Lately I have been getting up to more trouble than ever before in my attempts to let Elli stretch her limits. A few weeks ago she decided that on our walk home she wanted to take a different route than I. This is a lot less crazy than it sounds at first glance because there on the four block walk home there are two paths - one runs along a major street and the other is a series of alleys and parking lots that runs parallel to the main road about 20 yards separate. Letting her do the whole route herself seemed like a bad idea so I settled on having her go along the back alley while I went down the main street so that we could meet at the next street. I figured we could cross each street together and go down separate paths between them.
Initially everything went well and Elli was extremely excited about taking a different path than I even though she was only separated from me for roughly a 50 meter walk. The trouble started when we got to the last block where I sent her on the main street while I took the back way; on this block the back street had some parking and it would have been difficult for her to go by herself entirely safely. I finished my block and waited for her at the street... and she did not come. I wandered up to the main street and saw that a group of ladies had corralled her, obviously trying to keep her from wandering off on her own. I walked up to the group and was treated to a chorus of "Um... she said her daddy was in the back alley?" and "We were worried about her..." but they didn't do anything as we wandered away. I don't much like the idea of people interfering where they aren't wanted or needed but they were clearly just concerned for her.
The next time we tried the same experiment it went much worse. Elli and I separated at the corner and I jogged down the street, through the parking lot and over to the next street. No Elli. I wandered up to the intersection and looked along the main street towards the spot where Elli and I had parted. No Elli. I could see the entire route she would have walked and any area she might reasonably have gone and there was nothing to be seen. I walked down the main street almost to where we parted, still saw nothing, and then turned around and retraced my entire route. I suspect a lot of people would be going a little bit buggy at this point but I was sure that Elli had just decided to be funny and hide somewhere along the way to play a game with me; she loves to hide under sandwich boards. When I finally got all the way back to the spot where Elli and I had split up I found her standing at the corner with another older girl. The other girl was happy to leave once she saw me arrive as Elli was really upset. It turns out she was mad because as I had left she had decided to ask me a question... and because I didn't hear her she sat at the corner and pouted until I came all the way back. We had a bit of a terse conversation about meeting people where you say you are going to meet them instead of pouting on a street corner and continued home.
I find it amusing to watch people on the street as Elli is running along. They stand there and look around, hunting for the associated adult. They hesitate, obviously wondering if they should step in and grab her or assume that since she is clearly going somewhere with a purpose that everything must be fine. This, more than anything, makes me utterly confident in letting her do these things. The world has a few really bad people in it to be sure but in a crowded place nearly everyone is worried about a little child they don't even know.