When we lived in Germany, my son went on a 4-day, 3-night trip to a youth hostel in the countryside with his class and their teachers. No parents. I went out for dinner with a few other moms on one of those evenings, and I remember how anxious some of them were. The conversation went like this:
I haven’t heard anything.
Have you heard anything?
No, I haven’t heard anything either.
I wonder why we haven’t heard anything.
Shouldn’t we have heard something?
Nothing unusual there, perhaps, but the kids were only 5 and 6 years old at the time. They were finishing Kindergarten, getting ready to start elementary school, and this trip was meant as a special ending to their Kindergarten career. In fact, it was only the first of many class trips: a week at a youth hostel in 3rd grade, a week at a more distant youth hostel (a converted castle!) in 6th grade… Had we stayed in Germany, the exchanges with France and ski weeks in Austria would have begun in 8th and 9th grade.
Summer school holidays in Germany last only 6 weeks. (Children there have more, shorter breaks throughout the year.) So friends often ask me what American kids do with nearly 3 months of summer vacation. I’ve typically answered with an explanation of all the great camps that are available here, but my daughter has reminded me of another important feature of our long summer holidays: Boredom.
For many American teens, experimenting with alcohol is an important act of rebellion. The disparity between the age of majority (18) and the drinking age (21) seems perfectly calculated to fan the flames of righteous adolescent indignation.
The situation is very different in Germany: You need to be 18 to get a driver’s license, but you can purchase and drink wine and beer in public places at 16 – or at 14, if you’re with a parent. When our oldest turned 16 in June, it was no secret he was looking forward to being able to exercise his “rights” while visiting his buddies in Germany this summer.
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.