My dad called the other day because he had gone to his high school reunion and forgotten to pack his medication. He asked me to take it over to my aunt and uncle's house as they would be going to the reunion the following day. No problem.
"Girls! Come on, we have to run to Uncle H and Aunt N's house real quick!"
Of course, as they put on their shoes, the girls were full of questions. Why do we have to go over there? What did Grandpa forget? Are they home? As we walked outside, Sweetheart saw that I was unlocking the car.
"We're driving?" she asked incredulously.
"Yes," I answered.
Her reply? "But, it's just up the block!"
Now here is where I must pause and tell you that my aunt and uncle's house is NOT just up the block. It is very close by, but you must drive out of our neighborhood, across a busy, four-lane street, and into their neighborhood to get there. It's more than just a hop, skip and a jump, especially when it's getting close to supper time.
She continued to try to convince me that we should walk. So I told her, "I'm driving. If you want to walk, feel free." She waited at the end of the driveway while I got Grandpa's medicine and as I was climbing back in the car I told her, "You better not wait--you've got a ways to go. Better take off." She didn't even pause. She turned on her heel and started walking.
Little Bit wanted to walk too but I reminded her she had been sick (plus she's 4). I told her not to worry because sister would be back in the car in a few minutes once her feet got tired. Of that I was sure.
So I drove slowly alongside Sweetheart to the end of our block. I yelled "Stop!" when she got to the busy intersection. She knew--it just didn't look like she was going to stop. She looked both ways and we crossed the street together--she on foot and us in the car. I knew I couldn't follow her slowly on the main road out of our neighborhood, so she walked one block over. Little Bit helpfully yelled, "Do you want to get in the car now?" every few minutes. I was amused to see how long this would go on.
When we got to the end of the 3rd block it occurred to me that she was going to do this or die trying. She had no intention of getting back in that car. I couldn't drive slowly enough even riding the brake so every now and then I would drive ahead a few yards and wait for her. She was trotting, practically jogging beside us. I kept telling her to slow down--we'll wait. There's no hurry.
There were SO many obstacles along the way! Things that I usually watch out for, she now had to take notice of on her own. A car was getting ready to back out of the driveway. Would she notice? (I hollered out of the window before she got there.) The sidewalks are old and tree roots have kicked them up in places. Would she remember to look down so she didn't trip? A big dog came charging at her. He was behind a fence, but she took off running anyway because he startled her. A few houses were decorated for Halloween. She was kind of spooked and walked faster. Some places didn't have sidewalks--was she watching for ants in the grass while she walked?
I was RIGHT BESIDE HER and yet I felt very far away. She looked very big and very little all at the same time as I watched her catch up in the rear view mirror. We talked to each other through the rolled-down windows the whole time. And yet I wasn't really there to help her. If she tripped and fell I couldn't catch her.
The whole thing was an analogy of growing up.
I will tell you that when she got to the church on the corner of the busy street and stop light, I made her get in the car. I drove her through that intersection and to the first side street and let her back out. She made it all the way there. I have never seen such determination and pride in her face. We got in the car later that night and hit the trip odometer. It was exactly 1 mile.
The challenge we face (this coming from a mom who believes it is my job to protect my children) is how to teach them, train them, and then let them practice while we stand close by, so that one day they can do it without us. That walk made me realize all the little things I need to train her on before she is ready to walk alone--and also how very proud I'm going to be to watch her when she does.