It’s that time again—3:10 p.m. and all I want to do is hop into a warm vehicle and drive the two blocks. No, I convince myself, that’s not the plan. Get those boots on, the static-infusing hat, and the dog leash out. Last year at this time I would have been sitting at my desk trying to wrap up classroom tasks and reminding myself that I needed not to lose track of time, so I could walk across the campus quad to pick up my six year old daughter. After having followed the pressures of that routine for four years, I finally decided it was time for a change.
We live in the north-west area of Colorado Springs. And, although we are two minutes away from a Safeway and Mc Donalds, it is Pikes Peak that greets us each morning. Neighborhoods in this area were designed for “Colorado Living.” There’s a community-shared open space that runs behind each row of houses—accessible wildlife. We have birds, bunnies, raccoons, garter snakes, squirrels, foxes, deer—and yes, occasionally even a visiting bear or two. We are also fortunate in that the neighborhood public elementary school is literally two blocks away on our same street. Up until this year I was a middle school English teacher at a small private school on the opposite end of the city. Naturally, out of convenience, both my children attended the school where I taught. The drawback was that each morning we had to awake extra early and get all three of us out the door at the same time. On Wednesday mornings, the day of my faculty morning meetings, my girls would have to be in the car no later than 6:30 a.m. My soul was suffering—and worse, I felt as though my daughters’ souls were suffering.
The decision to finally leave my full-time teaching post was not an easily made one. I love teaching—especially teaching middle grades. But, like most mothers, I was being pulled in too many directions. One reason we bought our house where we did was because it is located in an older neighborhood, and we naturally received more house for our money. More importantly, for me however, was that the day we came to view it, we saw a small herd of deer crossing the street. I crave nature. I grew up playing on my grandparents’ eighty acre farm in Door County, Wisconsin. My grandmother and I took walks just to walk. But even something as natural as walking is a lost art, it seems.
According to the National Center for Safe Routes to School, only “10% of children nationwide walk to school regularly.” What’s more surprising is that “even among those kids living within a mile of their school, only 25% are regular walkers.” While the numbers are surprising to me, they are also understandable—more so on a day like today with the current temperature resting at 17°F. It’s easy. On cold days, it’s warmer. On hot days, it’s cooler. On mornings when you haven’t removed last night’s make-up, it’s shielding. And let’s not forget, it saves you from parent small-talk. But is it the right thing to do?
I can’t say that I gave up my full-time, cherished teaching post so I could walk my youngest, Isa, to and from school, but I would be lying if I didn’t say it was a contributing factor. In addition to the widely acclaimed health benefits of exercise and the minute potential drop in pollution, seeking out opportunities to walk even short distances with your child wherever you live be it to school or otherwise, can in fact be the right thing to do. In a vehicle, a parent's attention is necessarily divided between safety and the musing of his or her young voice in the backseat. Often that attention is divided even further by the radio program playing in the background. And even if the parent makes a point to engage his or her child during that time, there is the physical barrier of seats between them. They are both strapped into their own bubbles of space. There is no hand-holding, no skipping—maybe an occasional head-bobbing session to a favorite song or two, but the interaction that takes place between a parent and his or her child while in the car is necessarily mediocre.
Nature still exists. We look around it to locate our metal and glass destinations, but it is still there. There are birds in every sky, insects crawling on every sidewalk, and pebbles strewn along every path. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, makes the case for reconnecting kids with outdoor environments. Not only is it good for the environment, he argues, but good for the children’s psychological well-being. Seldom are children capable of creating such initiatives, however. Without parental support and encouragement, the path of least resistance will prevail. We are too short on time and too short on energy to entertain the fanciful ideal of walking in lieu of driving. “Parents, educators, other adults, institutions—the culture itself—may say one thing to children about nature’s gifts” warns Louv, “but so many of our actions and messages—especially the ones we cannot hear ourselves deliver—are different. And children hear very well.”
When I picked Isa up yesterday she asked me, “What do we have today?” It hit me that for her, the end of school is often the beginning of evening enrichment. “We have a day off,” I replied mentally crossing off Taekwondo and exchanging it with the following day. “Yay!”
“Yay!” I echoed. On the way home, we kicked rocks, pointed and laughed at the deer watching us, and enjoyed our ten minute allotment of time outdoors together. It’s only a ten-minute walk, I chide myself each afternoon. By the time you warm up the car, drive the two blocks, and sit idle in the dreaded car-line, you will have still experienced the cold and now feel aggravated—and you will have given up the opportunity to spend at least ten minutes in the Now with your child. “Come on, Mocha,” I yell to our lab, “time to get Isa.”
 National Center for Safe Routes to School. University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center. iWalk International Walk to School in the USA. 11 Jan. 20011. Online.