When I lived in Germany, I would walk my oldest daughter to her elementary school, Bonifatiusschule in Göttingen, taking her younger sister with me. After the drop-off, the younger one and I would typically cut into the old city to pick up fresh bread for the day and to get our breakfast before taking her to Kindergarten. By American standards, the walks were long. By European standards, they were quite normal.
My daughter would talk my ear off as we scooted along through the narrow streets, and it was often difficult for me focus on her thousands of questions. I decided to do something more determined with our time. One day, I wrote these words on a flashcard:
Into my heart an air that kills,
From yon far country blows.
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain.
The happy highways where I went,
And cannot come again.
The first time I recited these words to my daughter, we were at a stoplight, waiting to cross a busy street. She smiled and asked me to read it again. On the other side of the street, I repeated the poem. We continued this for the entire walk that first day and, in almost no time at all, she had memorized the text.
This became our custom. Together, we learned poem after poem and she, more often than not, would have to correct me. We eventually made a game out of it. One of us would recite a line from memory, then the other would have to immediately recite the next line. This would continue until one of us was stumped. Again, more often than not, it was me.
What had previously seemed like a hassle–having to weather the weather no matter whether it was good or bad weather to get the kids where they needed to be whether they liked it or not–had become one of the best and most productive parts of our day.
In time, my daughter will likely forget our walks–those happy highways where we went. But the lyrics will, I hope, always be with her.