Wednesday, October 1, 2008

You may cross now -- jcarolek

This morning as I was driving to Northern VA for work, I came to a stop behind a line of cars. The short delay was caused by a school crossing guard, holding the traffic back so that the school buses could make their way into the school driveway. I was taken back to my own elementary school days when, as a fourth grader, I had the awesome responsibility of being a school crossing guard.

In those days, children served in this role. Fourth, fifth and sixth graders were eligible to apply for the unpaid positions, and I honestly have no idea upon what criteria the selections were made. I just know I was very proud of myself for being selected. I attended the crossing guard "training," earnestly practicing my "positions."

Position 1: this finds the crossing guard facing the street, both arms extended from her sides, doing her best imitation of a fence. All would-be crossing children are to obediently stand behind the diligent crossing guard and await her next position before crossing the street.

Position 2: this finds the crossing guard turned perpendicular to the street, and to the left side of the patient/impatient would-be crossing children. Her left arm is, once again, fully extended from her side and with her right arm she does her best to perfect a mechanical up and back motion, waving the children into the crosswalk and granting them permission to cross the street.

Now, of course, the BIG thrill was being awarded the little vest and the strange little belt/shoulder strap combo that made the otherwise irresponsible little nine-year old girl into a responsible traffic-control icon. I was only sorry we moved away from my world of power (limited as it was) after just one year of this enjoyed responsibility. (In England, everyone did things differently, riding city buses to various schools rather than all walking to the neighborhood school, so, there was no opportunity to continue in my experienced role.)

As an adult, I wonder who on earth would consider a nine-year old a reasonable choice for waving kids across the street. True, the streets were a little less busy than they are today. True, we did not stop traffic, as I see the crossing guards do today, but rather, we waited, holding the children back until the traffic cleared...but still.....

And this was, I believe, my first taste of "power." The other kids HAD to wait until I said it was time to cross. Even fifth and sixth graders were required to mind me.... I don't recall anyone ever challenging me on the subject, but I did live just a little bit in fear of not allowing them to cross as soon as all was clear. I wasn't a big kid and would have been easily mowed over by some of my more energetic school-mates. So, more like the driver of the lead car, waiting for the light to turn green and then proceeding through the intersection, anxious to move before the cars behind start beeping impatiently, I worked very hard to make certain my crossers crossed at the very first "safe" opportunity. I learned quickly that power came with a price of responsibility and a potential of inflicted pain for failure.

But today, as I watched the adult crossing guard control the various forms of traffic -- cars, pedestrians, buses, I wondered, what would have happened if I, at nine years old, had waved a kid across the street in front of an on-coming vehicle.... I can report with all honesty, those kids did not look for themselves...when the crossing guard position indicted they could cross, they were more like a stampede of cattle... they simply trusted me to get it right.

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