Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Walking Family

The Conscious Shopper's fascination with car-free living, part 3 (part 1 here and 2 here)

A magnolia flower, plucked on one of our walks

As explained in the last post, my husband and I are the proud owners of only one car between the two of us. One evening a few months ago, my husband and I realized we both wanted the car on the same night. The boys had end-of-year class performances at their school, and my husband had a meeting at our church.

"No problem," I said. "The boys and I will walk home."

My husband dropped me and the three-year-old off at the school to meet the older two boys and then drove away to his meeting. The boys performed marvelously, we splurged on chips and soda to support our PTA, and then when it was time to head home, I had one of those forehead-slapping moments: "Oh, crap. The stroller is in the car."

We're able to take a free circulator bus part of the way between our house and the school, so that left 1.1 miles that we'd have to walk. Without a stroller. Uphill. Both ways. In the snow, I mean humidity.

I started that walk with a grumbling heart, predicting 30 minutes of whining and complaining from the youngest (who would have to walk) and the older two (who would have to carry their own backpacks). I look back on that walk now as one of my favorite memories from last year. Yes, I had to give the three-year-old a piggyback ride most of the way home. Yes, we were all hot and thirsty by the time we plopped onto our couch. But we also got to pick mulberries, inspect insects, carry sticks*, climb a tree, ride the bus, and spend time together.

When I'm behind the wheel of a car, I'm thinking about getting from Point A to Point B. I'm absorbed in obeying traffic rules, watching out for other vehicles, making sure I'm not lost. I'm jamming to music and tuning out the sibling rivalries playing out in the row behind me. When I pick my kids up from carpool, I say, "How was school?" and they mumble fine, and five minutes later, we're home and have moved on to our separate activities.

When I pick my kids up with the stroller, I say, "How was school?" and they mumble fine, and then ten minutes into the walk, it all comes spilling out: what they learned and played and imagined and created. I treasure those moments when (mostly due to the boredom of a long rhythmic walk home), they give me a little glimpse into the seven hours they're away from me.

The house we are currently living in has a WalkScore of 72 (Very Walkable), but even before we moved here, we tried to walk as much as possible - to friends' houses on the other side of the neighborhood or from store to store in a single shopping center. I tell my kids, "We are a walking family," and they've grown accustomed to that status with minimal complaint.

If you'd like to walk more with your kids, here are a few random pieces of advice from our experience as a walking family:
  • Most kids can walk much farther than we typically give them credit. I heard once that you can reasonably expect kids to walk a mile for every year of their age. I've never tested that theory, but for our mile walk home from school, I do have a rule: no school-age kids in the stroller.
  • I Spy is a fabulous tool for distracting little complainers. As are silly songs and made-up stories.
  • Teach your kids how to be safe pedestrians. When we walk, I'm diligent about making sure we are safe, but since I can't always predict what my kids are going to do, we've talked about keeping a safe distance from the curb at intersections, not running in crosswalks, and keeping an eye out for cars backing out of driveways. We also play a Follow the Leader game where one of them tells the rest of us when it's safe to cross an intersection.
  • Make eye contact with drivers before crossing the street. Even if you're in a crosswalk. Even if you think you're clearly visible. Drivers are looking for cars, not pedestrians, so unless you're certain they've seen you, they probably haven't.
  • The most dangerous spots for pedestrians are the entrances to fast food parking lots (drivers are rifling through their food and not looking at the road), the exits of parking structures (drivers are putting away their wallets), and anytime a car is turning onto a one-way street (drivers don't bother to look both ways).
  • If your kids are anything like mine, the complaints will be short-lived. When we first started walking home from school, my boys would launch into pitiful arguments about how they were too hot and tired to walk so far. Luckily, I didn't buy it, and now walking is just part of the routine.
Do you have a walking family? What advice do you have?

*No walk with kids is complete unless at least one child picks up a stick.


Rosa said...

I think you covered all the advice I could possibly give, and great post.

Beautiful photo, too.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

Thanks, Rosa! It helps to have a beautiful subject (of course I'm biased). :)


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