This week we are excited to offer an original story by author Laya Steinberg. Laya is the author of the book All Around Me I See. As a teacher Laya sees how surprised and excited children are to discover the unfolding mysteries at their feet. In her stories, she strives to show our connections to the beauty of nature through simple analogies. To find out more about her work, visit her website at www.layasteinberg.com.
Walking to School
“Are we walking to school today, Mom?”
I look at my son’s eager smiling face and then turn to check the thermometer on the kitchen counter. “I don’t know, hon., it’s seven degrees. You sure you want to?”
I peer out the window at a large rhododendron, its leaves curled inward from the deep freeze.
“Remember our record last year was five degrees.”
I know he’s right–he has a thing with numbers and a memory to match. But my chilled bones resist further exposure to cold–getting out of bed was bad enough.
What started as a first day of school novelty, soon became a daily ritual. Friends and neighbors joined us on our morning trek to school, delivering our children in rain, sleet and snow–well, maybe not sleet.
“Look, Mom, it’s sunny.” He’s decided I need further convincing. He’s right.
“Maybe, but the wind chill is minus 15 degrees. That’s awfully frigid.”
“We’ll bundle up.” He’s starting to sound like me.
The amazing thing about our walk is that it’s become more than a means of transportation or exercise. My son walks shoulder to shoulder with his friends chatting about his latest Webkinz conquest or the school field trip he’s anticipating next week.
The moms do likewise with slight differences in subject matter, but no less enthusiasm.
The group usually stops to greet Bugsy, an orange tabby who loves to coil his tail around any willing leg. But often we are met by more surprising neighborhood residents.
We’re escorted by all manner of birds including the occasional red-tailed hawk. One spring we happened upon a normally reclusive large turtle gone astray from its river home. A family of raccoons made a special daylight debut just for us. And once we came to a frozen halt as a mother red fox and her seven fur ball pups strode across a nearby lawn. We talked about that episode for days, feeling lucky to have witnessed such a spectacle.
Then there’s the requisite 3rd grade leaf collecting assignment, gathering last minute handfuls of reds, yellows and oranges; the momentous first snowfall; and weeks of mid-winter fun sliding across frozen puddles that dot the back field.
I look forward to spotting the first crocus, and watching the trees dress in their spring green finery. The kids enjoy hunting for blue shell fragments discarded by a hatched robin. Once, they were lucky enough to discover a whole shell, split neatly down the middle. My son carried it gently to school to share with his classmates and teacher. And blessed is the day that even shorts and t-shirts feel too hot to wear.
There’s something grounding about having a transition between sleep and school–the unplugged neutral zone where child meets nature–if only for 15 brisk minutes. It’s a chance for both of us to undress the complexities of our lives down to the bare bones–friendship, fresh air, fitness. It’s an opportunity to order our thoughts and ready our minds. After school all bets are off. The fiendish carpool frenzy begins. At least the tone of our day starts with some peace and simplicity.
“Come on, Mom!” my son implores. He’s already donned full body weather protection, leaving a narrow band of skin showing across his eyes.
“Ohhh-kaay,” I moan, stepping into my snow-pants. “You win.”
The wind pushes against our backs adding speed to our steps. Finally we reach the main road and wait for the crossing guard to wave us across.
“You’re the only ones today,” she calls out as we pass.
My son looks up at my foggy sunglasses. His squinty eyes tell me he’s beaming under that scarf.
We get blown across the field and stop at the school door.
“Bye, Mom. Love you.”
I kiss his pink cheeks. “Love you, too.”