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It's Not My First Time Around The Block, And See What I’ve Been Missing?
She stands, pretending to be perplexed and thinking, her pointer finger tapping against her lips in “uffish thought.” After a few moments, she turns right; she almost always turns right, and starts galumphing down the sidewalk. I follow behind, past the two houses between the street and ours, and come to a screeching halt, sound effects from both of us, at the STOP sign. “S-O-P SOP Daddy!” She almost always forgets the T but she’s remembered it enough in the past that the teacher in me lets it slide, this time.
The stop sign is next to a large hedge of juniper bushes and we spend a minute looking at all the webs hidden among the needles. We see no spiders, but we know they must be there and hiding and we wonder what they had for lunch. Suddenly, my almost three-year-old is done with the webs and we make a hard right, and race along the sidewalk again. She’s getting to be such a good runner and yet, I’ve doctored enough scrapes and wiped enough tears, my heart is in my throat as I think, “Don’t fall,” with every step.
The sprint has sapped some of her energy and she slows, still running, but I can keep up with her at a fast walk rather than a jog. A small stick brings her to a halt and she picks it up. “This is my walking stick!” she exclaims proudly, bending over to use the eight-inch stick for “support.” This lasts just a few steps until she finds some sand and dirt along the sidewalk to draw in. Sometimes she draws or tries to write letters. Today she mostly pokes and then makes some hurried lines before continuing on. The stick later becomes a magic wand, a drumstick and item to playfully chase Dad with.
At the first street we cross, she stops, I hold her hand and we look for cars. Stepping onto the sidewalk, a ribbon of water trickles along the gutter from a lawn being watered and we follow it. “I see the drain Dada! Look!” But then we stop, her in that toddler’s crouch I am envious of and unable to imitate after two knee surgeries. She makes it look so easy as she drops little pebbles, sand, leaves and other street detritus into the flowing water. There is a special joy to watching a little curled leaf land just right and float downstream, until it is hung up on some grass growing from a crack in the gutter. Eventually, we arrive at the drain and listen to the water fall into the dark cavern. The gap into the sewer is just big enough for my parent brain to imagine her fitting through it. I stand protectively close, just in case she slips, knowing I am ridiculous. Today she drops a little rock down to hear the hollow tinks it makes as it rattles around.
We’re at our next decision point. Turn right for the “short walk” or continue straight for the “long walk?” She taps her lips again and I’m pleased when she says, “Long walk,” because that is what I was silently rooting for. The short walk is a third of a mile and the long walk about twice that. It’s not uncommon for her to get tired during the long walk and need a carry, but it happens less and less and she sometimes seems to run the entire way. Today we blow dandelion seeds, stalk a bunny on a lawn, look through a low hole in a fence, (again in that toddler squat), hide behind trees, remark on the fake owl on a fence post, read JEEP, TOYOTA and SUBARU on the parked cars we pass, sniff a few flowers and pour pretend glasses of lemonade from the fire hydrant, "For energy Dada."
Walking with my daughter is maddeningly slow, but only if I have a time limit I need to adhere to. I’ve learned to leave specific goals and expectations behind and live in the moment with her, and I’m seeing so much more. Before Clara was born, my wife and I walked regularly around our neighborhood, and not once did we remark on the webs in the bushes or notice the pretty pebbles.
Next month I begin my sixteenth year as a teacher. I have my personal and professional goals and the school year is only so long. I’ve been around this block before too and I “KNOW” that if those students stick with me, I can show them the ropes. But my walks with Clara have reminded me that this is their first time around this particular block. My goals will often make no sense because they are crouched down, peaking through a hole in the fence, perhaps throwing rocks down the sewer to hear the sounds, or stopped at a street, looking for cars and wondering why I’m not holding their hand. Just because they are not blindly following me, does not mean they are not investigating, exploring, questioning and learning. Thank goodness my daughter has shown me what I’ve been missing all this time.