Side Walking

when putting one foot in front of the other just isn’t enough

Mike Paulus

My son does not like to walk. He likes to ride. I know this because he always asks to go on “walks,” but as soon as we head towards the sidewalk, he races into the garage only to emerge on his bike or his sister’s old tricycle or his scooter or the old plastic push-bike thing for which he’s way too big (and has been for over two years). He merrily wheels himself to the end of the driveway, helmet strapped, ready for adventure.

However. Somedays his parents want everyone to walk. Everyone. So we tell my son he must ditch the wheels and use his feet.

He does not respond with grace.

After the prerequisite amount of whining, he demands to know whyyyyyyy he must walk. And there are many reasons. We say he needs to walk so we can have sparkling conversations. So together we can stumble upon wonderful learning opportunities. So we can play at having mysterious adventures, and so we can laugh and fill our lungs with the joyful gust of life.

My son jumps off his bike and kind of grumpy-runs down to the corner, his arms held stiff at his sides, his feet a blur of angry little steps, his face drooping into a frown. He stops at the end of the sidewalk to whirl around and stare at me – his eyes only halfway open, taking on the weird, sleepy intensity of a chubby-cheeked demon – livid yet defeated.

As a family, dammit.

But he just doesn’t care. So sometimes, to compromise, I tell him it’s OK to walk ahead of the family as long as he stops at the corner and waits for us. He jumps off his bike and kind of grumpy-runs down to the corner, his arms held stiff at his sides, his feet a blur of angry little steps, his face drooping into a frown. He stops at the end of the sidewalk to whirl around and stare at me – his eyes only halfway open, taking on the weird, sleepy intensity of a chubby-cheeked demon – livid yet defeated. His lower lip juts out.

It’s a look that says, “This I swear to you, Father – One day I will rise up, cast off these iron shackles and have my bitter revenge. Swiftly it shall come, as razor sharp eagle talons fly to their prey. Think of this as you lie awake in the quiet hours of the night. And tremble.”

It’s quite a face. Sometimes it takes the entire walk (all 20 minutes of it) before he lightens up. Until then, it’s block after block of pouting and harrumphing and the occasional giggle when he forgets he’s supposed to be mad at us.

But hey, we’re not monsters. Most of the time, we just let him ride whatever multi-wheeled contraption on which he scoots from the garage. He tears down to he corner, turns around, races back to us, and repeats until we cross the street together.

He’s a safe kid. When we do cross a street, he usually looks left and right, as well as forward and backward so ALL ROADWAYS ARE COVERED. He actually says “check” under his breath for each street.

It seems like the days of holding my son’s hand as we stroll together down the sidewalk are all but over. However, sometimes when we’re walking someplace new or when we’re in a parking lot, he reaches up and grabs my hand. I think it’s just kind of instinctual for him. Some part of his “lizard brain” kicks in and he looks to his parents for basic safety and comfort. It’s awesome. It’s one of the things you miss most after it’s gone. So when it happens, I hold on tight.

Thankfully, his older sister still loves holding hands, and she’s more than happy to walk right beside us as we meander down the sidewalk. And make no mistake – “meander” is truly the word for how she travels. Walking in a straight line has never been my daughter’s strong suit, and I’m pretty sure she gets that from me. What can I say? I list while I saunter.

At the end of the day I really don’t have much to complain about. Whether he’s running, pedaling, or harrumphing, it’s just a blast to see my son scramble down the walkway. He likes to move, and he’s lucky enough to find himself in a little body that does just that. If he happens to be moving a little faster than me, that’s OK.

I trust we’ll both end up right where we want to be.

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