Thursday, July 19, 2007

Walks and reflections thereon

I am sure that I have mentioned before that we go for lots of walks. We slowed down a lot after having the baby, but we've started to pick it back up again now that he is big enough to sit up in a stroller. I like to try to get out with the kids first thing in the morning after breakfast, dressing and potty times. That way we are more likely to do it (it is also cooler, summer around here can be beastly hot at times). Our usual walk is about 8/10ths of a mile. I can walk it no problem, but now with three kids we have had to make adjustments.

For a while, the four-year old was riding a tricycle while we walked, but I think she is growing too big for it since she has been less interested in riding it. In fact, the last couple of times she rode it, we had to turn around after passing only 5 houses to return it back home. Now she is more inclined to walk. But, since she has shorter legs than Mommy and less stamina, we have to take breaks every now and then. We usually have to stop four to five times during a typical walk. She seems to enjoy it and I've noticed some things lately that I've wondered if it is the result of walking in the neighborhood a lot, or if it is just part of her personality and maturity level. She's been going for walks with me of varying frequency and length since she was a newborn riding in a baby carrier. It is only now that she has started greeting people we meet with a cheerful "Good Morning!" Last year she would have complained that I need to keep moving if I stopped to talk to a neighbor. She has always been in her own little world, so I am wondering if her world is opening a window to reality from time to time. Another interesting thing is that she used to always want to go the route that took us by a yard with an abundance of lawn ornaments (we call it "visiting the frogs"). Now she wants to go another route we would take from time to time that allows us to greet an old man who sits in a wheelchair in his driveway in good weather. He doesn't seem to speak much English but he likes to smile and wave. She seems to be wanting to smile and wave back these days. She seems to be seeing little occasions like this as a highlight now, instead of an interruption. I am not sure what to make of it, but I am inclined to think that this is an improvement for our daughter and something to be encouraged.

Now her sister (the two year old) is the one in her own little world (though in a more social way) who is likely to tell a person encountered about her favorite video highlight with no context at all. Of course she doesn't enunciate very clearly so they usually can't understand her. She usually rides in the stroller. We have a double stroller so that she and her little brother can ride together side by side. However, she has been behaving herself well enough that she can get out and walk with us on occasion. She doesn't usually make the whole walk (even with rest stops).

Baby boy (now 5 1/2 months) just enjoys the ride and usually is falling asleep by the end of it.

Keeping all of this in mind, I have a few observations:

1. Most of the people we meet on our walks are either people who walk/run for exercise, walk dogs, or get outside to spend time enjoying the outdoors or working in their yards. Most but not all of these people are older than I am by at least 10 years (I just turned 40). Occasionally we meet people who don't get out much, these are usually other parents (with kids) who appear to be younger than myself by at least 10 years. I've seen a trend that the older the person, the more likely they are to stop and talk to me or the kids. They are quick to respond to my oldest daughter's "Good Morning!" The younger the person, the more they seem to be embarassed out of their routine and respond a little hesitantly and self-consciously. The youngest group of parents with kids, which we have the most in common with are the least communicative. The kids just stare and the parents try to ignore us even when we are approaching from opposite directions on the same sidewalk. My theory is that the older generation is more used to encountering and talking with people. Those that are a little hesitant, have developed what I call the urban shell (I'll stick to my business, you stick to yours, and we will happily ignore each other), but it isn't their usual personality and breaks down after repeated encounters. The youngest group don't have a lot of experience interacting with people outside their usual groups. They are used to being around a narrow range of people and going outside their house in a suburb is a wilderness trek. The kids, well, it's still a novelty to them as it was to my own. If you have any other theories to explain it I would love to hear them.

2. My kids do OK with these walks because I don't give them a choice. If I gave my oldest daughter the choice she would stay inside and read or draw rather than go for a walk. Since she has outgrown the stroller, I had to get creative and offer the choice of walk or ride the tricycle so that she would be even slightly cooperative. Now it is just a matter of "it is time for the walk, let's go." My children ride in a side by side stroller and behave themselves because I insist that they learn manners from that tender age. They must learn to keep their hands to themselves and not aggravate their neighboring stroller mate. This type of thinking works in other areas of life too. They are not allowed to behave badly in the grocery store or they lose the privilege of being on the outting (it is a treat to accompany one of the parents to a store). They learn to sit quietly in church because we insist that they learn that skill (sometimes on the front row). They learn to travel on road trips without electronic entertainment. They learn to do things for themselves as soon as they are able, because they have to learn self-sufficiency and self-esteem by doing and not by being catered to.

3. I think my kids are developing the mental and physical habits of an active lifestyle. Getting out to walk nearly daily is what they expect in life. Then there are the times to play in the backyard (we got a house with a big backyard for that very purpose). They are limited to two videos a day and no TV (we don't own a TV). As a result of this they play imaginative games. We read a lot. We listen to music. We do schoolwork. We do art. My four year old is becoming a master of making props and toys she wants from construction paper. We make up stories. We bake bread and desserts together. They help their Daddy with his work projects whenever possible.

4. These benefits were not what we planned for when we started our journey of parenting. The walks were for Mommy (I needed exercise and knew it would be good for my physical health as well as my getting out of the house was good for my psychological health). Now they are doing the same good things for our kids. Not giving our kids a choice about some things started as an early lesson in parenting 101. If you give your kid a choice that then determines your actions, you have just made the kid your boss. Do we ever give our kids choices? Sure, but not when we already have a desired outcome in mind. Is it hard work to make our kids behave the way we want them too? Of course. They don't always do what we want, but that is what discipline is for. You train your children until they develop self-discipline. My kids are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I see the difference between them and similarly aged kids when I am around other families who do things differently. Do I ever wish my kids were like someone else's? Yes. Usually when we are having a particularly trying time. But, reality is that they wouldn't be. Their parents were out of sync with their peers all their lives and our kids will be too. Thankfully, we've been there and can help them navigate their own path.

I take heart that little decisions we made for our kids benefit in the beginning are already bearing fruit so early. It makes me think that even bigger decisions (I haven't even talked about homeschooling in this post) can have a bigger impact. Have you ever had the experience of taking the little travelled road in your life? How did it feel for you?

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