Volume 21, Number 17 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | Sept. 5 - 11, 2008
Back to School 2008
Trust in God’s love and a knee to the groin
By Gregg Farah
Walking up Warburton Ave. in Yonkers toward the school crossing guard is my first school memory. I was officially a “big boy.” Not only was I in first grade, but I had my own house key and walked to and from school by myself. It was my coming of age and the beginning of a season of anxiety for my single mom who worked the morning shift as a hospital nurse. She taught me to get myself up and dressed, eat breakfast and make it to school on time. Although not on the pre-approved “To Do” list, I managed to sneak in some morning TV and enjoyed feeling powerful when I locked the door with my very own key. My mother, on the other hand, worried her entire shift until she received my 3:15 p.m. phone call that I had returned home safely.
When we moved into Manhattan two years later, I graduated not only into third grade but to the added responsibility of taking two city buses to travel cross town from our Upper West Side apartment to my East Side school. Having my own key offered power but a city bus pass — this was a ticket into the adult world. I was still years away from shaving, but I played the part by picking up a Daily News each morning at our corner newsstand and took extra steps to keep up with other commuters. I was no longer a “big boy.” I was becoming a man.
Those are the memories of a six and eight-year-old. As a 41-year-old father who now shaves and reads his newspapers online, I cannot imagine offering my three daughters similar independence at such young ages. I’ve often reviewed those years with my mother and she speaks of them with a sense of guilt, as if she forced me to grow up faster than necessary. But the truth is she did what all parents strive to do: the best she could.
Of course when we reminisce, my mother’s recollections are quite different from what her independence-loving, Daily-News-totin’ eight-year-old remembers. I’ve since learned that during my first week of traveling to and from school on my own I was never really alone. She walked behind me to the bus stop, unbeknownst to me, and then jumped in a cab that she paid to follow my bus until seeing me safely arrive at school. This happened for an entire week, the time it took for her to gain confidence in her son’s street smarts and decision-making ability, which also corresponded to her remaining number of vacation days. My mother also gave me new information about the “nice ladies” I saw every morning at the bus stop. They greeted me each day, straightened my parochial school tie, and fixed my hair. I always thought they dressed funny to go to work — although they smelled nice. My mom let me know they weren’t going to work; rather, they were going home. They were prostitutes.
This year my eldest daughter heads off to middle school at I.S. 89 — on her own. Her mother or I have walked her and her two sisters to school every day of her life from our Battery Park City apartment. But not this year. She’s still walking — but alone. And I’m not sure I can handle it. I call my mom for advice but I’m also researching the cost to implant a G.P.S. tracking device.
The last few weeks I’ve offered my final city-living boot camp instructions and role-played a variety of scenarios I pray she’ll never encounter. We’ve practiced how to scream for help and kick or knee a guy in the groin. But I’ve also taken time to heap a healthy dose of encouragement on her. She is ready for more independence and can handle it. I’m just not so sure about myself.
The Bible tells us in Psalm 46 that God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. It says much about God’s character but also reveals the heart of a parent. When my mother tracked me during the first week of school she was modeling the character of God. So this new school year will find me safely following my daughter from a distance, until I can actually believe what the Bible says. Her first day to class is also the first day God invites me to trust Him, that He’ll actually watch over my daughter better than I.
So now, before my daughter walks out the door, I tell her I love her, to make sure she has her cell phone, and to remember to aim for the groin. And then I pray: “Dear God, thank You for loving my daughter more than I ever could. Keep her safe. Keep me sane. Help me to trust You. Amen.”
Gregg Farah is pastor of Mosaic Manhattan Church in Lower Manhattan.