Before I was married, I loved to take long walks. It wasn’t just for exercise. I could relax my mind while walking. I enjoyed looking at the houses, people, trees, and anything I would pass. After we got married, my husband and I walked our dogs most evenings, and it became a daily ritual where we reconnected and talked about our day.
We continued with our baby in a stroller, yet as my son got older and could walk on his own, it was hard to go for a walk because he wanted to stop and look at every stick and rock along the way. That can be fun too, but eventually, he didn’t want to walk at all, and my younger son followed in his footsteps. I’ve gone many years without having daily walks.
It’s necessary for me to spend most of my limited free time writing, or I wouldn’t get anything done. But writing is very sedentary, and as I get older, it’s pretty clear that I could use the exercise too. But I’ve put off trying to make walking a habit again. When? I thought. And how do I do it so that it doesn’t disrupt everyone else’s routine? Because no one in this house makes extra time for Mama, except Mama.
Recently it occurred to me that now that my boys are almost nine- and almost six-years-old, they are both much more independent and able to occupy themselves for a while. So I should be able to figure out a way to make walking part of my daily routine, right? Well, it wasn’t easy, and it’s still not easy. But I found a time that I try to walk on most days, and I found a way to get the boys to join me sometimes too.
One night after dinner, I left the dishes in the sink, and I said I was going for a walk. I asked the boys if they wanted to go with me. They said no, but that was okay because daddy was home, and they could play awhile before bath time.
The next night, I invited them again. Wanting to spend time with me, my five-year-old decided to come with me. Another night, the eight-year-old came with me. The night after that, they both came. Finally, I said, I’m going to try to walk every night after dinner. You’re always invited, but you don’t have to go, if you don’t want to. However, if daddy is not at home, you have to go because I can’t leave you at the house by yourself.
Giving them a choice has made all the difference. That little caveat about having to go, if daddy isn’t here, doesn’t seem to bother them too much since they understand the reason behind it. (They are still young enough to not want to be left at home alone.)
I also give them choices when we’re out walking. Which way do you want to go? If you’re tired, we’ll head back home. I don’t try to get a power walk when I’m walking with the boys, and I don’t care about distance. I let them meander, and I enjoy spending time with them and being outside, moving my body. In my mind, I’m establishing a habit. As the boys get older, as they leave the house, I’ll have a routine. I’ll have my exercise time.... At least, I can hope!
A surprising byproduct occurred by establishing this walking routine: I have given the boys an opportunity to act like a grown-up and decide how they are going to spend their time. Not that they didn’t do what they wanted to before, but now it’s an intentional act because we all stop to think about it each evening. They know they have the option for some Mommy-time. Only now, I don’t feel so dragged down about it. I am usually tired by this time of day, and I’m not in the mood to play or look up answers to questions on the Internet. Now I’m able to do something for myself while also offering something to them.
“Hmmm. I want to take a bath,” the five-year-old might decide.
“I want to water the garden,” the eight-year-old might say.
“I’ll walk with you, Mommy,” one or both of them might say.
My five-year-old likes walking with me, and I think the biggest motivating factor is looking for feathers. (Tip: If you make your walk sound more like a mission to search for something interesting, it appeals to little kids.) He collects feathers, and he’s discovered that if he goes walking, he sometimes finds one. Sometimes we find two! You’d be surprised at how many feathers you can find, if you just start looking.
My eight-year-old is also opting to walk with us frequently. He likes looking for snakes, rocks and feathers. But sometimes he decides to stay home and practice his piano, water the garden, or just play.
It’s exciting to me to see the boys make their own decisions. It feels good when they decide they want to walk with me – an activity that has been so important in my life. I’m not only creating a new ritual, I’m creating memories.
How do you work exercise or self-care in to your busy schedule?