It was a typical Sunday-morning family excursion—it could have been to the Bed, Bath, & Beyond to pick up a mirror for Penny, a laundry hamper for Myron, and some shelves for baby Fitz. “Wait,” Myron declared when we passed the car in our driveway. “We’re walking?”
His tone equated walking to something incomprehensibly stupid, like punching yourself in the face really hard. My kids’ antipathy towards, you know, using their legs complicates my life and Chantel’s, since we prefer the activity to any motorized transportation. I consider strolling to school a key part of our morning routine, and the kids have made complaining about it a key part of theirs. “Why do we walk when we have a car?” my daughter whines.
They’re not alone in this: Many parents prefer to drive. The parking spots around the school are full of SUVs and minivans, idling while rug rats spill out; U of T found that the proportion of kids who walk to school has decreased by 10 per cent in the past 20 years. That drives me crazy, because I think it’s a privilege to walk to school. “Guys,” I tell my kids. “I used to have to take a bus to school. We spent a lot of money to buy a house downtown, where everything’s walkable. We’re not taking the car!”
The benefits of walking have been well documented. As we trudge the sidewalks, we participate in the life of the city. We see our neighbours, local storekeepers, random dogwalkers, and we notice things about the world—the condition of the park, the mood of the guy staring out the window of the coffee shop. Walking encourages us to care for the city in which we live.
Walking is physically good for you, obviously. A little less obviously, it’s also good for the brain. Of the 2,500 students surveyed last year by a British health-technology company called Intelligent Health, a full 80 per cent of those who walked to school reported better concentration once they arrived. Kids who get exercise report fewer ADHD-associated problems, too.
But however frequently I laid out these arguments, the kids weren’t buying it. They hated walking. And then one morning, a few months ago, I pictured the activity from their perspective. There we were, late as usual to swimming lessons, me pulling Penny by the hand to get her to walk faster, while simultaneously admonishing Myron for playing in a snowbank. “Guys, we’re really in a hurry!” I said in an irritated tone.
It occurred to me: No wonder the kids despise walking. It often involves me nagging them, rushing them, and generally making the experience super-unpleasant.
So I started leaving more room for walking. We began to take off for school 10 minutes earlier, and the extra time opened up the possibilities for play. It let us kick around a soccer ball or engage in piggybacks; it let Penny stand on the tops of my feet while we shuffled along. By building in more time to get to the anime store where Myron picks out his Pokemon manga, we were able to transform a bike rack into a jungle gym or try shortcuts that turned out to be extreme longcuts.
One recent Tuesday afternoon, I packed up the kids well in advance of when they were due at their mother’s place for dinner. We wandered out into the springtime sunshine and discussed the various routes we could take, picking one of the neighbourhood’s alleys and navigating imaginary tightropes created by parking curbs. “See how much fun we’re having, kids?” I said, my arms spread to improve my balance. “Isn’t walking great?”
“We should have taken the car,” Penny grumbled.
We’re not there yet. But I’m savouring the journey.