Walk to school is outdoor classroom for father, son

Tom Willadsen

 

"Bye, Dad."

My fifth grader dismissed me this morning as we started to cross the last street before his school. It seems that each day I am dismissed a little earlier. This has been coming for a long time. Actually, this has been coming since he was born. Each step a child takes is a step toward independence and a step away from mom and dad.

Until this year he would hold my hand until we got to the playground.

I do not recall ever negotiating this explicitly, but for some reason I have been in charge of breakfast, packing lunches and getting both boys to school for the last 11 years.

Our older boy started kindergarten the day we brought his brother home from the hospital. Usually I would take the baby with me when we walked to school. It is always good to be outside and it gave my wife a few minutes of peace and quiet at the start of every day.

Walking to school has been my favorite time of the day ever since the first day of school.

We notice things on the way: leaves, clouds, sundogs, birds. Sometimes we pick up a stick and make tracks in the snow like Peter in "The Snowy Day." In February we spotted a freshly-dug hole in the front yard. Black soil was sprayed on the thin layer of snow. A squirrel had just dug up his breakfast that had been buried since autumn.

Every spring and fall we watch the birds migrate. When David was in kindergarten I asked if he knew why one leg of a V-formation is longer than the other. He did not have a guess, so I informed him, "more geese." This may be the oldest and stupidest joke ever, but David only figured that out in about third grade. These days my beloved, classic joke gets an eye roll.

Once he dropped his lunch box in a snow drift by mistake. "Now I really have a cold lunch," he observed. I have watched his sense of humor evolve on our daily trips to school.

Our neighbors can set their watches by us — and we by them. We do not know most of these people by name, just by sight and routine. Most mornings we wave at "the bus driver lady" as she passes us on Bowen Street. It was years before we learned the crossing guard's name. We called him "The Lollipop Man," because his stop sign looks like a giant, octagonal lollipop.

One rainy morning I spotted a wasps' nest that had fallen onto a neighbor's yard. On my way home, I rang the bell and asked if I could have it.

"What if there are still wasps in it?" my neighbor asked.

"Then it's my problem."

He let me keep it and it still hangs in our family room. It is a genuine work of natural art, surprisingly light for its size.

My favorite memory was the day we spotted a rat as it ran into the storm sewer. It was huge and snarky and had a long, skinny tale. David could not wait to tell his classmates that he had seen a rat. I told my friends at the Rotary Club.

"Was it huge?"

"Cornfed!"

Kids who get driven to school simply miss out on the wonders of nature.

David prefers cloudy days. I prefer sunny days, so one of us is always happy. One warm day last spring, when the snow was melting, I pointed out that the snow was sublimating, that is going directly from solid to gas form, without becoming a liquid. Now I'm sure a person can live a long, full life without a parent seizing that particular teachable moment, but I figure I need to cram my son's head full of arcane trivia while I can.

David's last day of fifth grade is Thursday. Next year I expect he will walk to school by himself.

Northwestern Community Columnist the Rev. Thomas C. Willadsen is pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Oshkosh. He has lived in Oshkosh since 1999. Email columnists@thenorthwestern.com

Published June 6, 2012, Oshkosh Northwestern