I Forced My Kid to Ride Her Bike

Now my Main Line neighbors have probably branded me a reckless parent

Remember the good old days when kids went out to play all day and rode their bikes to the park? Yeah, me too. What the hell happened? In this age of over-scheduled, micromanaged, overprotected children, I did something that would probably qualify me as a totally reckless parent. I sent my child to the park on her bicycle.

I have been trying to get my daughter to leave our property and explore new territory for a few years. She wouldn’t go. I don’t get it. What kid doesn’t want to get away from their parents? I must be doing something wrong or making life too pleasant at home. I finally got her to take her bicycle over to the nearby school campus to ride the paved trails in the last year, but she always returns after 10 or 15 minutes. I’ve even threatened to lock her out until she gets some serious fresh air and exercise to no avail. Finally, on a recent Saturday, I told her she was ready to ride to the playground 10 minutes away. I gave her the directions cutting through the campus, crossing three roads and riding on quiet streets. Off she went. It all seemed so simple.[SIGNUP]

While she was gone, we did some chores outside, expecting her to return at any moment. After about an hour I asked my husband to take a drive past the playground and make sure she was there. “Don’t bother her if she’s enjoying herself,” I told him. I just wanted to know she was safe without quashing her independence. A few minutes later he returned happily reporting she was swinging with wild abandon, bicycle lying in the grass nearby. Great, I thought. Success! My husband also told me our neighbors were at the playground with their toddler. I felt even better knowing she was in good company. This was all so perfect. I felt pride, like the whole playground idea was a great parenting moment. Of course those are always the moments when the universe has a great sense of humor.

Half an hour later, while we were trimming hedges, our neighbors drove slowly into their driveway, hazard lights flashing, followed by our daughter on her bicycle, followed by another neighbor in her car. It turns out our daughter had forgotten how to get home from the park. Rather than ask the neighbors to help direct her back to the campus — the way she got there in the first place — she chose instead to tell them she was just plain lost. Now the neighbors must think she is allowed to ride the long way on all the busy roads and, of course, she didn’t bother to correct that assumption. Nor did she ask to use their phone to call me for directions. And I guess I’ve done a spectacular job of telling her not to get into people’s cars, because she didn’t want a ride home with them either.

So the solution they collectively came up with was to drive slowly with her riding behind them. Piecing the evidence together, I imagine that’s when the other neighbor, on her way home, found herself joining the caravan escorting my child. Great. Just perfect. Now I’m certain my neighbors are all judging me as a careless, unconcerned parent that sends her child out to play in traffic. I already suspected one of these neighbors who is very overprotective of her own children already thought I was a reckless parent … so this was just confirmation. Yeah, a great parenting moment, alright. I expect a visit from child protective services any minute now.

Now I just have to figure out where we go from here. Chalk it up as a learning experience and draw her a map next time? Give her my cell phone for future trips so she can play electronic Scrabble in the park? Give up the park for another year? I think freedom and independence are so important that I don’t want to discourage her from trying again, but it would be nice if I didn’t feel like the neighbors were gossiping about my negligent parenting. I wish I were parenting in the good old days when kids had some street smarts. And didn’t our generation at least know how to get home?