Most milestones take us by surprise, though none usually happen without warning. When Freddy took her first steps, we knew it was something she'd been working up to for a while, ever since she started cruising the furniture, or making failed to attempts to launch herself into the centre of the room. Still when it finally happened, the surprised delight was genuine. I remember going to bed that night buzzing with the possibilities. O brave new world.
This morning Fred asked if she could walk to school by herself. She is six, seven next month. Martin began walking to and from school alone in second term of prep. I am not sure, exactly, how old I was, though I was walking or catching the bus with my sister in prep and I know for sure by the time I was eight I was walking alone and I had to cross two main roads, and a couple of smaller ones. Again this was not entirely unexpected, a few times this year Fred has run so far ahead of me and Una that she may as well have been on her own.
Fred's route involves two road crossings. The first is a small road, not busy but cars can come down quite quickly, and this road is the reason I said no this morning, though she is a careful crosser, and I no longer hold her hand, encouraging her to do in her own time. The second crossing is with a crossing guard.
Apart from the roads, there's no other big risks. It's a clear route, one I know Fred wouldn't deviate from. There's a few other kids who walk, enough to look out for each other. And it's not far, maybe 1km, perhaps even a little less.
This morning after we'd crossed the first road, and walked a little way together she latched herself onto two slightly bigger boys, grade threes perhaps. They were discussing the finer points of The Force, and benevolently ignored her.
And suddenly I thought, You know what? She's fine. She's so fine. And I said 'Fred? Fred? Freddy?' and she pretended not to hear me because you know, she was with the big boys. And I said 'Freddy, will you be right from here?' and she nodded and I kissed her, and I watched her walk away.
Thirty seconds later, first bell went and Fred took off at a run over the crest of the hill and disappeared from view. The boys walked a few more lazy steps and then took off after her. (In this case I think Fred was a good influence.) Martin driving past after dropping Una off at her creche beeped-beeped his horn as Fred ran up the slip road towards the school. He beamed at me as he drove past. I was still watching the empty road, I turned away before I saw her cross the road.
But she would have made it inside for second bell, just in time.