I put my baby boy on the train alone last week. I sent him traveling all by himself. With no parental supervision. What was I thinking?
What type of parent does this? The reality is…Most. Or at least many. I think.
You see, he’s 14 (almost 15), and he took the Metro-North train to Manhattan to meet up with his father/my husband. It’s not like Leaving on the Midnight Train to Georgia, ala Gladys Knight and the Pips. More like Leaving on the 4 p.m. Commuter Railroad to Manhattan, ala mom and dad.
So why was this such a big deal?
My 14-year-old son is not as independent as he could and should be. I take the majority of ownership on this. There is always a reason, and some are excuses, some are valid rationale, and some are victims of circumstance. Being a November-born baby, my son has always been one of the youngest in his grade, therefore always thought of as “so young.” He’s a homebody and a gamer. He has ADHD. And although I work full-time, I do work out of my home, so I’m always here, which resulted in him not being independent. He never had to go to before care nor aftercare. (He did go to daycare virtually from birth to Pre-K, but I guess that wears off after a while!). My son is such a good kid – coupled with some naivete and aloofness, maybe too good – he doesn’t have a mean bone in his body.
Now, I’m most definitely selling him short a bit. He is a sophomore in high school and has adjusted nicely. He is developing, maturing, and handling things much more independently. But when my husband raised the idea of him doing the train ride solo, it was a brand new venture to consider, and I had full-on sticker shock! It’s just something that hasn’t come up before.
Can We Start a Wee Bit Smaller?
A little sarcasm – my son has bought himself a chocolate bar before, but I felt like THIS was such a natural life step. Is he ready? Am I ready? Once he took this step, it’s one less step that he needs to take with me. There’s no turning back and moving forward. He can always do this on his own.
I completely understand that this is how it should be – yet I don’t have to like it!
He’s purchased drinks/snacks at a nearby deli. Crap – Did I tell him to look both ways while crossing the street? I’ve been late to pick him up at a doctor’s appointment. Crap – He does know not to go with strangers, right?
Times like these make me question everything I’ve taught him! Seriously though – remember that we have to have confidence, not only in our children but also in ourselves.
When my son walked in from school last Friday afternoon, I looked at him and said, “so?” He responded that he was tired and didn’t feel like walking around the city. He decided to tell his dad no. Before he got the chance to do this, I asked him to clarify if he didn’t want to go because he’s not in the mood – or if he was hesitant for that train ride in alone. Receiving an inconclusive “I don’t feel like it” as a response, my last life as a recruiter told me to probe more.
My son wanted to meet his father, but he was nervous about riding on the train alone. I validated his feelings and admitted mine (to a certain extent!) but encouraged him to do it.
We coordinated pick-up on the platform at Grand Central with my husband. My husband would find out what track the train came in on, and he’d be right there waiting for him. Still a little reluctant, my son agreed to go.
Let’s Get Ready
My son packed up his little gamer backpack and was ready to roll. There was plenty of time before he needed to catch the train, but he decided to leave early, so zero rushing was necessary. Just as we started to head out of the house, my son announced that he had to go to the bathroom but says that he’ll go on the train. Um no. Back in the house. Go now. You are NOT going on the train when you’re alone (Rule #1).
OK, take 2. We hopped in our car, drove over to the station with my daughter in tow, parked the car, threw a few quarters in the meter, and headed over to the train station. We walked up the stairs to buy the round-trip ticket. After showing the conductor the train ticket, I informed my son that you plop it in his backpack because he’ll need it for the train ride home. Deer in headlights. Frozen. Where’s your backpack, my love? In the car. Seriously. My son headed back to the car to grab his stuff. Did I mention that I knew to leave plenty of time? My daughter gave me a look that said, “I don’t know about this, ma…”
OK, take 3. When he got back, we settled on the platform and waited for the train. How will I know when to get off? Where will I meet dad again? It’s the last stop, and the conductor will say “Grand Central Terminal.” I’ll tell dad which train car you are in and the closest door, and he will meet you on the platform. Just stay in your seat (Rule #2) and mind your own business (Rule #3). The train pulled in, and we all took a breath and put our brave on. He stepped on the train, walked to a seat, and sat down. Window seat in a six-seater, just like his mama!
There goes my baby, in all definitions possible. Both my son and I are taking a trip. Him, to the city. Me, down memory lane.
The train pulled away, and as dramatic as it sounds, there was such a wave of sadness—all the emotions.
Those who know me well know that I was not a fan of the baby stages, but man, this one is hitting me hard. It was such a sign of independence, yet I knew this was the right thing to do, and it’s what I’m preparing him for.
I texted my husband and let him know what train car/door our son was in. Of course, he got there, and all was fine. Within an hour, all was well with the world, as my husband texted me that he arrived in one piece, and I was able to breathe again. My husband met him on the platform when the train came in and stood at the right train car and door. And husband sensed that our son was pretty proud of himself for this accomplishment.
We all have different parenting approaches. Sometimes I need to have different approaches for each of my kids tailored to who they are as individuals. In this particular case, knowing my child, I had to balance controlling his safety with giving him some room to grow….even if he was somewhat hesitant himself.
Interestingly enough, some friends thought I was crazy – but for contrasting reasons. A few thought he was too young, and a few thought I was making a big deal out of nothing. Please know that there are many areas where I am not helicopter-ish. For example, I don’t consistently scour the parent portal for his grades, put deadlines around technology time, or force practicing piano and guitar. Guiding and encouraging is more my speed. I want him to be happy, healthy, and safe.
The Ride Home
My husband and son did their little thing walking around Manhattan. My husband texted me as they hopped on the Metro-North and headed back home. Then he sent me this picture about halfway through the trip.
By taking that train ride solo, my son may have done something “grown-up.” That’ll happen more and more as the years go on. But no matter what, he’s still my little guy – and no train ride to NYC, plane ride cross country, or a trip to the moon can take that from me.