"OK, but you must be very careful when you cross the road."
"Make sure you're at the top of the hill when you cross so that you can see in all directions."
"And which way should you look?"
"And once you've crossed, where should you walk?"
"On the side of the road!"
"Not in the middle!"
"Good girls. OK. Have fun."
"We will!" the 7-year-old best friends shouted. They ran happily out the door and across the lawn, stopped to join hands, and then, with caution to gladden the hearts of any mother, set off carefully up the road -- on the side.
It is always a little anxiety-making to send a child into the world unsupervised for the first time, but there was surely no nicer day for it. The air was soft and sweet, the neighborhood abloom with forsythia, tulips, violets and dandelions, and the air almost glowing in the peachy light of late afternoon.
Pretty soon the girls were back. They looked thrilled.
"We played a trick on someone," they announced.
"That doesn't sound very nice."
"Well, it wasn't really a trick. It was -- "
"We put a row of flower petals on someone's car!"
I laughed. "OK, but no mean tricks."
They assured me that they would never, ever play a mean trick. Then, having rummaged around for paper and crayons, the two girls set to work on some sort of project.
"We're going back out again soon," they informed me.
"Ah, I think you mean: May we go back out again?"
"May we go back out again?"
"Of course. But remember. You must always check with a grown-up first."
"We will," they said, joyfully working away with their crayons.
I started preparing dinner, and a short time later, heard the front door open and close. Then it opened again, and my 7-year-old called into the house: "May we go back out again?"
"Yes, you may," I called back.
As the girls recounted later, the next few minutes were deeply exciting. In the lovely sunshine, they made their way toward the home of a neighbor, a friend of both their families, and saw her standing on her lawn. She was talking on a cellphone and gesticulating.
The neighbor did not notice the two girls approaching. She did not notice the two tricksters walking up to her house. She did not observe them leaving something in front of her door. In fact, she was still talking and gesticulating, unaware, as the giggling pair made their escape.
That night, the neighbor got in touch.
"Did your daughter and her friend, by any chance, just receive permission to walk around the neighborhood by themselves?"
I allowed that this was so.
"Do you know what they left on my doorstep?"
"Petals?" I guessed.
"Flowers, actually, a whole bunch of them," she said, and her voice wavered slightly. "But they also left a beautiful card that read, 'Dear Mrs. Freedom, we love you.' I can't tell you how happy it made me."
"Mrs. Freedom? But they know your last name is -- "
"I know! But think about. Subconsciously, the girls chose my house SEmD the farthest point from yours SEmD and my name, Freeman, as a symbol of their newfound ... freedom! I bet they didn't even notice what they were doing."
Whether or not her theory was correct, our neighbor was charmed; and so, as you can imagine, was I.
Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.