It would be the first time our daughter would ride the Long Island Railroad without an adult, and my husband and I were completely comfortable with it.
Except things rarely go right on the Long Island Railroad. When I didn’t get a text from anyone well after the hour it should have taken to reach Manhattan, I texted my niece. “There are some delays,” she replied. “They should be here soon.”
I still wasn’t terribly concerned, though I hadn’t heard from my daughter since they’d gotten on the train. Then the house phone rang. It was my husband and he sounded terrified.
“Penn Station is a crowded, chaotic nightmare, no trains are coming in and the girls are somewhere in Queens on an E train with a ‘nice lady’ who said she’d helped them get to Penn,” he said. Apparently he’d gotten a brief call from her about a half hour before but hadn’t heard a word since.
A quick Google search revealed that there was track damage under the East River and trains were not being permitted past Jamaica station.
“Okay,” I first answered, “At least they’re safe.”
Then I felt a little queasy. “But what if they’re not?” I thought. “What if the first time we allowed our daughter to ride the train alone with a friend, something awful happens?” Images of police manhunts and missing children posters flooded my brain. My knees felt weak, my palms sweaty. My heart began to race. Was that kiss on the train platform the last one I’d ever have?
We have worked very hard to foster independence in our children. In this age of helicopter, over-protective parenting, my husband and I have encouraged our kids to take risks and venture out alone. We’ve traveled the world with them, helped them understand the differences in other cultures, given them the opportunities to feel safe in strange cities. In many ways New York City is a home away from home for them; they walk the streets and ride the subways without caution or hesitation. Our daughter went to sleep away camp when she was 7, demanding that she join her older brother and cousins, despite her young age.
So when the mother of the first girl my daughter invited to the concert told me that she didn’t feel safe allowing her daughter to go, explaining that she’s “old-fashioned,” I respectfully demurred.
Too often we stifle healthy growth and independence under the guise of keeping our children safe. I want my kids to have the confidence to explore the world; controlling their safety is really just an illusion. I rode the LIRR with friends when I was 15; why shouldn’t my daughter?
But what if I’d been wrong? Logic dictated that the girls would be fine, that it was ridiculous to think that anything could have happened. But fear isn’t logical. It feeds on you and destroys any rational thought you cling to in the moment.
The whole incident lasted no more than 15 minutes. Seems silly now, but for that brief time, I considered the possibility that I might never see my child again. I got a second call from my husband and could hear the girls giggling in the background.
“Everything’s fine. They’re here and we’re gonna grab a bite to eat,” he said, his voice once again calm and steady. “Were they scared?” I asked. “Nope. They had a little adventure,” he chuckled.
Later, as I kissed her goodnight, I asked my daughter if she and her friend were ever worried or frightened.
“No mom, not at all,” she told me. “We were fine. We did what you always tell me to do. We found a mom like you who stayed with us until we got to Penn. Honestly, I don’t know why you and dad were freaking out, it was no big deal!”
Of course she doesn’t. She can’t yet understand that intense love a parent has for a child, the kind of love so fierce, it physically hurts. And she also doesn’t know the potential for loss that lurks somewhere in the back of every parent’s mind every once in a while.
She doesn’t and shouldn’t know. And the next time it’s appropriate, I’ll let her take the train again. Because what’s the alternative?
You might also be interested in: