Meg Noble Peterson

Author of Madam, Have You Ever Really Been Happy? An Intimate Journey through Africa and Asia

IS WALKING NO LONGER RELEVANT?


My neighbor shot out of the driveway, dressed in running outfit, her daughter rattling around in the back of her SUV (known to me as a Suburban Assault Vehicle). She drove the three blocks to the elementary school, getting there at the same time I did on foot. Traffic was heavy. Mothers and fathers were parked solid on several streets adjacent to the school. My neighbor let her daughter out of the car and went on to the gym to exercise. She would walk and run three miles. She looked slightly guilty as we exchanged greetings. I suggested that she could get her first mile by walking her daughter to school and going back home for the car. And she’d have a good up and down hill stretch in the bargain. She thinks I was kidding. I was dead serious.

This traffic jam had become a familiar sight to me, but it gets even worse in the winter. God help us if some child should brave the elements, or maybe strain a leg muscle in the process of walking. My children almost never got a ride to school and seemed to enjoy the camaraderie of their peers, from snow fights to shuffling along in piles of leaves. They got plenty dirty, but they also got plenty of exercise. And when they were teenagers they used bicycles as their transportation of choice.

I try very hard not to be judgmental. That only works if you’re Andy Rooney or Lewis Black. Just because I walked two miles to school every morning, then back and forth for lunch, and home, again, in the afternoon…six miles in all…for one day’s efforts, is no reason to behave as if I’m Laura Ingalls Wilder on the rampage. And just because my mother rode a horse to high school in rural Missouri is no reason that I should have eschewed the sidewalk for a comfortable saddle. But I think that what sent me around the bend on this particular day was the rows and rows of cars with their motors running and smoke belching out of the exhaust pipes.

It was a cool, crisp day, to be sure, but not polar bear weather. I walked up to one old diesel van with black smoke belching forth, and knocked on the window.

“Excuse me, M’am, but there is a rule in this town that you can only idle for three minutes and your car is running full blast, emitting black noxious fumes, poisoning the air.”

The lady was civil, but said, tight-lipped, “I have an infant in the back seat.”

“Is this infant clothed?” I asked. She nodded.

“M’am, I had five infants and know that they loved the cold air. I dressed them warmly and left them out in a carriage on many occasions, just the way they do in Norway. That’s why the Vikings were so strong. [I was getting carried away.] And, I don’t know of any babies in an SUV who died of over-exposure, but plenty of people die of carbon monoxide inhalation and lung cancer breathing polluted air every day. The choice is yours.”

After a long hard look and commensurate silence, I went on my way, fuming. She never turned off her car. It was still running ten minutes later when I completed my loop.

I really despair of solving this problem, which stems not from the fear of a pedophile around every corner, but the misguided desire to make sure our children are not stressed in any way, inconvenienced, uncomfortable, disappointed, tired, or have to put forth the effort to get themselves up and out of the house in time for school. I do not blame the children. It’s the parent’s responsibility to set an example of good health and to establish priorities.

We are not doing children a favor coddling them in this way. They are going to find out as they grow fatter and weaker, with less energy and gumption (there’s a medieval word for you!), that the joys derived from walking in the woods or up a mountain or onto a playing field or participating in one of the multitude of exploratory journeys this life presents, will be greatly diminished for them. For as they become older, their bodies will reflect the results of a lifetime of neglect and inertia. And they’re going to wonder why.

Take heed, parents. As a close friend of mine used to say, “Don’t go to heaven with an unused body. Get up and move!” Building a strong body begins when you’re a kid. Waiting is not an option.

And remember, you’re old a lot longer than you’re young.

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9 Comments

  1. Ruth Abel

    This is a generation brought up by helicopter parents, they hover much to much. I made two round trips to school everyday and had to dodge a bully, but I seldom got a ride unless Mother was going that way anyway or it was 27 below.
    Dr. Fosdick walked by the house everyday on his way to and from the station to catch the train. My mother often offered him a ride but he never took it, to his credit
    Then again, you can hardly be described as your ordinary walker having hiked all over Nepal and other equally difficult places, I could never keep up with what you do. So keep on walking and for goodness sake, come back to CA and see us. Right now I have a nasty case of Sciatica so I can hardly walk at all but this too shall pass. I think I got it because I was really sick with the flu.
    Best….Ruth

  2. Meg darlink,
    You have so eloquently described my frustration with the 21st century moms. Out were I live, the kid cannot walk down the driveway – there is mom and the kids sitting at the end of the driveway waiting for the bus. The bus stops at EVERY FLIPPING driveway; I stop and go, stop and go, steaming at each driveway.
    The ugly, fat, entitled American we are!
    Beverly.

  3. Karen de Planque

    Agree with you all the way. Hope you send a letter to the editor.
    Karen

  4. Susan Brandolino

    You hit the Nail on the head Aunt MIggie! It is time for us all to take back the woods, sidewalks, walking trails and tell all the crazy people to get the heck out of our way!

  5. Thanks, Susan…you’re a girl (woman) after my own heart! Maybe this summer we can hike somewhere….

  6. I certainly never got rides to school, except in high school when I took public transportation one way and walked home. My kids walked to elementary school (Yes, they learned to cross a street.) and got rides to school for middle and high school.
    The streets where I live now are not designed to foster walking to much of anywhere.. In many areas there are no sidewalks and no grid patterns for the streets. Everything seems to be designed to promote motor vehicle usage. Riding a bike on the mnains sgtreets is to have a death wish.

    I throw up my hands!!

  7. Great to hear from you, Emily. Please send me an email so we can chat. I just got a photo of Bob and the quartet at my daughter’s wedding many years ago, sent my Nancy Quickstad. Also some wonderful symphony shots of Peter Winograd and Ed Paul.

    Wonderful hearing from you!

  8. Absolutely LOVED your piece here! Imagine my surprise when I opened this website for the first time this morning and found your post here. You are sooooooo right about the spoiling of this generation. It’s as if we marinate them in comfort till they are forty-three and then expect them to taste good after Life bakes them. Great to hear from you again! Ann Norris

  9. Great to hear from you, Ann. Do send me an email about what you’ve been up to this year. It’s almost a year since our wonderful conference in CA.

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