I often have. My son makes a wonderful free-range kid. His older sister not so much. In Grade 4 she still holds my hand walking to the school bus and is very upset that I have determined that they walk the last two blocks on their own. Daily she begs me to walk all the way. I know that she is capable and competent. If she were to get locked out of the house, she is sufficiently resourceful to handle the situation. But she almost never goes outside without me unless I essentially physically propel her out the door. At which point she invariably picks a fight with her brother in the hope that I will be forced to come outside to intervene. I want her to be more willing to let go of my coattails, but I also don’t want to force her to the point of harming her and being disrespectful to her needs. Recently, with all the news about scary clowns (which my kids don’t get in my household, but kids talk and some of them clearly have more access to the nightly news than mine do) she keeps fretting that if she is outside alone some creepy clown is going to ‘get’ her. She has a grandmother who is happy to feed into this (she once told my kids not to play in the public space behind our yard because bad people would steal them…)

    So, what to do? How do we encourage our not-so-free-range kids to get out there?

  70. Rachel November 1, 2016 at 9:27 pm #

    Hey guys. I enjoy this blog a lot but I have a question for you all.

    When we share stories about our “risky” parental behaviours where things turned out just fine (as chance and statistics would have suggested), what would you say in response to those who claim: “well that’s fine, but just because nothing happened to YOUR kid in that instance doesn’t mean that other kids haven’t been endangered by a similar situation. It happens, you just got lucky, better safe than sorry” kind of thing…?

  71. James Pollock November 1, 2016 at 9:53 pm #

    “what would you say in response to those who claim: “(blah blah blah)” kind of thing.

    Point out something that seems perfectly safe and normal… letting your child sleep in her own room at night… and point out that someone once had their child kidnapped from that situation. Take your child to the grocery store? Someone once had their child injured in a shootout between police and robbers while at the store. Heck, just sitting in the living room… someone once had their kid struck by a bullet fired at somebody outside the house.

    The point isn’t that nobody is safe, ever… the point is that most kids were not kidnapped out of their own room at night, most kids were not caught in a shootout, most kids were not hit by stray bullets at all. There is a point where your odds of bad luck striking you are low enough to make you believe it’s just not going to happen to you. You have to have that belief, every time you put your kids in the car… statistically, the most dangerous place they can be.

  72. Myrto November 4, 2016 at 8:35 am #

    Have been reading this blog for a while and have thought of this story multiple times, glad I finally get a chance to share it. This happened in England around 1989.
    When my cousin was 12, she and a friend took the bus into town alone for the first time. Everything went fine, except when it was time to go back, they got on the right bus, but going in the WRONG direction. So instead of going towards home, they were going away from home. So the bus went on and on, they were like, “this isn’t our stop, this isn’t our stop…” until they got to the end of the line and the driver said to them, “It’s the end of the line, what stop did you want to get off at?” So they told him, and he said, “Oh, you took the bus in the wrong direction, it’s the opposite direction you should have taken!” So he took them across the road to a phone booth, so that they could call their parents to say they would be late so the parents wouldn’t worry, and then they went back in the bus (which was due to go back in the opposite direction soon) and they eventually got home. No harm done. And from then on they knew to take the bus in the right direction 🙂

  73. Kaydee November 4, 2016 at 1:30 pm #

    My 6 year old son caught one school bus each morning out in front of our house each morning. He would take a different bus to the after school babysitter each afternoon. This is an important detail as the bus service was very rigid with not changing the routine. Ever. Another noteworthy detail is that this story takes place in Ontario in December. Think cold and dark. And we live in the country. Think isolated.
    One afternoon my son decided that because he was hosting his first sleepover that night he needed to get home from school ASAP. He talked his way on to the afternoon route of his morning bus. He then convinced the bus driver that it was okay to leave him home alone as he was having a sleepover and his dad would be home soon. The bus driver even got out of the bus to check to see if the door was unlocked for my son to get into the house, which is was not. The bus driver then proceeded to instruct my 6 year old son to sit on the back step and wait for his dad and then drove away.
    Of course this is the day that I left my cell in my car so I did not see the babysitter’s text messages for a good hour. She had been texting to ensure I had picked up my son and forgot to tell her the change in plans. Unfortunately I had never informed her how to contact me outside of texting.
    So there was a bit of panic on my part when I saw her multiple texts. Then there was panic on her part when I called and informed her that no, I did not have my son and he was supposed to be with her. My son had now been unaccounted for (not missing) for well over an hour in the cold and dark.
    Babysitter promptly dispatched her father to my house to locate wayward son. He found my son hanging out at the back door with our dog, waiting for his friend to come over. Babysitter’s father, who is known to my son, had to talk my son into coming his house (which is where he was supposed to be anyway) to get warm and wait for me, and my son gave him a hard time. He was not leaving his post and risk missing his friend. Eventually my son relented and went with the father.
    The bus driver who left my son had second thoughts about his decision and circled back after his route was done. My son had been collected by then so the bus driver found a dark house, no cars in the driveway and no kid. He must have been mortified. Once we got home and settled I realized that the bus driver had found our home contact information and had left a message for us to call him so he could be sure the boy was safe.
    As a follow up to all of this my son was instructed to please double check with an adult before taking it upon himself to change his transportation plans and the bus company was given the gears about not living up to their own ridiculously rigid rules. At no point was the media called. At no point were there calls to fire anyone who was involved in any way.
    We talk of this story often around the dinner table. Sorry it is so long winded.