We recently moved to a new house and one of its crowning features is its close proximity to the local elementary school. Personally, I love any excuse to get out of my car and walk. I walked to school every day when I was a little girl and later, when I lived in cities, I would walk to work no matter what the weather. I have been dreaming of the day that we could walk to school ever since my son entered kindergarten. My children are good at many things but they excel at what I will call Carseat Fighting. There is something about the act of placing my three children into the backseat of a car that brings out the horrid in them.
Our old house was far away from their school and we were forced to drive every morning. The fighting and arguing would commence like clockwork as we left the house. While their little shoes stepped gently over the threshold, one of the children would make some comment or a backpack of one might inadvertently brush against the backpack of another and the war games would begin. Something as simple as an innocent look in the direction of the wrong person would provide a perfect starting point for a screaming match. And you never knew who was going to be the person who got the first word. Maybe they had secretly devised an argument schedule; kids are crafty like that.
I can only compare it to what I imagine prison to be like. One day you lose yourself in thought in the exercise yard and the next thing you know you're being shanked by some fellow prisoner who thought you were giving him the stink eye. God forbid a millimeter of one child hung over the invisible seat boundary of another. God forbid someone coughed into another's airspace. Five years of listening to 15 minutes of He Did This and She Did That would drive anyone insane. Countries around the world should replace their means of torture with a trip to school with my children. Fifteen minutes after putting the detainee into the car, and he would confess to anything.
And these are children that get along.... for the most part. What is it about this box of metal and wheels that turns such perfectly nice children into monsters?
The worst part of the trip would be the last minute. That would be the moment when our roles would reverse and the children would have to listen to me rage and dole out the punishments. All thoughts of sibling injustice would be replaced with mother anger as we pulled up to the school. Instead of the sweet kisses and goodbyes that other parents were getting, I got grunts and door slams. You can imagine the stress (and if you can't, I'd love to know your secrets).
So what's the solution? Remove the car from the equation. Get them into the fresh air and wide open spaces. You can't breathe on your sister if you are walking two feet away from her. First we had to move. We moved to a house so close to school that I would be embarrassed to drive. Or at least that's what I told the children. Look how close we are to school, I said with a sing-songy voice! We can walk! Everyday! We are sooooo lucky! And they bought it, hook, line and sinker. "We get to walk to school," I heard them repeat with pride to friends over the summer. Of course, this wasn't the only reason we moved, but it was a great perk.
And so the school year began. On the first day of school, it rained. And not a light, pretty rain, but a thunderstorm with rain that seemed to come up instead of down. The children were uncertain about what was going to happen next. I pulled out the raincoats and boots. "It's raining," they said. Perhaps, dear Mother, you didn't hear the thunder? "We can get wet," I said. "It will be an adventure." I guess this made sense because walk we did. And it was wonderful: no yelling, no arguing, no crying over imagined injustices. Instead we talked, noticed trees and chipmunks and joined up with friends.
Here are the children, waiting to leave the house on the first day of school. Notice Georgia's wary look. She is wondering if she should mention that Henry's backpack is touching her left arm.
With the exceptions of two mornings when I had appointments I had to rush off to, we have walked to school every day this year. And it has been fantastic. If only all parenting problems were so easily solved.
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