Back in the spring Oliver and I started going out for a walk after supper every night.
In the beginning it was an entirely practical thing: I was taking some time off going to the gym, and needed a way of helping my body recover from a day of typing. It was simply an alternative to watching Yet Another Seinfeld re-run.
But our nightly walk quickly became something more than that: an opportunity for Oliver and I to have a talk, every day.
I thought of our nightly walk when reading Five things teachers and parents can do to engage boys in The Globe and Mail; suggestion number one includes:
Talk a walk around the block before your child sits down to do his homework and use the time to brainstorm on big projects and discuss the assignments. (Boys are often more likely to work out their thoughts verbally with mom or dad, while doing an activity that doesn’t require a face-to-face chat.)
I can confirm that this is indeed the case: it usually takes about 20 minutes of walking for Oliver and I to get to the place where we can have a regular conversation; leading up to that there’s a lot of fiddling and faddling around while we settle into the walk. It’s only after we’ve got into the rhythm, and have both settled down enough, that we can get to talking.
And while there’s plenty of room for us to talk about gravel boats and sushi restaurants and Homburg hotels and the current position of the Moon while we’re walking, we also get a chance to talk about what he learned in French that day, and who he played with at recess, and how Mrs. Butler is teaching them sign language, and about what The Beatles were, and about what to do about other kids who have a short fuse.
Often Oliver will mention something off-hand, like “and then there was this problem,” that, if teased out gently over the walk, will reveal itself as a closely-felt concern that would never come up in the normal course of everyday life.
None of this would be possible if I simply sat Oliver down after supper at the table in a “face-to-face chat,” and grilled him about his day in the usual “so, what did you do at school today?” style: it needs the “white space” of the walk to work.
Most of the time I sort of feeling like an impostor playing the role of the father in our daily drama; when Oliver and I go out for a walk it feels, for an hour or so every night, like actual parenting.