Yesterday we all jumped in the car ten minutes before the school bell was due to go, and it wouldn’t start. The battery had died, and no amount of furious turning of the key was changing anything. Luckily, we live barely a mile from the school, and although it was a chilly 28F, we could still bundle up and make it there on our own steam. Red hopped on his bike and I dug out the stroller for Smalls. We used to bike and run to school on days I didn’t work when the weather was better, when I didn’t have a sore knee, all the usual excuses. Apart from Red panicking that he’d miss the tardy bell, it was an enjoyable sprint down the hill, and we were only a few minutes late.
But then the rest of the day spread out before me. Smalls and I had lots of plans; gymnastics class, a grocery store trip, a playdate for him while I volunteered at school with a service project. It was all going to have to be put on hold. The only requirement was to be back at the school at 3.15 to pick up Red.
So Smalls and I did something we hadn’t done for a while; we wandered around the neighborhood. We stopped at the local market, which is right opposite the school, to fuel up on coffee and hot chocolate and a peanut butter cookie bigger than Smalls’ head.
Then we wandered. We looked at leaves, at pumpkins that were still sitting out, at the color of doors. We stopped in where he used to go to daycare, to say hi to the kids and Rosa Marie. Then I pushed all 25lb of stroller and 35lb of Smalls back up the hill to our house.
While I work hard to keep pockets of time free for the kids to play after school, they’re often doing that while I’m doing something else. I send them out to the garden while I cook dinner, or I’ll be out with them but raking leaves. It was lovely to wander around without an agenda, finding things that interested us, and discussing them. It’s easy not to notice as your kids change and grow, especially if they’re not the oldest. We’re deep in the every day of cooking, cleaning, packing for school, fixing up boo-boos. Sometimes it’s worth stepping back from that grind and immersing yourself in their world. I listened to Smalls explain about a pumpkin that he sees every day as we drive past, but he’s never told me about before, how he likes it but its also a little scary.
My knee’s pretty sore today, so I don’t think we’ll be repeating this one too often in the near future. But it reminded me that getting outside and sharing with the kids provides some lovely spaces to just be together and that you can often find out far more about them this way than firing questions at them on the way home from school or over dinner. Even when we used to run down with Red for drop off, I usually just ran back home, working hard on pushing the stroller uphill, while Smalls read a book. Yesterday was wonderfully different, because we were on this walk together, and it was an event, not just a way to get home again as fast as possible.
We found a giant patch of leaves that were just falling, at a neighbor’s house. It was most of the way up the hill, and I was glad of the rest. Smalls jumped out and danced as the leaves fell around him. This tree probably lost most of its leaves in just a few hours, and we were there at the height of it, witnessing them raining down. It was majestic. Smalls was desperate to take them home, to scoop up some of this delight and keep tight hold of it. He scooped up more leaves than I thought possible and stuffed them in the stroller basket. I started to explain that this wasn’t really the point, and we had more than enough leaves at home as it was, but the glint in his eyes as he showed me his ‘beauties’ meant I couldn’t disappoint him. We stuffed the last few in and walked the rest of the way home, before scattering them across our garden in among the carpet of leaves our trees had shed.
Have you spent time with your kids recently, without an agenda? What did you discover about them, that you’d been too busy to notice before?