“Few people know how to take a walk. The qualifications are endurance, plain clothes, old shoes, an eye for nature, good humor, vast curiosity, good speech, good silence, and nothing too much.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
As our family makes the turn from driveway to sidewalk, the neighbors’ heads turn. We are a can’t miss parade of two adults, four kids and an assortment of bikes, scooters, a Radio Flyer, a doll stroller, rain boots, at least one kid with shoes on the wrong feet, and another sporting a Popsicle stained shirt. Our clothes are comfy, our sneakers well worn, and our hair long past its AM control. A couple of us might be grumpy or distracted, yet when we step away from homework folders and dishes, cell phones and bill paying, a family walk realigns us.
We don’t do it all the time, but it is a thing we do.
It’s ordinary, so simple that we barely consider our stroll from cul-de-sac to cul-de-sac anything of value. But I’ve been reassessing.
With the big kids at school, my three-year-old daughter and I sometimes take morning walks. I’m thinking exercise and she’s grateful to place her hand in mine and have my full attention. But when our tennis shoes hit concrete, my thoughts go to unanswered texts and unfolded laundry. She experiences the wonders that each step forward brings: a dandelion’s pop of yellow, teeming ant hills, dried up worms, and prickly pine cones. Her goals are to pet dogs and wave at neighbors driving by. I want to burn calories and head back to my house full of tasks. She wants to stop at the neighborhood playground or throw sticks off a bridge.
But then yesterday, as I drug her along, I heard myself.
“Let’s go,” I urged.
“Hurry up. We need to get home.”
“We’ll stop at the playground tomorrow.”
For her, it was us in the moment. For me, it was a “get the kids outside” bullet on my good mommy checklist. Expectations different, one of us enjoyed it, and one of us completed the task.
Family life easily slips into management. It’s full with school, work, extended family, voice mails, church, party invites, soccer, grocery lists, and book reports, swirled together with emotional, spiritual, medical, and physical needs. But I long for it to be full in other ways. I want connection, giggles, processing the school day talks, inside jokes, breaking bread, piggy back rides, wild flower bouquets, and being fully awake to creative Play Doh creations. I don’t want to miss the sacredness of our small and ordinary.
When considering intentional family life, I can start to feel overwhelmed with mommy guilt. The list of what I am not doing is long, the meaningful conversations minimal, the record of wrongs ever-growing, the time spent rushing dominating, and the task list consuming. I’d like to exercise together more, react better, do family devotionals, get one on one with each kid, turn off Daniel Tiger and read aloud, make messy masterpieces, have long talks over the dinner table, bake healthy muffins, and practice math facts. Unfortunately, I can’t fit it all in.
But we can walk. With some simple intention, after a finished meal, or before a Saturday fills, we can lace up our kicks and hit the pavement.
It won’t cure all our problems or meet all our needs. But with our bodies moving in the same direction, we’re sure to speak. When we walk together with arms swinging and eyes facing forward, words spill more freely. Distractions removed, we hear each other differently, listen more.
“Methinks that the moment my legs began to move, my thoughts began to flow.” – Henry David Thoreau
My rag tag, work in progress family lives in a messy world. So as I type, my obsessed with productivity self still wonders how I can waste words on something as frivolous as walking. But what other practical formula for hope I can offer most days than to connect with, and build into, the people we’ve been given to shepherd?
Is a walk going to change this heavy with hate world? No, but it could influence my growing world changers. Psalm 127:4 calls children “arrows in the hands of a warrior.” As we lead our band of little arrows around the block, we can sharpen their impact on the hurting world by processing our reactions to scary news stories, playground dynamics, and workplace politics.
Walking with dishes dirty, texts unread, TV turned off, and boxes on to our do lists left unchecked, is unproductive, yet deeply fruitful. I can watch our five year old play “Simon Says” with his shadow while holding hands with my almost eight year old who is nearing when her hand won’t reach for mine quite so often. So no matter how hard the world news, or how bad the day, a walk reminds me that simple family beauty, so often missed in the worship of productivity, still remains ours for the seizing.
So we walk. We share stories, carefully broach topics needing to be discussed, or simply choose shared silence with sky above us and grass surrounding us. We greet neighbors, notice flowers blooming, and carry a tiring preschooler. Our little arrows pick leaves (sorry neighbors), kick rocks, and run ahead.
Family walks rank in the league of family dinners, without the prep and clean-up. Though somebody usually complains about going, resistance is forgotten once we step off the driveway. It’d be incredible to pack trail mix and head to a nature trail, but that doesn’t fit into the average, ordinary day. Most days it’s sidewalks and zig-zagging between parked cars and big green cans awaiting trash trucks.
I’ve reassessed the ordinary and am learning to walk all over again. Think I’ll reach for some little hands and hit the sidewalk.