Thursday, August 7, 2008

It's all downhill from here

My favorite form of exercise is walking. So any time I can sneak out of the house for an hour (which is not often), I put on my tennies and climb the hills in my neighborhood. Since I live at the foot of the slope, there's nowhere to go but up.

Occasionally along the way, I find a small treasure Josh might like. Once I brought him a nearly perfect robin's egg with just a small hole in the middle where the baby bird must have escaped. Josh was fascinated and now asks me every time I walk to please bring him another egg.

One night last week, Eric was working late. I had been chained to my desk all day coaxing letters and punctuation into grammatically sound structures, and I really needed some fresh air. So I suggested a walk. "Can we go up the hills where you walk?" Josh asked.

I suddenly envisioned myself carrying him over my shoulder most of the way and tried to think up a new plan. But he wouldn't take no for an answer. Finally conceding, I quickly debated whether to take my SUV of a stroller, but pushing 30 pounds of plastic filled with 30 pounds of preschooler did not sound appealing. So I finally suggested he ride his tricycle. With the handle on the back, I could push him if he got tired, but I wouldn't have to travel at the speed of a three-year-old's stride.

So off we went, his sure feet pedaling revolution after revolution a few yards in front of me. He brimmed with confidence, looking back only when he came to a crossroads and was unsure which path to take.

Along the way, he discovered all kinds of treasures I could never (or should never) bring home — a jack rabbit hopping across the road and disappearing into a bush, cattails growing along our footpath that he had to stop and pet, and a wooden bridge that made his trike rumble as he traversed its wooden slats. He found delight around every corner. And I found my own kind of delight watching him explore in such an uninhibited way.

When we finally reached the top of the highest hill — me pushing him the last few feet and him sitting criss-cross applesauce on his wide seat — we saw the mountain our valley was named for stretched out before us, highlighted on one side where the sun set behind it and growing darker on the other.

Then came the best part, going back down. I looked at Josh with some trepidation, afraid to let him go too fast or get too far ahead of me. I pictured him flipping over, running into prickly bushes, or veering into the street without me close by to steer him in the right direction. At first, I tried to jog alongside him, but his erratic steering meant he often veered into my lane, and I was more afraid of breaking my ankle then risking a few cuts and bruises if he fell the whole six inches from his bike seat to the ground.

So I slowed up and simply let him go — my heart tightening as he rode further and further away. He soared toward independence with reckless abandon, taking in the thrill of descent. I couldn’t help but admire his adventurous side as I simultaneously fretted over his judgment and safety. When he ventured far beyond my comfort zone, I shouted for him to stop. But my voice couldn't compete with the rattle of his plastic wheels hitting the asphalt and the song of freedom in his head.

He must have sensed my fear though because after a few moments he suddenly he put on his break (meaning, he put his feet down and dragged them until his bike came to a stop) and looked back, smug and satisfied with his progress. I waved and ran to catch up. But as I approached, he turned back toward the slope and took off. As he cruised downhill, he lifted his feet off the pedals and let out a shriek of glee.

And I knew this time I would never be able to stop him.


Kate said...

It's the little pieces that make us truly understand our children will grow up...and that it will happen in the blink of an eye. Well, it feels like that most days anyway:)

Sus said...

Aw, really nice. I'm all full of pride and nervousness today, too, as my 3-year-old (metaphorically, anyway) takes off downhill, rendering me unable to keep up. "But my voice couldn't compete with the rattle of his plastic wheels hitting the asphalt and the song of freedom in his head." Really, really nice.

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