Walking with the boys

boy and mom 2About 4:00 pm I start watching my phone. I turn it face up and switch from silent to a low hum. Just in case. And again at 6:00 ish. I know their schedules. This is when my sons might call. One is walking home from school in the afternoon and the other from work at night. The windows of opportunity are from five to twenty minutes and if I miss them, it might be a few days before the walking and the inspiration align again.

I have no illusions where I fall in a twenty-something’s order of priorities. Evening plans have been texted, playlists played, messages called back and messages left. But when all other forms of entertainment have been exhausted, and if they are walking, they will call mom.

One tells me about his ideas. We discuss concepts like disruption and narrative world building and color and heteronormative bias. I ask questions and connect images and stretch beyond my day of spreadsheets and slides to keep up with his whirling, brilliant mind. One tells me about his day. We discuss strategies like workload management and incremental development and facilitation and change response. I ask questions and connect phrases and stretch beyond my day of egos and politics to marvel at his openness and ability to read and manage people. To both I agree that life is indeed hard, but also full of wonder, and that they are extraordinary and will make meaningful change in the world. Then they arrive somewhere and hang up.

At some point I heard a lecture about the difference between how boys and girls communicate. I do not remember the speaker’s name, but the information she shared resonated. Girl talk face to face, they speak directly and seek for commonality. “You have a dress with blue flowers! I have a blue dress! We are friends!” Boys talk side by side, must be moving, and look for hierarchical comparisons. “I can throw a ball to that house.” “I can throw a ball to that tree.” “I could throw a ball to the moon!” I decided that my one consistent parenting effort would be to walk with the boys every day. After work, first in a stroller, then a red wagon, and finally side by side. One at a time or both together, their legs bringing to life the zombie with an “ok” day, replaced by a chatty human being who revealed every detail of what had happened in school. It was miraculous to participate in the transformation. Rules developed in the process however. I found that I could ask, listen and comment on what they told me. But no lecturing, no getting in trouble, no personal information–all them, all the time. The minute I launched into “when I was your age . . .” I could see the shifting shut down and dropped the story. “Tell me how far you can throw a ball?”

From baby to boy to teen to somewhere between 4:00 and 7:00 pm, we have been able to keep the conversation going. When they come to visit, one of the first things they want to do is go for a walk. It is not always a path strewn with sunshine. “Why are you always so strident?” one son asked me on a walk when he was about seventeen. I said, “I am only one voice amid a cacophony of voices. And I have a limited time to teach you our values. So we go on walks. And sometimes I challenge you. Also I talk loud.” Now as adults they challenge me back, their own discoveries and experiences pushing me toward wider, deeper thinking about the world.   

When my oldest son first went to college, I was perplexed why he only called me when he was walking to and from places. I supposed literary attributions. Perhaps he called when he transitioned from one space to another like the metaphoric movement from one stage of life to another. Maybe it was the uncertainty of passage that caused him to reach out to a parent, the guide of his past life, to help navigate the future. Once he arrived at the destination he was in charge, empowered, no longer in need. It was in-the-in-between that his confidence waned.

Then I realized that my musings were grand and even silly. It is actually Pavlov simple. I conditioned them. When walking something nudges, what should I be doing right now? I wonder if mom is near her phone?

It was never an activity I thought would last, or was even important. Everyone takes their children on walks. But life is an accumulation of steps that we are barely realize we are making. We wander in the direction that seems best and look around us for clues as to what to do next. Every time my phone lights up with the name of one of my sons, it is a gift I never take for granted. One more step, one more conversation to add to the many we have shared over the years, moving in time to whatever pace we set.

Pandora

Pandora spends most of her time tinkering with bits of words, fabric and yarn. She lives in Chicago with her husband and a pug. She has two grown up sons who have many adventures.

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12 Responses

  1. Libby says:

    Love this! I need to start taking walks with my little guy.

  2. Aimee says:

    This concept has changed my parenting plan forever! And if in these walks are as much a Pavlovian exercise as anything, I’m walking Sylvie too! Thanks for this, friend.

  3. Heather says:

    i could read you all day.

  4. Molly says:

    Pandora, I loved this post. My 7-year-old son is a fountain of words whenever we hike. Truly, he hardly catches his breath on the trail. It’s pulling teeth to get a straight answer from him the rest of the time, and now I have a little bit more understanding why. I only hope I too can create a strong enough Pavlovian response to his walking that he will think to call his mother when he is no longer under my roof. Time to create those habits. Thank you.

  5. Liz says:

    Love this. Now that you mention it, my boys are definitely the most talkative on the walk to/from the bus stop. This makes me want to take the long route, and to make sure we keep walking even when the bus isn’t involved.

  6. violadiva says:

    This is such a sweet connection. Thank you for sharing a great idea! My boys are still little so I’m usually stuffing them in the stroller so I can talk to another grown-up instead, but I think they need to get out and walk with me from now on.
    and this: “I am only one voice amid a cacophony of voices. And I have a limited time to teach you our values. So we go on walks. And sometimes I challenge you. Also I talk loud.”
    I am memorizing this for when they’re older!! Thanks, Pandora.

  7. Patty says:

    Okay, who wants to go for a walk with me? I wish I had developed the same habit. Kinda jealous!

  8. marta says:

    your writing is wonderfully evocative. this walking thing works for girls, too. i take frequent walks with kids and grandkids. they tell me things.

  9. Melissa says:

    Beautiful

  10. Caroline says:

    Love this, Pandora. I need to start instituting evening walks with my kids. I’m inspired.

  11. Ziff says:

    I love this, Pandora.

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