I remember the day when I realised my children were chauffeured around far too much by me. We were visiting an outdoor museum and one of the activities available was a ride on an old vintage bus. The excitement from my two about going on this bus took me completely by surprise. They couldn't wait to get on, were fascinated by the whole concept of lots of seats, the spiral staircase and the conductor. It was 50p well spent, I have to say.
It really made me think about how public transport these days is a novelty for so many children, and that I'm spending a fortune on driving them absolutely everywhere. It's not just petrol cost, it's my time too.
I vividly remember getting the bus home from school by myself at the age of seven. I can't remember my parents ever taking me to school, and it was a good half hour walk away. We all walked to school then, or cycled or got the bus if you lived too far away. If it rained, you got wet. Our mothers were housewives, so not dashing about to get to an office job while we packed our schoolbags.
Even though my children's primary school is a few hundred yards from our home, I'm ashamed to say I always drove them. To be fair, it would be because I was en route to my job. I'd collect them in the car too. Then we'd have tea, and we'd drive to Brownies or swimming or a drop off to play at a friend's house. Time was the reason for all the driving. I could drop them off at their activities in 10 minutes in the car and be back home to do something useful. If we walked, we'd struggle to get to each child's different activity on time, and by the time I'd get home it would be almost time to go back for them.
So we really do drive everywhere. My waistline is the evidence.
I started to think about whether I should let them walk by themselves or get the bus on their own. At what age is that going to be OK? If it was OK for me at age seven, why am I worried about my own children when they're older than that? Because I do worry. Child abductions get a great deal of coverage in the press and so we think they happen a lot. No parent wants to risk anything happening to their child, but there must come a point when you give them a little independence and responsibility.
I decided to have a conversation with my children about it. We discussed whether they'd like to use the bus to school, and that they ought to think about walking a bit more, instead of me driving them everywhere. I was surprised by their reaction. They were thrilled and excited at the prospect. They'd just assumed they weren't allowed to use the bus and I wanted to drive them everywhere to keep an eye on them (which was partly true). Mobile phones help. The fact that they have a communication tool to reach me or call for help makes it a lot easier to let them loose.
So, we agreed they would start to get the bus to school several times a week. I worked out it was no more or less expensive than me spending the money on petrol for the car. They walk to their friends' houses more now, but in groups, and return before dark. If anyone is left alone, they call and a parent does a pick up.
They're happier, I'm happier, and they're getting a tad more exercise than they used to in the back of my car. It's just me I need to fix now. Instead of popping down to the post office in the car I need to get my trainers on and pound the pavement myself. To be honest, I'm quite looking forward to it.