Saturday, January 12, 2008

Walking home

This year, with both kids finally in the same school, I've gained some conveniences. One is that I can now bike to work, because I don't have to take my younger child to daycare; one is that I can work at home, because before, if I did that, I'd still have to drive to work to drop the younger daughter off so I could get something done. Finally, because I'm not always driving to work, the school bus has become a lot more convenient.

The school bus stop is 0.2 miles down the street. In warmer and more predictable seasons, I was biking to work 2-3 days a week, and I'd walk kids and bike down the hill in the morning and wait at the bottom for them, and walk the last bit together, in the afternoon. On days I work at home, I walk them down and return home afterward. On Wednesdays, they have an afterschool program nearby, and I walk over to pick them up, also about 0.2 miles each way.

OK, I'm self-congratulating, so let me add: we live only 0.4 miles from their school. Mornings when we wait for the school bus, a neighbor I like and admire for many reasons walks her two children to school past our bus stop to school, and I always wish to join her. I don't though, because my daughters don't want to walk, and worse, I don't want to take the time to walk home afterward. I did it a few times, and found myself getting antsy and irritable about the lost work time. And in the afternoons, I have the girls ride the school bus because if they walk they arrive a full 15 minutes earlier, and then I lose even more work time. That's fine if I'm working at home that day, but when I have the commute to consider, I've already lost too much time.

Brian Fellows ( wrote about the walking school bus in Orion, one of my new favorite environmental magazines. If I were a bit more activist, I'd suggest that my neighbor and I take turns walking the kids to school. I'd talk to other moms I know nearby and try to make it work. But I don't, figuring the stay at home moms don't need the help and the working parents aren't interested. My neighbor across the street drives down to the bus stop to wait for her son, and asks us with reasonable frequency, especially in bad weather, if we want to ride. She rolls down her window while we wait, and she and I talk, but never about the walking school bus. The neighbor who does walk doesn't need my help, I reason, so any arrangement would be for my own shameless convenience. So I remain silent, fuming about the lack of sidewalks and my own foolishness for not noticing this while we were looking at houses, feeling alone in my peculiar collection of ideals: ecology, exercise, expedience.

No one would call a 0.2 mile walk a workout, but oddly enough, I'm increasingly convinced that it adds up. Sometimes during that walk home the girls are distracted by a neighbor, and sometimes they decide to run, just for the joy of beating me to the door. They used to whine for a ride on my bike, until finally I started biking home and leaving the bike there, so I could meet them with no tempting wheels in hand. I meet them with a snack, sometimes healthy but usually not too much, and so I know that the trip is not a weight-loss exercise. All the same, my primary hope is to set in their minds that I enjoy walking. I hope it is infectious. I get excited by the idea of long hikes, and talk about trips I want to take, even when I know logistically they'd be ten times more difficult with kids.

I still hope to bike more often, to find other ways to reduce fuel use in winter, and to ultimately have the girls walking all the way to school and back. I hope to have neighbors join me in this, as soon as I can figure out how to start the conversations without sounding either self-righteous or like someone trying to take advantage of their time. And I hope to keep doing my job, teaching environmental issues to college women who may be in my position with parenting and work a decade from now, more or less. I don't know if I can have all this hopes come true or not, but for now, walking that 0.2 of a mile home is the first step.

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