School is winding down this week, and one thing that means is that I won't be walking Jonathan to school for the next two months.
The route between home and school has become a very familiar one. It is about .85 km long, so with two round trips that's 3.4 km of walking most days. (Richard does the trip sometimes, but in most cases it makes sense for me to do it.) I did a little more calculating and figured out that if Jonathan's senior kindergarten year had 95 school days, and grades 1 through 6 have each had 195 school days ... and if I count the two years when he was still coming home for lunch, which involved four round trips per day ... and if I omit the relatively few times that I drove him in the car ... then I have walked approximately 5,600 km back and forth to his school.
Most days, it's a pleasant walk. (Even this past winter, when there were so many bitterly cold and snowy days, walking was way more convenient than brushing, starting, warming, driving, and parking the car!) Jonathan usually takes the lead. In the morning he always crosses the street at the exact same dip in the sidewalk, and he likes to stop at certain familiar places to see if they have laundry on the line or if their recycling boxes are at the side of the house. He checks to see if Barbara's car is home, and when Nina drives by each day on the way to her sons' school, he has to stop and wave. He spots the tiniest dot of an airplane in the sky and shouts, "AIRPLANE!" so that anyone else who might want to stop and look up into the sky can do so. He recognizes certain schoolmates from long distances away and calls to them by name, often getting a friendly (or at least tolerant) "Hi Jon" in response. He talks repetitively about what he'll do at school, what we'll have for supper, whether Dad has to work today, and who's going to be putting him to bed.
Many of his grade 6 peers -- and a lot of younger kids, too -- walk to school alone. But that's not realistic for Jonathan and probably won't be for some time; he has no real sense of safety and has trouble remembering to look both ways. So it just becomes part of my daily routine to walk him there and back each day.
One of the effects of this routine is that it slows life down. This is particularly true of the homeward trip. I see parents rushing into the schoolyard and saying to their kids, "Hurry, we have to get to gymnastics/hockey/piano!" But Jonathan and I have nowhere to be other than home. We can stop for another laundry check. We can count crows on a telephone wire or "geeses" flying overhead. When we see the city bus lumbering by along Regent Street, we can stop and watch it till it disappears. Yes, sometimes I try to hurry him along (I have a much lower boredom threshold than he does when it comes to investigating people's recycling boxes) -- but I have to admit that really, there's no rush.
This twice-daily walk also reminds me just how much life there can be in the in-between time. It's easy to think that this time isn't particularly meaningful in and of itself -- that its only purpose is to get us from Point A to Point B, where the real things happen. But for Jonathan this is meaningful, real time. Jonathan is not an abstract person; he doesn't ask "Why?" or ponder the mysteries of the universe. He focuses on the things he takes in through his senses -- food, laundry, garbage cans, music, helicopters, yellow-blue-red, jigsaw puzzles -- and his life is taken up with enjoying these things, recalling previous times that he enjoyed them, and looking forward to enjoying them again. The walk to and from school is a time for him to appreciate and engage with all that his world offers.
My interest in laundry and garbage trucks is actually pretty limited. I must confess I don't fully share Jonathan's excitement in these mundane things, though I try to sound excited about them for his sake. But I learn more about him by observing what he enjoys. And isn't that true in any relationship?
I'm not going to end this post with a cliche like "Stop and smell the roses" (or "Stop and count the blue boxes"). But it occurs to me, after having walked 5,600 km on the same .85 km route, that life is not all about "getting there." There's a lot of living to do along the way as well.