“Walk with me?” my mom asks as she laces up her Reeboks and grabs the dog’s leash. My mom had been walking nightly for a few months, in addition to the Jane Fonda tapes she’d forced herself to sweat through a few times a week. Occasionally I’d join her as she’d bend and twist with Ms. Fonda, grunting and swearing under her breath. I’m sure it didn’t help that my young, thin frame could bend every which way, and hold a pose while I ate a slice of pizza.
I’d walk with her sometimes, too, my pace a bit faster in an effort to keep up with her long legs. After a few minutes of walking in companionable silence, we’d start to talk. About school (mine, as a student, hers, as a teacher), homework, friends and anything else that was on either of our minds.
It was the early 80s and things were changing across the country and in our home. Thriller was the album of the year, President Reagan was shot, the AIDS epidemic made it into the U.S., and my parents were getting divorced. Jane Fonda and Reeboks provided a safe outlet for some unwanted change heading into my teen years.
As I focused on high school dances, weekend mixers, and which Benetton sweater looked best with my Docksiders, my mom continued her walks. Our relationship was going through the rocky path of a teenage girl trying to find her own way, one preferably far from her mothers’. Joining her on her walks was something I did less and less. She continued to ask though, just like always. “Going for a walk, Beth…” she’d leave it open-ended.
If I was angry with her, my refusal to join her stood as a reminder of my growing independence, my ability to tell her no, and maybe, sometimes, even to hurt her. There were times, though, when she’d walk out the door and I’d feel guilty. I’d wait a few minutes, until I knew she’d made it to the top of the street and turned the corner, heading towards the main road. Then I’d run through the back yard and take the shortcut through the woods, coming out on the sidewalk just behind her. My mom would pretend not to see me, and I’d pretend I’d been there all along. But we both knew, once our strides lined up, that everything was okay again.
Every night, season after season, year after year, she walked. Old age took our beloved dog, and I earned my coveted driver’s license, but still mom walked.
She walked through my engagement and marriage, the birth of my three kids, my separation and later divorce, six college degrees, (five hers, one mine), and her own career changes.
Looking back now, as a mother of three, I realize that those walks weren’t taken just for her physical health. She walked – and still does – to clear her head, to take a short reprieve from the demands of a busy, single-parent household. And she invited me on those walks not just for companionship, but as a way to get me talking, to keep us connected in ways that became more difficult as I grew up – and apart.
As a single parent myself, I know about needing a time-out from the daily grind. I know about needing to clear my head, and about wanting to stay connected to my own three kids, who are growing faster than I can keep up. So I lace up my own walking shoes and turn to them. “Walk with me?” I ask the room at large. My daughter takes my hand. And we do.