In real life | If anyone asks, the answer is no

Nicki Gilbert is a writer and country music lover who lives in Piedmont with her husband, four kids and dachshund puppy. She loves the rain. Her blog is and she tweets @nixgilbertca.


The call, when it came, was not what I expected. “Mom? Hi.” Here it comes, I thought. I was ready to say no. I had been ready since the rain started earlier in the day. “Can I go to Noah’s house before bar mitzvah lessons?”

“Nnn-o… wait — what?” This was not the request I’d anticipated. “Oh, sorry. Yes, yes, sure. I’ll come get you for bar mitzvah lessons.”

Hmmm. The rain continued its steady downpour. So much rain, there was nowhere for it to go anymore. It pooled and puddled on top of the once-thirsty grass. I was glad to be watching it from the inside. I hugged my sweater more tightly around me and waited for the others to call.

I was sure they would. They hate walking in the rain. They hate walking at all, but especially in the rain.

It was a little over a year ago that I stopped driving my kids to and from school. I remember the day I informed them, kindly at first, that from then on they would walk the few blocks there and back.

The news was not well received. “Whaaat? But whyyy? It’s only a three-minute drive, Mom! It’s so easy for you. I don’t want to walk to school.”

A deluge of whiny complaints. As steady as rain.

A teeny bit impatiently, I explained that a three-minute drive equals a 10-minute walk, that the air is fresh, that exercise makes our bodies strong and our minds sharp, and that they can talk to each other and see friends along the way.

They were not convinced and not at all happy. It took a while and lots of deep, pretend-patient breaths for me to make them understand that this was the way it was going to be. I couldn’t really blame them for their dismayed reluctance. Believing this was what stay-at-home moms did, I had made myself completely available to each of them for every ride, every snack, every need, every minute of every day, rain or shine, from the moment they were born.“Why can’t you drive us, Mom?” The whining continued. “What are you doing, anyway? You can drive us.”

It’s true I had set it up that way, but it was no longer working. Not for me, who felt unable to accomplish anything productive and fulfilling, and not for them, who bore the brunt of my frustration and were missing out on the chance to develop resilient independence.

Driving them involved traffic delays, pedestrian crossings and illegal U-turns in front of the fire station. Even a three-minute drive meant an interrupted morning, a rushed appointment, an incomplete project. After more than a decade of on-demand parenting, I had discovered things I wanted and needed to do that had nothing to do with my kids, things that made me someone other than their always available mom. Things that were important to me, and that made me happy when I did them.

But on this chilly and wet afternoon, I was sure they would call and ask for a ride home. Because even a year after my Walk-to-School Decree, they would find any excuse not to walk.

I would tell them no, I’d already decided. I was finally catching up on neglected emails and calls after the holidays, and I was enjoying the silence inside and the steady beat of the shower outside. I would remind them to zip up their waterproof jackets, pull the hoods tight around their faces and enjoy the rain.

Water dripped down the windowpanes, and the calls I was expecting didn’t come. I wrote a bit more, checked my watch. Finally I heard them coming up the stairs. His hair was a little damp, and drops of water fell from her jacket onto the rug, but their eyes were shining and their cheeks were rosy, and breathless stories about their day tumbled out between their laughter.

It hadn’t even occurred to them to call me. Turns out they didn’t mind walking in the rain. They came home wet, resilient, independent and happy. It made me happy, too.

“Come on, guys,” I said the next morning, as we greeted yet another wonderfully wet day. “Finish your breakfast. I’ll drive you to school.”

Nicki Gilbert

Nicki Gilbert is a writer, Alcatraz swimmer and country music lover who lives in Piedmont with her husband, four kids and dachshund puppy. Her blog is