Walking Brings Joy By J’Mae Shemroske

Walking brings joy.

I love to walk.  I love to shuffle along as I daydream, content in a world all my own. I love to summit mountains with the uncontainable feelings of exhilaration it brings. I love to walk down into the field early in the morning to open the chicken coop when the air I breathe feels like life itself.

In college I walked a lot and it always benefitted me. If I was alone I was confident, free, and connected to myself. If I was with someone else, it was usually a guy I was interested in. I have always been attracted to the woodsy type where walking together was like writing love poems. I fell in love walking.

I walked during both my pregnancies and right before both labors, and I instinctively knew walking would be as important to us as a family as it was to me individually.  These days, both my partner and I have carried our children many miles during our hikes and, although we took fewer hikes and traveled fewer miles after our son came along, it was still a cherished part of our life. The love of walking came easily to my daughter–like it did for my partner and me–and yet, my 3.5-year-old son does not enjoy our outings together when he is asked to walk; he prefers being carried in the pack.  It wasn’t until I started thinking back to how we introduced each of our children to the experience of walking that I began to understand why they responded so differently.

When my daughter was very young, I walked almost every day with her nestled against my chest or back. It was this exact time of year that she was born; life was blooming everywhere and nothing called me as strongly as the outdoors. I was so happy that I could answer that call. I was on maternity leave; I could be out as long as I needed, and the only schedule to adhere to was the one I was creating as a new mother. I usually walked the same path in the woods behind my house, along a small swamp and up a hill to an old rock wall that I would follow. Carrying my daughter in a sling allowed her head to be close to my shoulder, and I could nuzzle down into her at will, smell her, and watch her look at the immense sky. Walking filled me with joy; it made me feel strong and empowered me to be healthy. Walking energized me and brought me a sense of contentment that overflowed into every part of my world. I was at peace. A year later, I became pregnant with my son and for the duration of that pregnancy, I still carried my daughter in a pack on hikes. Likewise, when my son was born, I carried him just the same as I had carried her, and she walked by my side or in front of me. 

While their collective experiences sound similar, there was a difference, and it was me.  Once my son was born I never again walked for myself. The benefits I had always gained from walking were no longer there; I was constrained by the gait and wanderings of my two-year-old and unable to move freely. I felt different. Before, when my daughter was on my back, I walked the way I loved, where and how I wanted, and she shared that joy with me.  Now, when my son was in that same place and we were out walking, I struggled to regain the pace and movement that I had come to value so much. I struggled to find the peace I used to rely on. I believe that he, too, felt my disappointment, my unexpressed frustration at being unable to walk without restraint.  From then on, walking was different for me: it was about her, it was about him, and it was about my family. I was a mother in the woods; others decided my pace; my daydreams were interrupted; and wandering now meant lots of tripping and scratches to deal with.

I know the best way for me to share things with my children is with real joy. I believe it was my experience of joy while walking in the woods that encouraged my daughter’s delight in it as well.  I believe the confusion of emotions I felt while walking with my son–while not directed at him–influenced his relationship with that experience. As my daughter got bigger and could walk more, I continued to carry my son because it was simply easier and I was so preoccupied with getting back to walking myself that I forgot to give him the gift of discovery that I gave her.

I know I need to walk alone sometimes, and when I do it feeds me: I reconnect with myself and my joy and most importantly, I let go of feeling like I am missing out when I walk with my children.  I am present.  Now, if I let go of my expectation that my son should love walking and shift my focus to appreciating nature and the time we have on the trail, if I can remember to nuzzle down into my children and breathe them, we might all discover joy together. 

What a summer this is going to be!