One morning in Germany, when my daughter was in first grade, she arranged to walk to school with a classmate. Later that same day, I got a brief email from their teacher, letting me know they’d arrived late and suggesting I remind my daughter of the importance of punctuality. My daughter’s explanation: En route, she and her friend had discovered a dead ladybug on the sidewalk. They felt compelled to give the poor creature a decent burial – moment of silence included – and that made them late.
I love that story because, to me, it captures the essence of childhood (or, at least, of first-grade girls). I’d bet it would remind many American parents of their own adventures on the way to school; but the chances of such a story being repeated here today are approaching zero. In this small town, where people frequently tell me they moved here because it’s such a safe environment for kids, few children actually walk to the local elementary school on a regular basis, and most that do are accompanied by a parent.
So, what’s to prevent a caring parent from participating in an impromptu insect funeral? Nothing, but it wouldn’t be the same! Walking to and from school without parents (in a stream of neighborhood kids all doing the same) enabled our children to expand their comfort zone, develop some independence, and – what I love most of all – create their own stories, outside the structured environment of adults.