Mt Lebanon Magazine

710 Washington Rd
Pittsburgh, PA 15228

Mt Lebanon Magazine

The official magazine of Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania

They never walk alone

When my husband and I were looking for a new house, I insisted that it be walking distance to schools.  I grew up in Mt. Lebanon, walking to and from school every day, from elementary school through high school.  I walked to drivers ed classes in summer school and I walked to my high school graduation. And yes, I walked through six feet of snow, uphill both ways, when the temperature was 50 or 60 degrees below zero. In a blizzard. Of course I wanted my children to have that same experience.

I think Nina was born wanting to walk to school. Even prenatally, her life revolved around getting her older brothers off to school and back home, mostly on their own, sometimes accompanied by Nina, Dad and/or me.

So one day out of the blue, Nina announced that she was going to walk to school BY HERSELF.

Luckily, three-year old Nina wouldn’t have to use crosswalks on her journey

I said ok, I would just follow along behind her in case she got lost.

Nina said no, she knew the way. She was going to walk BY HERSELF.

“What about crossing streets,” I asked. “What about Washington Road? What about getting scared halfway through? If you need me, I want to be there for you.”

None of that seemed to be a problem for Nina. She had her mind set on walking to school by herself, and—just to be clear—she was going to do it BY HERSELF.

So I said “Ok, how about if I pick you up in front of Washington School and then we go out to lunch?”

This sounded like a great plan for Nina, so she was ready to go.

The only problem was, Nina was three years old.

Now, I tell this story and people get upset that I could have thought to let a three year old walk along Washington Road and cross several side streets on her own. And I agree, this was not a good idea, but then again, it was not MY idea; it was the idea of a very stubborn three year old who doesn’t have adult reasoning skills.

On the one hand, I celebrated the fact that my daughter was confident enough to undertake this adventure. This was the making of a strong girl and later a strong, independent woman, and that is what I wanted my daughter to be. And what safer place to go adventuring than Mt. Lebanon?

On the other hand, I just couldn’t let my baby girl walk alone on a main road, let alone cross three streets on her own, even in Mt. Lebanon.

We’ve all heard this saying, probably best summarized by Jonas Salk: ‘Good parents give their children roots and wings. Roots to know where home is, wings to fly away and exercise what’s been taught them.’

So there I was, facing a daughter who I knew would walk herself to school no matter what, probably taking off the moment I went into the bathroom and couldn’t chase her. So I called my husband to consult because he has better adult reasoning skills than I do.

“Say no,” he said. “How is this even a question?”

My mother, my second consultation, said the same thing. “Tell her no. She’s three.”

But I couldn’t do it. I could feel Nina’s confidence, I could feel her excitement. I could feel her anticipation of a great accomplishment. So instead I said, “Ready?  Let’s go.”

The plan was that I would absolutely not follow her, but rather I would wait a few minutes and then drive to Washington School, where she would sit on a bench in the front and wait for me. I made her promise to walk as far from traffic as possible, on grass if she could.

The bench where Nina promised to wait

Of course I followed her. If she needed me, I was watching and would be right there for her. I put my hazard lights on and drove barely inches behind her. Three year olds don’t look around, they just forge ahead, and Nina was forging ahead, trotting along the road as if she had not a care in the world, beaming with happiness, obviously having a wonderful time walking to school. By herself.

When she approached an intersection, I pulled ahead and blocked the road so she could cross safely, but overall Nina walked as far from the traffic as she could and other than stopping to pick up a leaf or two, she was focused on her destination.

As soon as she got to Washington School, Nina ran to a bench and sat on it and waited for me. I beeped the horn from the road and called out the open window “NINA! You beat me!”

Nina trotted to the car, I pulled over and buckled her into her car seat (because she was three, after all) and off we went to lunch to talk about all the things she saw on her walk to school. (The only thing she didn’t see was her mother.)

Later I heard from a friend that she had seen my daughter trotting along Washington Road, then saw a horrified look on a driver’s face and called over to the other car to say not to worry, the little girl’s mother was right there following. I heard from another friend that she also had seen us and was amused by how I had controlled the situation. Yes, I said, I needed to control what I could, while I still could.

That walk happened twenty years ago. It was one of many, many parenting decisions that I made knowing that it was a better choice for my child than it was for me. My strongest inclinations are always to keep my children rooted next to me, to not let them fly away. For me, the hardest part of mothering is letting go of my children and testing the strength of our parenting.

These days, Nina is off on her own, a focused, determined (er…head strong) young woman. And I am still right here if she needs me, remembering my anxiety that first time she walked to school but also recalling the joy and confidence radiating from her face as she took off for the first time, all by herself.

Nina went to college in Boston and now has moved to Los Angeles, and that’s my arm around her because I’m still not quite ready to let her go off on her own.


  1. Author’s gravatar

    What an honest and fun memoir, Thespine! That’s a beautiful picture of you two! Hope to see you soon.

  2. Author’s gravatar

    Thespine, love this!!! As you know, our ‘kids’ have grown & thrived in parallel lives! Miss you & Pradeep!

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