If you were to ask me now, almost two years since I moved to Vermont, what I miss most about the other places I’ve lived – the Virginia suburbs, Manhattan, the San Francisco Bay Area – I would answer: “Sidewalks.”
It’s an answer that surprises even me. I never felt any particular affection for sidewalks while they were part of my daily life. And when we moved to Vermont, I rejoiced in the absence of sidewalks. We could have chosen to live in town and availed ourselves of the few blocks of sidewalks there. Instead, we wanted to live with as little paving as possible. We bought a home outside town, where our children have acres of woods to explore and rocks to climb. But no sidewalks.
This is wonderful for our children. It’s a little less wonderful for me.
Here’s what life was like when we lived in Berkeley, California – a city with LOTS of sidewalks: In order to reach half-a-dozen playgrounds, three libraries, and the downtown restaurants and shops, I had only to strap our girls into the stroller and follow the sidewalk. Sometimes the walk would take more than thirty minutes, but that didn’t matter; we were getting fresh air, sunshine, and exercise.
Now, in order to reach the playground, library, or downtown, I need to strap the girls into their car seats and DRIVE. Granted, that drive is almost never longer than fifteen minutes. Granted, for half the year it’s so cold and snowy that I don’t WANT to walk outside. All the same, I miss those daily opportunities for fresh air, sunshine, and exercise.
When you’re a mom with three (almost four) children ages five and under, it can be tough to get fresh air, sunshine, and exercise.
But Faith, c’mon, you COULD still go for walks with your children, even without sidewalks, right?
True. We do live in a neighborhood with stroller-friendly paved streets. But let me give you an idea of what it’s like when our whole family tries to take a Sunday afternoon stroll:
You know how sometimes at the grocery store, you’ll get a shopping cart with a bum wheel? One of those wheels that’s somehow gotten twisted around so that the cart keeps veering off to one side, instead of where you’re trying to push it? Well, I’ve got three daughters with bum wheels. Without a sidewalk to contain them, our girls continually veer out into the street, no matter how many times we yelp, “Stay to the SIDE!”
Then there’s the stroller problem. We bring the stroller along for our two-year-old, but as the youngest of three children, most of the time she wants to walk like her big sisters. And she refuses to hold anyone’s hand, because apparently BIG GIRLS don’t hold hands! Which means that one parent ends up pushing a useless, empty stroller with hands that would be better used corralling the three children wandering all over the road. During those rare moments when our youngest daughter does submit to a stroller ride, one of her sisters inevitably demands to PUSH THE STROLLER – ALL BY MYSELF! Result: a small child pushing a stroller in five different directions.
As if that’s not enough, there’s the dog. Gracie the labradoodle is by far the easiest member of our family to walk, mostly because she’s on a leash. The problem is that when we bring Gracie along on walks, every single one of our daughters wants to hold the leash. And NO, they can’t compromise and hold the leash together!
So we break up the screaming fight over the leash and set up a rotation, and one happy daughter sets off with Gracie. But the concept that we repeat to our daughters EVERY TIME is: If YOU run, then GRACIE will run, and she outweighs you by a LOT. And EVERY TIME, the dog-walking daughter in question decides to run, and Gracie runs, and the daughter drops Gracie’s leash, and we all end up chasing the dog.
Three girls, a dog, and a stroller swerving all over the road; it’s like some kind of crazy video game.
Things REALLY get exciting when a car comes along. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen often where we live, but there was one Sunday when our neighbors were having a party. A big party. Which meant cars – LOTS of cars – BIG CARS – pulling onto our road.
This kind of thing generally doesn’t worry me too much. I figure it’s why you have more than one child. Plus, if a car runs down one of our girls, I’m pretty sure the car would be at fault. So I walk along telling the girls to get out of the road, while inwardly I’m imagining the new washer/dryer I’ll buy with the insurance money.
Unfortunately, my husband doesn’t share this philosophy. I may be the stay-at-home parent, but Erick is the responsible parent. He’s the one who slathers the girls with sunscreen and bug spray, puts a radon detector in the basement, and gets really REALLY anxious when our children run around in the middle of the road. Every time we manage to herd our family back up the driveway after a walk, Erick turns to me, exhales deeply, and asks, “Why do I EVER think a family walk will be a nice idea?”
Me? I figure this is temporary; soon the kids will be old enough to walk responsibly, be visible to cars, and outweigh the dog.
In the meantime, I miss sidewalks.
Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, three young daughters (with another on the way), one anxiety-prone puppy — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.