On an early-morning walk with my kids, I was scrolling through my playlist for something to shake off the sleep, and Lily said “Why are you listening to music? Don’t you want to hear the birds singing?” Well then. Of course I did. I took the headphones off, put the ipod in the cup holder of the stroller and listened to the birds. And to Luke and Lily talking the entire time.
I should know by now that trying to listen to music while on a walk with my kids only ends in frustration, on my part and theirs. Because as soon as Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’ makes me happy to be awake, I will begin the every-other minute routine of taking off the headphones to hear what they are asking or telling me. About what the neighbors are doing in their back yard, why there are cracks in the sidewalk, how the rainwater drainage system works. Until I take the headphones off one last time, with a huff, and give up. It never ends well.
As is normal of late, Mae pooped at the break of dawn, so she and I went on a long walk to let the others sleep. I popped the headphones on, knowing that this time I would actually be able to listen since my third child knows the virtue of peace and quiet. I know I’ve played a part in this, and in the fact that the other two are chatty at all times. When Luke and Lily were babies I would have felt the need to treat the walk as a lesson in nature, or sing songs, or just comment on the weather to stimulate their brains. Thus the constant question asking of my older two now. But I’ve learned my lesson and just let Mae think about whatever her baby brain wishes. She knows how to simply take things in, without commenting on it all. She only says twelve words, so that helps.
I started off with some Mindy Smith to ease into the morning, then switched to Jonsi to get things moving, and by the time I got to his third song I saw a bird. I thought of Lily. I was missing everything.
I took the headphones off, put the ipod in the cup holder and listened. Instantly, everything opened up. It was as if I had been in a tunnel of noise (great noise, but…) and was suddenly let loose into the open expanse of the day. I noticed things. Crickets chirping, dogs’ chains jingling and their toenails clicking on the pavement. The cool breeze. How had I not noticed that before? It has been 100 degrees for two weeks, so a breeze after ten in the morning is like a blow dryer. But this was lovely. Lovely, I tell you, and I had missed it altogether.
For the rest of the walk I took it in. The early risers jogging, the bunnies hopping in the grass, the dude with hair in his face who walked in slow motion and creeped me out. It was great. I was alive and here and part of it. Of course I also noticed the dog poop, the old shirt left in the park, the small animal guts next to the sidewalk covered in flies. Those things were there too, and taking it in meant including them in my day, but that’s reality. The bad with the good. The guts with the bunnies. The real right now.
My walk today hasn’t made me swear off music when I exercise. Sometimes the music is what gets you going, or keeps you going, or helps you forget about the real right now for a bit. Sometimes you need that. And sometimes it’s good to go on a walk with your kids, fully knowing that they will be talking the entire way. To give them that time, your brain, your responses as a gift of engagement in their lives. That’s necessary, and even fun. But there are also times that you need to be quiet and notice the world around you. When I saw that bird, I knew today was one of them. And my sweet baby didn’t make a peep. Just sucked her thumb and drank her milk and enjoyed the day right along with me.