“A Miracle!” 6-Year-Old Walks Home from School by Self

Somehow this is a news story?

First off, up: Something got screwed up at the Holy Child School in Calgary last week. A coughing first grader was told by his teacher that, thanks to his Covid symptoms, he was being sent home. She meant for him to go to the office and get picked up by his parents, but somehow the boy misunderstood and walked out the door. He got himself home safe and sound. (Except maybe he has Covid.)

Clearly, the school dropped some balls. No one even noticed the boy had left. (Paging Ed Rooney!) But —

WHY IS THIS A NEWS STORY???

A school makes a mistake. A child walks home uneventfully — and it’s actually his first solo walk. A milestone! Can I get a booyah?

Um, no.

The only thing that can make walking boy an “important” enough story for two minutes of CTV News is by imagining what would have happened if somehow this minor incident went catastrophically off a cliff. (Ditto, the boy.)

Imagine, if you will…

The enterprising correspondent manages to do this catastrophizing by interviewing the mom. She imagines what might have happened “if it was last week, freezing cold,” or if she hadn’t been home. The fact that these things didn’t happen makes her declare, “It’s like a miracle.” Low threshold, but she’s the mom.

Still, as long as we’re imaging scenarios that did not happen, what if it WAS freezing cold and the boy ducked into a store to get warm, and the clerk helped him? What if mom was not home, so the boy knocked on a neighbor’s door and they gave him hot chocolate and called his parents? Why can’t we imagine any positive alternate scenarios? Why is childhood competence and decent weather a “miracle”?

Because scary alternate realities make this into a “Whew — close one!” So imagine if the boy not only got caught in a winter storm AND mom wasn’t home but THEN he fell into an ice fishing hole! Or got licked by a lovesick moose whose tongue stuck to him! Heck, what if this all happened a different WEEK on a different PLANET and walking home that kid had to breathe in gaseous ammonia? That school would have a LOT of explaining to do!

Extra, Extra! Boy Absolutely Unharmed!

One reason we have a society that insists on constant supervision of kids is that stories like this one make it sound like an unsupervised child is just an unheard-of anomaly who somehow survived a grave ordeal. In turn, the reason unsupervised kids are so rare is that we feel it is realistic and even responsible to imagine all the ways that this could go wrong. Instead of observing that, shrug, usually nothing big does.

Frank Furedi, author of “How Fear Works,” tells of a study where participants were shown an anchorman at a desk with a picture of a playground on the screen behind him. The participants were asked, “What story do you think he was presenting?” Most said it was probably about a child who was hurt or abducted.

I’d probably guess the same thing, because of the way storytelling works. All cultures come to love and expect certain stories. They REALLY love stories they’re already familiar with. Hence, Spider-Man: No Way Home — NUMBER 27 IN THIS FRANCHISE — has grossed $1.6 billion as of this writing. We love our superhero-to-the-rescue stories.

The parenting story that sells

And we love our kids-in-peril stories. So the story we tell about kids now — the one we basically sit down to enjoy with a bucket of popcorn — is that when an adult deliberately or accidentally takes their eyes off a child, that child is in danger.

The miracle in this CTV story is not that the boy walked half a mile home in his own neighborhood as a first grader — something first graders were doing all the time a generation or two ago, even in the snow. (In Canada, always in the snow.) It’s that at the end, the reporter mentions that the boy encountered two strangers and one even made sure he crossed the street safely.

Stranger non-danger? Could be a whole new story arc.