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One of the things I love doing is telling little mundane stories to my kids. I also love to make up gloriously magical stories, but at some point I realized how much they love it when I tell something simple and straight out of everyday life.
I have made a habit of taking a solo walk almost every day. Sometimes they don’t want me to go, but it turns out if I bring them a story they are happy to let me go. One day the story went like this: “here is the story of when Mama slipped and fell in the muddy-mud. One morning, Mama went out for her walk. She walked up the hill, turned right, walked up another HUGE hill, turned right again and then reached the golf course. She walked into the golf course and thought ‘hmmmm…I will take this shortcut across the grass.’ Unfortunately, when she started to cross the grass she SLIPPED on some muddy-mud and fell down. She got mud on her leg, her feet, and even her back! Mama said a strong word and then got up. She thought about walking home and then decided that it was only mud and her body felt ok so she would travel on and finish her walk.”
They loved this story and it turns out that these little mundane stories are the ones they want me to repeat over and over again. This particular story was originally told about 8 months ago and they still ask to have it repeated.
Yesterday I went on a social-distance walk with my brother and we walked through the golf course and encountered some of that muddy-mud. I told them about it when I got home, then my husband went on a run through the same path and also told them of the muddy-mud. When we got outside this morning, and started our walk, they wanted to walk to see the muddy-mud!
I knew it would take us about an hour to get there and though I questioned whether the 3-year-old could make it that far without huge hassles (I couldn’t carry her because it was just me with baby, 5-year-old and 3-year-old…) I decided we should do it.
Armed with snacks and a thermos of coconut tea (it’s coconut rooibos tea from Mountain Rose Herbs. Super delicious…) we headed up the hill...
We made it there in about an hour and they were so engaged talking about where we would go, when we would see the muddy-mud etc.
After we saw the mud, we stopped and had a nice snack and tea time. When we turned around to walk back, it turned out that the 3-year-old slipped and fell in the muddy-mud herself!
Low and behold something that might have set her off was totally cool for her because then we had a NEW story that we could tell Papa when we saw him after work! They were both a little tired and I knew we had another hour to walk home, so I started telling stories. First we told our new story about the time Lupine fell in the muddy-mud and then moved on to old favorites…The coast story (about when we went to the coast so that Papa could remove the old carpet in our house with a friend), The Birthday cake story (the story about when we went to the store to get ingredients for Papa’s birthday cake 3 years ago) and other favorites.
Telling stories while you are outside can not only engage kids and keep them moving when they are tired, but as you can see it provides a way for them to attach to the routine of being outside, anticipate things they might encounter and seek adventures.
And they just might entertain themselves in the garden by regularly painting each other with mud...
Today we used this method heavily at the end of a 3-hour walk. Ever since we walked to the muddy-mud the other day, the girls have been wanting to do it again. It takes a lot of focus and calm for me to navigate them through a 2-hour walk by myself so I told them we could do it a couple days later.
Today was the day and we had decided to make a loop out of it this time. That meant we would need to stop twice for snacks and leave early enough to get home by rest/lunch time.
We managed to get out of the house on time! The first part of the walk is something we have done every day this week and now they have things they look for on the way. Kids love repetition and repeating the walk every day this week has given them knowledge and fondness for what we see along the way…first we will come to the cat tails. Next we will see the monkey tree and then the buddha garden. And then the secret garden right before we head up the huge hill!
We did indeed walk to the muddy-mud, and then carried on to make our loop. We saw ANOTHER monkey tree on the other side of the muddy-mud hill and then ANOTHER secret garden. They loved finding those things and did really well making it to our second snack spot. After the second snack (we made this fun crisp-rice peanut butter things) I knew we needed to get home for lunch and also before it got too hot (it was 72 degrees here and we haven’t had that temp for 6 months or so).
About 1/2 block after this second pit stop, the 3-year-old squatted down and I could tell that she was DONE. And I knew that I couldn’t carry her and that the last 4 blocks of the walk could be treacherous.
I tried to start a new story. She kept stopping to squat down. I doubled down on my intention to stay calm and connected rather than get frustrated. The very end of a walk seems to be when she often hits her edge, no matter how far we have gone and it’s when I have to dig deep for my creativity and compassion. I am often wanting to get home too (I have to pee, the baby needs to get changed or nursed…whatever it is).
One of the things I am working on is allowing space and time to stop and help them when they are struggling rather than following my agenda and trying to rush through it. I am very stubborn and often too attached to my agenda and as many of us parents can relate, rushing through difficult situations can produce very contrary results with toddlers.
I stopped and I acknowledged that she seemed done, and that she was ready to stop walking. I told her that I wished I could carry her but that I could not because her brother was sleeping in the carrier and I also had our snack backpack.
I told her that I was sorry I couldn’t carry her right now and that we could take another little rest but that we did need to keep going home.
Acknowledging her difficulty seemed to help her and as we started up again I pulled her favorite story out of my pocket…the coast story about when we went to the coast for the day because Papa was removing the carpet. And I made it EXTRA long. I added more detail than ever and it bought us 2 WHOLE BLOCKS. Only 2 more to go! She started lagging again when the story was over and I tired pointing out some of the things we were seeing. After a bit of stop-start action, I found a puffy dandelion and gave it to her and told her she could make a wish.
Watching a 3-year-old blowing on the flower with the indirectness of trying to get her breath just right, while she whispered a wish was precious. I saw her preciousness and that helped me.
Shortly after that her 5-year-old sister said we should play “the bear game” and at first I was worried that such a game would scare the 3-year-old and asked what it was. It was a new game that the 5-year-old seemed to have crafted on the spot in which the 3-year-old was the bear and she was chasing us.
Brilliant! It worked wonders for the last 1.5 blocks. 3-year-old would start chasing us and we would run away. We would then stop feigning relief only to have her start chasing us again. We were all engaged and laughing the rest of the way home. Within the last 1/2 block we passed a black-clad skateboarder we have seen around the neighborhood. I have never seen him smile yet as we passed him he grinned broadly and after he was most of the way up the block turned and shouted: “THAT WAS THE MOST JOYOUS THING I HAVE SEEN ALL DAY! THANK YOU!!! HAVE A BEAUTIFUL DAY.”
We had managed a wonderful 3 hour and 15 minute walk together and we returned home happily exhausted and still connected. My heart felt very happy.