#956: The long walk home

Around this time of year, when the weather is nice and everyone is so full of energy, there are so many of getting around—biking, scootering, rollerskating, and of course, walking. But there was a time, not so long ago and especially in the cold days of late fall and winter, when the kids and I depended on public transit, and at one point, it let us down miserably.

In our region made up of small towns, hamlets, and farming communities, the transit system loses money big time. Either everyone already has a car in order to get to all the hard-to-reach places, or the ones who don’t have a car would prefer to walk than to sit on a bus that goes around in a very roundabout way in order to reach everyone. Still, the public transit system is appreciated at certain times (in inclement weather, or at night) by people like me, with young kids who sometimes can’t walk far. Even when the bus isn’t full—and I don’t think I ever saw it even a third full in all the times I’d been on it—you can tell that it’s needed by the people who use it.

Of course, a nearly empty bus starts a vicious circle in the mind of administrators when it comes to assessing the value of the system. So our system admininistrators decided to cut back on routes, which led to fewer people using it, which led to more cutting back of routes . . . and so on. Then the blow came unexpectedly: they would cut out all bus service after 6 p.m.. Whatever notices were put out about this change were not visible enough to us, because we found out quite by accident, after standing at the bus stop on several occasions after 6 p.m., and realising after 30 minutes that no bus would be forthcoming.

During one of those first long waits, before we had confirmed the  eliminination of bus service, we had no option but to walk home. (We had taken too many taxi rides by that point, and it was just not a sensible solution.) Now for me, walking was no big deal of course. But to a seven- and a three-year-old, walking three kilometres in the waning light of a fall evening, with a bit of wind at their faces, was indeed a big deal. So with a lot of coaxing, cajoling, and even a bit of trickery (whereby the Girl and I promised the Boy at the end of every block that it would be “just five minutes more”, and “just beyond that sign or that red light that you see”), we managed it. However, at one point, my poor little boy who was too big to be slinged and too heavy for me to carry him for long periods, just simply . . . sat down. There on the dry sidewalk, he planted himself, and declared, “I can’t do it anymore. And I know that you keep telling me that it’s just five more minutes, but I think you’re not telling the truth.” So juggling a shoulder bag full of the day’s supplies, I hoisted the 30-lb child onto my back or hip, and managed to carry him the last half-kilometre home.

Another long walk, on another occasion: Through Mont Royal

That evening, I realised that although the three-year-old hadn’t quite made it the entire way home on his own two feet, he had come pretty darn close. And of course, the Girl had succeeded, mainly because she was older and more capable, and of course had a few more years of experience in walking with mom. But overall, I was proud in realising that my kids walk much more than any other children their age that we know. When I had said to them that evening, “Oh well, let’s walk home”, there had been no expressions of surprise or grumblings of discontent (until, of course, the fatigue had set in). I’m happy that they have not depended on being chauffered in a car, or being pushed/pulled/rolled/toted around everywhere they go. (In fact, the previous year when we had attended a summer festival, the mother of a friend had said to the Girl, “Hop on in the wagon with your friend, and I’ll pull you”. And our Girl had replied, “No thank you. I can walk.” It was a surprise to her—and to me—that someone would offer a six-year-old the chance to be pulled around in a wagon, when she had two perfectly-functioning legs.)

That incident taught me that my kids walk a lot, and in general, aren’t complainers about it. Hopefully, they’re on their way to a life of long walks, hikes, and non-dependency on rides. But as some of you already know by now, that evening also taught me something else important and yet ironic: that it would be necessary to re-acquire my long-expired driver’s license. In case that situation came up again, and we were facing a long, tiring walk home in the cold, dark evening, we would know that there were other options open to us.