“Tommy, can you come downstairs please?” The voice of Tommy’s mother bounced up the stairs, through the hallway, and into little Tommy’s bedroom.
Tommy had no idea why she called for him. He began to worry that he had done something wrong and was going to get into trouble. Was it because he played on his Nintendo DS past his bedtime? Was last night’s episode of “Danny Phantom” playing too loud? He ran down the stairs and into his living room. His mother and father were sitting on the sofa and patted its middle cushion, signaling Tommy to sit between them. He plopped down on the comfortable couch and started to fidget. Fidgeting was young Tommy’s way of dealing with anxiety.
“Mom, dad? What’s wrong? Am I in trouble?” Tommy started to shake more and more. He wondered if the shaking from his leg was capable of starting an earthquake.
Tommy’s father directly answered his questions. “Son, there is nothing wrong. You are not in any trouble. You know how one of us drives you and your little sister to school? Well, that’s going to change. I am going to work earlier in the mornings at the hospital and your mom is going to drop me off on her way to work. So we talked and decided that, if you are comfortable with it, you can start walking to school by yourself. Mia starts later, so the mom of one of her classmates will pick her up from the hospital’s daycare center. How does this all sound?”
Tommy was in shock. The idea of walking to school by himself sounded outlandish, truly absurd. He had been driven there since kindergarten and even though it was a daily routine for a few years, he did not have a true sense of the surroundings following him on his car rides there. Honestly, he was usually more interested in a couple minutes of game time on his DS than blooming flowers and pooping dogs. The walk to his elementary school would take approximately ten minutes, but he felt as if he was ordered to climb up a mountain every morning. He felt like a grownup, and wondered if he now had to do “adult things”. Being an adult was daunting to someone ten years away from legally being an adult. Adulthood seemed way too out of control for him and his youthful mind, with too many responsibilities. For example: working and paying taxes. He did not know what taxes were, but he did know that he did not want to find out.
Tommy answered calmly, “I am okay with that.” He patted his dad’s shoulder and grinned widely, “I am almost nine years old, I can handle it.”
“And we wanted to give you this.” His dad handed him an object of wonder: a brand new flip phone. He did not know of any other eight year olds with flip phones. If he did not keep the phone a secret, he would be the most popular boy in the third grade. The year 2007 was off to a great start. Tommy was in awe. His new cell phone and his new responsibility were a lot to think about.
“This is for if you need anything. Our numbers are in there already, along with other important people to reach if we are not answering. Do you need any help with it?” He nodded and his mom started to show him the functions and buttons. As she explained more, Tommy was fascinated by its magical abilities. It could send text messages, only that contained 120 characters or less, and it had a camera. He felt like the phone’s majestic powers made it more fitting for a museum, instead of sitting in the front pocket of his Spongebob Squarepants backpack. He knew he had the power to change the world with this flip phone, and was ready to be tasked with great responsibility and caution. That task felt a little heavy on a boy who was almost nine years old.
On the 23rd of February 2007, Tommy was to walk alone to school for the first time. He was naturally excited and felt like he had a new sense of freedom. He was also nervous about losing his way, being confronted by a stranger, being too early or too late to school, and being bitten by a stray dog and contracting rabies. His parents talked to him beforehand and together with Tommy, they made a plan for his new daily routine. They told him he could sit on the front porch before heading to school, because they did not want him inside the house without adult supervision. He decided to dribble a basketball and count how much money he had saved for the next week’s Scholastic book fair. Tommy did not want to admit it, but he was starting to feel antsy again. He tried to stop shaking, but the attempt was not a success. Another additional worry then caved its way into his young mind: his bouncing leg would trigger an earthquake. That stopped the shaking.
His phone vibrated in his pocket and showed a text from his father, “It’s time to leave for school. Good luck son! :)”
Tommy quickly searched the porch to make sure he had all of his belongings. He took a deep breath and started the morning’s fateful journey. He made sure to walk cautiously in front of his house to not trip over the large crack in the sidewalk. Although the walk to Springton Elementary School was straight down the road, he had to admit he was scared of taking a wrong turn and getting lost. On one street, a left turn would lead him to the scariest place known to man: the town’s junior high school. He walked slowly and made sure to stay on track by staring straight ahead, which ultimately did not work. He began to walk faster and was easily distracted. His surroundings seemed more vivid than usual. The young boy was excited about this newfound feeling of independence. His enthusiasm caused the colors of flowers to pop out and the bees buzzed louder. The dogs out on their walks seemed happier than when Tommy would be driven to school, and he felt boastful while observing other kids being driven to school by their parents. Although he was feeling excited, he also continued to worry of losing track of time or getting lost. When he was about halfway through with his walk, he was able to pet a dog, which made all of his fears disappear.
He noticed on his Spiderman watch that he was a lot faster than thought, and he was a mere two minutes away from arriving to his destination. Naturally, he felt compelled to step into Donny’s Donut Shop. He was amazed at the variety of fresh donuts and his mouth started to water.
“Hey there, Tommy. Where are your parents?” Donny asked. Donny’s shop had been open for over a decade and the donuts would continue to become more appetizing as time passed. Tommy and his family were like friends to Donny and his employees. Tommy was always happy to get ten cents off each donut, a small discount that Donny reserved to the most loyal of customers.
“Just between you and me, they are letting me walk to school by myself now.” Tommy whispered. He pointed to a donut that appeared to be the most tempting and said loudly, “I’ll take that donut there, the one with the chocolate frosting and rainbow sprinkles. And a carton of chocolate milk.” Tommy was hopeful that his mother would not find out about the amount of sugar he was about to consume.
Donny stared into Tommy’s eyes and asked, “Is your mom okay with you having this much sugar, Tommy?” Tommy nodded. “Okay then. I don’t believe that at all but since today is a big day for you, I’ll let it pass and not tell her about it. Your total is a dollar, I am giving you a special discount today.”
Tommy passed Donny a dollar, grabbed his donut and milk, and said goodbye. He was on his way again, with enough time to walk at a snail like speed. He continued to walk until spotting a bench next to the crosswalk leading to the front entrance of his school. He sat there and felt like a sophisticated adult while blowing bubbles with his straw into a carton of chocolate milk. He felt proud of that morning’s achievements. Walking to school, alone, is never an easy feat for an eight year old.
Tommy raised his small milk carton and yelled triumphantly, “To Tommy, the bravest boy in the land! Cheers!” He then decided to chug his chocolate milk, which ended up being a very wrong decision. Seconds after that, he ate his donut quickly and noticed that more time had passed on his Spiderman watch than anticipated. “Oh, geez! I am going to be late!”
Tommy threw his trash in a bin next to the bench and headed to the crosswalk. He ran as fast as possible across the street as soon as the crossing guard raised her stop sign at the cars. He continued to run up until he was right in front of the school’s entrance. He stopped to control his breathing, and then entered the building. As he ran in the hallway, a teacher yelled at him to slow down. He lowered his pace and, luckily, was in front of his classroom door in no time. He stood outside of it, panting. He suddenly felt a pain and weird feeling in his stomach, but that did not matter. There were more important things, however, to think about: He made it, he finished his treacherous journey. He felt accomplished and proud. He knew he could conquer the world and was ready to conquer that day. But before he could do either of those things, he knew something was waiting to burst inside of him. Was it pride? Triumph? Relief? It was none of those things, it was vomit. At that moment, Tommy vomited all over the floor and started crying from the pain in his belly. He was whisked away by a teacher to the nurse’s office and was sent home early, he was told to go before learning was to begin. His Aunt Vicki was there ten minutes later to pick him up and while in the car, he vomited outside of her car window twice.
Tommy felt embarrassed and then realized that his independent journey ended up being worthless and felt like a huge defeat. His pride was fading and his regrets were increasing. He asked himself, “Why did I think I could handle such a huge task and come out alive?” He was very much alive, but a piece of him felt dead. The queasy feeling in his stomach contributed to feeling like death, and so did his disappointment. He made another realization that maybe too much excitement, too much sugar, and too much speed are not the best combination. And then he came up with a final discovery, the most important lesson he had ever learned: never chug a carton of chocolate milk.