Child Walks Home; All Hell Breaks Loose

This story does 1 of 2 things.  It symbolizes every fear gnawing at parents trying to raise children in the 21st century.

Or it makes Westport the laughingstock of the country.

According to, a 9-year-old girl was supposed to be picked up at 11 this morning following a swim lesson at the Y.

She wasn’t there.  Her parents called the police, who “launched a massive hunt of the downtown area that involved multiple police and fire units.”

Shortly before 12:30, she arrived home (Ellery Lane, off Prospect Road near Cumberland Farms).  She’d walked there from downtown.

I’m glad the story has a happy ending (though I would not want to be the girl at around 1 this afternoon).

But I wondered:  Is this what we’ve come to?  Is walking home now so unusual it turns the town upside down?

When I was 10 I walked from my High Point Road home (a half mile down, I might add) to my Rec basketball games at Green’s Farms School.

At 11 I walked all the way to Doubleday Field — on Riverside Avenue — for Little League tryouts.

It wasn’t that my parents wouldn’t have taken me; it was just something I wanted to do.  Those were my games, my tryouts.  I wanted to be independent, and I was.

Along the way, I learned a lot about my town — and myself.  And I developed a lifelong joy of walking.

I know, I know.  I was a boy; she’s a girl.  My parents knew where I was going; hers did not. That was then, this is now.

Which means:  What’s ahead?  Decades from now, when today’s kids look back at their youth, will they grow nostalgic for the days when they were “dropped off” for swim lessons, and could be “picked up” later?  Will the concept of Saturday morning at the Y seem incredibly wild and free?

Or will the pendulum swing the other way?  Perhaps we’ll be in such an oil-related bind, we’ll all have to walk everywhere.

If so, one 9-year-old girl is off to a good start.

10 responses to “Child Walks Home; All Hell Breaks Loose

  1. Tim Caffrey

    Absurd. My parents would be worried if I DIDN’T walk home. I used to walk from 131 North Compo to downtown and beyond ALL the time. My parents grew up without fear of kidnappings and so did I. I was told “don’t approach or take candy from strangers” and that kept me safe. Micromanaging children has taken on a new level. I feel sorry for the parents.

  2. Paul Greenberg

    I grew up in Atlantic City in the 1970’s, which was certainly more dangerous than Westport of today and we walked and biked everywhere. Removing all risk from children’s lives will not make them independent risk-understanding adults.

    On the other hand, the girl should have told her parents that she was walking home (although she probably knows that now).

    Finally, for a town that can get so wrapped up in regards to how the banning of plastic bags will save the environment, we certainly don’t encourage REAL green lifestyles like walking and biking for both children and adults. My guess is that if more adults were out walking or biking that they would see that our town is safe from crime, they would drive less aggressively and would set a good example for our kids.

  3. Chip Stephens

    Yep We lived on Lone Pine off N Compo and walked to Bedford Elementary (Town hallnow) because we were .9 miles away and walked to Bedford Jr Hi (Saugatuck El now) because we were less than 2 miles away.
    Please don’t tell me things are so different today, as those that comented before me, we are so crazy protective today I worry about our kids future, fear and paranoia. The fact that the young one strayed from her assigned handlers is a problem, as we are talking about expected situations, but maybe we should alter expectations and improve our environment to make all feel safer in the situation in question.

  4. Linda Smith

    One more Westporter saying how I had to walk to school. Actually down Roseville to the Post Road where a bus picked all of us up to go to Staples (no Colony Road back then to “cut through” to the high school).

    But I love this discussion and how we can encourage independent children while still reminding them about how to stay safe.

    AND you ask about bicycling? Small World coincidence. A friend who is so fit and mentally healthy in her late 70s had the idea to lead seniors going on bike rides, like going back to our childhood when we love riding. She rides for 20+ miles at a time, but she’ll lead us in easy, short rides on level parts of Westport. Bicycling is a skill you don’t forget, right? Well, tomorrow I’m going to start putting up flyers in the Library and Senior Center and Shop & Shop, Trader Joes and Whole Foods (if they’ll let me) to give everyone a heads up about this bicycling club starting in July when Dorothy gets back from CA. Sounded like a super idea to me, and now I just have to find a bicycle on Craig’s List or 🙂

    • A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Or turn of the pedal. Please keep us posted on this great adventure, Linda!

  5. Kim Manning

    Yes, I too am a native Westporter who walked to and fro to get around “back in the day”. However, I was also victim of what we might now call a “sexual predator”, not just once, but twice, as I walked home from the bus stop as a kid. I was approached in two different occaisions by two different men. The first was when I was nine and a man pulled up in his car next to me and asked me directions to Sherwood Island. I won’t go into details, but at nine years old I didn’t understand what he was doing inside that car, but I had enough common sense to run. The second time the man was on foot. He stood in the woods that lined both sides of the road (no houses for several hundred yards) and then chased after me as I ran toward home. I was fourteen and terrified. I don’t ever remember being taught by my parents how to respond in such a situation, but I’m sure they must have. Thankfully I did make it home safely in both cases. And interestingly, after each of those incidents I returned back to the “streets” and continued to walk home from the bus stop (probably 1/4 mile away) daily. I guess my point is that even back then danger lurked here and there and bad things happened sometimes in our town, but News 12 didn’t show up and 10 police cars didn’t descend on the scene with sirens blaring, lights flashing and german shepards sniffing. After reading about the little girl who walked home from the Y yesterday, I had to ask myself what I would have done if that had been my child. In all honesty, I think that I probably would have called the police, too. Thirty years ago I probably would not have. I’m not sure which is more important, really… the sense of safety that we remember as a kids and the freedom that came with it (it wasn’t even a sense of safety because we didn’t really know there was anything to worry about), or the fear that our kids have now that the white van driving slowly through our neighborhood might be the bogeyman. I’m guessing it’s not the latter. But how can we help but worry when our newspapers and television stations are telling us we should? How can we help but worry when we get arrested for leaving a sleeping toddler in the car when we run ten feet into the dry cleaner to drop off our shirts? All I really know for sure is that I think what my own children need to fear most is the lady in the blue mercedes who whizzes through the stop sign on our corner every morning as she rushes to get to her important job selling McMansions (or trying to sell them, anyway). I’d like to see just one police car descend on that scene. Although something tells me that wouldn’t help. But that’s another story…

  6. Kim Manning

    Woops! Sorry for the typos… it’s 3 a.m. and I’m a little bleary eyed!

  7. Cecily Gans

    In neighboring Fairfield…When we bought our house almost three years ago I remember thinking how nice it would be that, like I, my daughter (now 6 months old) would eventually be able to WALK the few blocks to school everyday. Guess not. Little did I realize that no child walks to school everyday anymore, they all take the bus. I grew up in New Haven in the ’70 & ’80’s and walked downtown nearly everyday, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. I was never attacked, taunted, or even whistled at inappropriately. When I first started teaching in Westport some of my students had a slightly skewed view of New Haven’s neighborhoods, but I grew up in a beautiful home in what I would consider a safe neighborhood to this day. In fact, I’m pretty sure little New Haveners follow in our footsteps literally and figuratively. I find it very sad that all the buying local, composting, recycling, using the right light bulbs and basic minimizing of our carbon footprint that we do still won’t put a dent in the damage the school busses make every day. But alas, even more so is how old and irresponsible I feel romanticizing the notion of living in a safe suburb where kids can walk to school, ride their bikes to their friend’s houses and play tag together in the streets with only the wherewithal to watch for the lady in the blue Mercedes, not talk to strangers, look both ways.