Monday, September 22, 2008

Subway Series

After catching up with the blog, my friend Brian from work sent me a couple links to dilemmas in modern parenting. He seemed to think that I could somehow relate to parental paranoia. "Moi?" I thought to myself. Does he really have the right person here? I mean a little goat plague prevention, copious amounts of hand sanitizer and emergency room talk a couple days running, and suddenly you're Richard Nixon. Geez.

Nevertheless, I was interested. One of the links he sent me was to an op-ed piece in the New York Sun by Lenore Skenazy titled "Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone." It's an interesting dilemma and one that luckily I won't have to address for a few years. Yes, I'm a procrastinator, too. Paranoid procrastinator.

Anyway, subways. Skenazy's 9-year-old son had asked her to leave him someplace in Manhattan so he could navigate his way home, which was across town. On the subway and/or bus. Alone. So Skenazy finally said yes, gave him a subway map, MetroCard, a $20 bill, some quarters and wished him luck.

So, the question is: What would you do? Here in L.A., the subway only takes you about two blocks from where you started and then calls it a day. (See map below, courtesy of the L.A. Transit Authority.) It's not like New York City, where the trains are the equivalent of the highly congested freeways out here. Notice the above map (courtesy of Its multicolored veins pump millions of New Yorkers in and out of its stations every hour. Every minute. Los Angeles, not so much.

To give you an idea of the difference, in a city of roughly 3.8 million people, there are just over 300,000 daily weekday boardings on the Metro Rail (according to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority). For the Big Apple subway, the daily ridership is 5 million (according to the New York Transit Authority) in a city of about 8 million.

Which brings us back to Skenazy's son, or truthfully, it brings me back to C. She's only 1 1/2 now -- and likely will not contend with a cobweb of trains on a daily basis -- but soon enough she'll be asking me to let her do something like that by herself. And what will my answer be?

When I was about 8 or 9, I used to deliberately miss the bus from school to daycare. I hated it. I wanted to be at home instead of playing silly games with people I wasn't that crazy about ... a malcontent at 8, I know. So I'd walk about a mile or so and think nothing of it. Looking back, even though it was Oklahoma, I'm terrified at my former self. She had no idea. But I lived to tell the tale and lived to take subways in Manhattan and trains throughout Germany without a second thought. That's just the kind of kid I was.

Ian, who grew up in Manhattan, didn't take the bus by himself until he was about 10 or 11. Nothing bad happened to him, save for getting a little lost, but he had the wherewithal and the quarters to find his way home. Sure, that was just an annoyance, but taking subways and buses eventually just became a way of life. Even in New York. Even as a minor.

While I've come to the conclusion (within the safety bubble of having a few years before I really have to confront this) that it depends on the kind of kid C will be at 9, Ian thinks that it's just too young. And I understand that. Maybe she will be. We'll see.

I want her to discover her independence, but luckily for now and in the near future, this is the only bus she'll be riding by herself.

1 comment:

Pat Saperstein said...

Well, 9 seems a little young to be worrying about it. The real question is whether parents of middle school and high school kids will let/encourage them to take public transportation in L.A. or sentence themselves to constant driving until they get their own cars. My son loves the Gold Line, but my daughter thinks she's too classy for the subway.


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