Six years ago, I let my son Izzy ride the subway alone at age 9, and wrote a column about it. The media pounced on the story, and talk show hosts kept asking why I hadn’t worried about my boy being kidnapped or killed.
I managed to sputter that if the adventure had seemed dangerous to me, I’d never have allowed it! Since then, I’ve pretty much devoted my entire (blogging) life to explaining: You can love your kids and still not think they need a security detail every time they leave the home.
Strangely enough, my son just created another kerfuffle by taking public transit alone, even though, now, he’s 15. Allow me a little back story.
Less than a year after the subway incident, that same son of ours got stopped twice for riding the Long Island Railroad by himself. The cops, worried for his safety, called us to make sure we knew where he was. We did. In fact, we were happy about it. So by the second time he was stopped, he was traveling with a printout of the transit rules stating anybody over 8 could ride the trains alone.
Rules, shmules. The cop calling us warned our son could be abducted. “But it’s afternoon rush hour!” I replied. “In New York City! There are tons of people around — they could stop an abductor!” To which the cop replied, “Well, what if there were TWO abductors?” In other words: Any rational argument would be met by a “What If?” escalation.
Happily, that was the last time Izzy encountered the police. Until a few days ago.
Now deep-voiced and taller than me, he takes a public bus to go on skiing day trips. The bus leaves early from Port Authority, so that’s where he was at 7 a.m. on a recent Saturday, getting a muffin and hot chocolate, when a cop spotted him. The officer asked Izzy to come with him.
They entered the Youth Services room, an office filled with photos of young people who were perhaps runaways or missing kids. Izzy explained himself to another officer, and she phoned us to verify his story. My husband fielded the call. Case closed.
This time, however, I was not at all annoyed that the cops swooped in. That’s because, unlike the Long Island Railroad officer envisioning Izzy being hauled off in broad daylight (paging Law & Order!), the Port Authority police were making sure he hadn’t run away — a far more common occurrence. What’s more, they also seemed to be giving him a safe place to extricate himself from any difficulties he might be in, a place to ditch a drug dealer or pimp.
Normally I hate the way society reacts to seeing kids doing almost anything on their own: “Why isn’t there an adult with them? Something’s wrong!” But in this case, I’m grateful that cops are keeping their eyes open at a place that really does see more than its share of trouble: The down and dirty bus station. When I first arrived in New York in the 1980s, my very first newspaper article was about street kids. Where did I find them?
Right there! Albeit, it was at 3 a.m., not 7 a.m., but I, too, questioned the young men milling about the station on their own: Why were they there? Where else could they go? Who knew their whereabouts — or cared?
The answers were heartbreaking. It’s good that someone is looking out for them.