Walking on a Mountain
edited: Tuesday, August 26, 2008
By Julie Larose
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Tuesday, August 26, 2008
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One can find spellbinding moments with one's children in such simple acts as taking walks together.
The sun rose high and hot on that July day, but only reached down to us as dancing spots of light. “It’s like we’re walking in Narnia,” Jessica, my eight-year-old, observes. “I wonder what it’ll look like in winter. Even more like the movie!”
A part of me did feel as though we were wandering within a fairy-tale land, where time stood still and anything was possible. On this day, we were walking the forest paths of Mont-Saint-Bruno, a provincial park near my parents’ home. I carried my one-year-old son in a sling, while my two daughters took turns toting the backpack with water and snacks. While I had come here often as a teenager, either alone or with friends, this was the first time I brought my children to the mountain.
“Know what? I can count to a hundred in French. Wanna hear me?” five-year-old Alice asks me as she skips along.
“Sure, go for it,” I reply. We have plenty of time and nowhere to be.
This summer, in these cherished moments, I have come to realize a valuable new benefit to walking. In addition to the exercise and fresh air, it is a precious way to connect with my family. While we walk, I can really talk to my children and listen to them, without the many distractions that we find at home.
Going for a walk seems to be the perfect environment for free association, where my children express whatever thought comes into their head. Some of the questions they ask stretch my knowledge past its limit.
“Mama, if we fly to the other side of the sky, can we see heaven?” Alice asks as the branches part overhead and wispy clouds float past.
These opportunities to chat as we wander are especially relevant for my youngest daughter. Alice has Sensory Integration Dysfunction, meaning that her brain interprets information from her senses differently than most people. Artificial lights and sounds can be overwhelming; her vestibular system seeks constant motion; she struggles with verbal expression. However, walking outdoors stimulates her senses, coordinates her movements, organizes her thoughts and helps loosen her tongue.
Our walking excursions do not even need to be long in order to be beneficial. Walking to the post office, the soccer field, and the video store are a regular part of the week in our small town. I have noticed that the conversational nature of walking offers benefits to the children I baby-sit as well: The chatterboxes can share long narratives without interruptions, while the quiet ones often see something they want to talk about. There always seems to be a discovery to make, a lesson to reinforce, or a story to share, even on the most oft-trodden routes.
I have read about saving important discussions with teenagers for car trips, but I plan to wait a long while before using this approach. For now, I prefer walking into town beside Jessica, where she still automatically reaches for my hand. She asks me about her changing body, about why families are different, about God. One day, she will be too cool to walk with her mother. Until then, I cherish these moments.
On the mountain, we are crossing a meadow filled with wildflowers as I enjoy the magic of Alice’s chatter. Even baby Martin babbles happily in the summer breeze. Suddenly, Jessica’s hoarse whisper silences us all: “Look over there!” Six feet away, in the tall grass bordering the trees, stands a beautiful deer. We all watch in wonder as the doe turns and heads back to the forest. As she approaches the trees, her spotted fawn stands and follows her into the woods. We are spellbound for several minutes, and then talk of the deer peppers our discussions over the rest of the summer.
The conversations I have shared with my children on our walks have been wonderful gifts. Equally so have the moments of silence.