Teaching children to cross the street.

When I was a little girl, I learned early to look both ways before crossing the street. One of my earliest memories is crossing a street in Elizabeth, NJ on my way to kindergarten. I was five years old. If I recall correctly, I had to cross at least two intersections before reaching the school where I attended. I have no recollection of my mom walking with me to the school. Of course in fairness, that was fifty three years ago.

As my children grew, I remember teaching them about holding hands, looking both ways more than once, and walking carefully across the parking lots and streets. Our home sat on a knoll just five hundred feet from the church we attended. We had to cross the parking lot in order to reach the church doors. As cars barreled in and out of the parking lot for services, I was conscious of the whereabouts of my little ones. I taught them to watch carefully, calling attention to their height in context of the trunks of cars, making comments about looking in all directions while walking, and so forth.

One day, my second son, decided to walk home from church by himself. He was about five years old and not taller than the back of a car. He decided to go home by himself. He sauntered along, swinging his Sunday School bag, oblivious to cars backing out of parking spaces. He must have thought (if he thought at all) that the parking lot was empty or that he was invincible. Have you seen the movie Baby’s Day Out? Well, you should. That was what it was like. Panic. Deep breaths. I stood frozen in the doorway of the church, inward shrieks with no sound coming out, arms reaching out to stop him; he was completely unaware, just taking his little self on a jaunt to his house up on the hill, meandering through the maze of whizzing cars. Somehow, even when not under my watchful eye, the kids escaped serious harm on every occasion.

And what is with the school bus stops at the end of every driveway? When I was a kid, all the kids in the neighborhood gathered at common locations where the bus picked us up for school. Some of the students walked a quarter of a mile or more to the bus stop. On a rare occasion, a parent accompanied a child to the bus stop, but generally, kids just walked down the road, catching up with other riders or walking by themselves to the bus stop. Sometimes it rained or snowed or the weather was freezing, but parents did not chauffeur their kids to the stops or walk with them. No kid really wanted his or her parent at the bus stop. This was hang-out time, catch-up time, plan activity time, and so on. Parents just ruined it by being there.

Nowadays, if you are lucky enough to be in a car stuck behind a school bus, you will notice that it stops every fifty feet to pick up and drop off children going to or coming from school. Parents drive to the end of a one hundred foot driveway and keep the cars running so the little darlings don’t get cold or wet while waiting for the bus. What is up with that? Here’s a suggestion: How about the neighbors pick one corner, and all the kids assemble there and each parent takes one day to monitor the safety of the kids?

But I digress slightly. Back to the subject of crossing the street. Recently, I observed some college students who attend a nearby university. They depend upon a special light to help them cross the street. Let me take a moment to describe exactly what happens at this particular location.

On the main drag through the college town, there is a traffic light which allows vehicles to enter and leave the campus. When the light turns red for vehicles, students can cross the street. However, approximately one hundred feet farther up is another crosswalk equipped with a special sign with blinding blinking lights on it. A student wishing to cross at this junction walks to the crosswalk and hits the button indicating that he or she wishes to cross. The lights go on. Immediately all the traffics stops as the flashing lights blink brightly, and said student ambles slowly across the intersection. But here’s the thing—the problem isn’t one student; it’s the patchy line of students that can’t figure out how to congregate at the crosswalk, push the button one time, and cross en masse. Nope. This is just too much of a challenge. Instead, one student crosses. A car enters the crosswalk.. Another student crosses. Another single car proceeds cautiously. What kind of system is that? People need to get home from work! The traffic is piling up as drivers give precedence to students who can’t wait for a light change. The one mile drive takes thirty minutes because these precious little cupcakes don’t know how to cross the street. What is going on? Heaven help them if they move to the city. I feel like I should help out by becoming a crossing guard for the university. I can see the need for a special light if the students are 87 years of age, but really?

I think it’s time to revert to some old-fashioned, common sense basics. You know, like looking both ways, holding hands, and crossing the street together. What do you think?

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