Monday, January 21, 2013

Want to Go on Vacation? Take a Walk -- by Ed

We recently spent 10 days in San Francisco de Macoris, Dominican Republic. Wow, all those beaches and all-inclusive resorts! Not for us, though. Sometimes a simple walk is all one needs.

Walk through a new city, loud, vibrant, full of old cars and motorcycles that don't even slow down for stop signs. Sound like fun? Add in one grandchild. Talk about what he likes about his new city. Let him squeeze your hand when he wants to let you know it is safe to cross the street. Watch as he high-fives with his new friends before they all take their flutes from the small draw-string bags they carry loosely at their sides. Listen to Jingle Bells and the Theme from Titanic as the second grade boys in this crowd have an informal rehearsal before the music teacher's assistant lines them up to march into class.
Max practices with classmates for a televised winter school concert. 
Walking Max home after his 2nd grade social studies exam, I learn that the trickiest question was to name and locate the birthplace of Jesus Christ. His toughest exam of the week had been Spanish; his easiest had been his foreign language class - English. Natural science had been a challenge, but he liked it. I learned that he has many friends at school - from my observations and from his sharing, though he also said that he only sees these friends at school. Around his neighborhood, he has another set of friends with whom he hangs out and plays football. I was introduced to them my first day, as we tossed the football back and forth on the walk in front of their homes.

We pass carts full of coconuts, sidewalk stands of tropical fruits. We're passed by women carrying bundles of sandals on their heads. We see a Haitian family leaving the construction site where they'd camped for the night, and he explains this to me. He's keenly aware of both the poverty all around us and the joy and openness of the people. He's guarded at times, but he also lights up when a friend passes going the other direction, giving him a high five.
Josh leads Max across the street on our way to the concert recording.
To say my spoken Spanish is rudimentary would be claiming too much, so he translates for me in the small shops or when he introduces me to his friends.

As we walk in the late afternoon to his Taekwondo practice, the grandmothers sitting in front of their houses or sweeping the walk greet him with smiles. The guard sitting on a folding chair in front of the Banco with a shotgun on his knee offers a smile and a high five, but Max slips under my arm, squeezing close.
Max practices for his upcoming exam.
Sue and I were happy to be able to watch his Taekwondo exam one Saturday morning. Though I'd been watching him at practice each afternoon, his demeanor was different for the exam. His intensity gave him a stature greater than some of his fellow students who were much older and taller. He had his orange belt, and he was going for an orange belt with a green stripe, the intermediate step toward the green belt. We were thrilled, as was he, when he was awarded his full green belt at the end. All of that practice at home and at the center had paid off. On Monday, as he and I walked to his practice, the guard in front of the Banco noticed - "Aaaaa, verde!" with a fist tap. The grandmothers also noticed. This is a neighborhood.
Max earned his green belt.
Only once did we go for a walk after dark. Josh, Max, and I walked through town to the bus stop downtown to catch a guagua (usually a 10-15 year old minivan) to the baseball stadium. The streets were particularly dark since the power was off in the city, again. We waited some time for a guagua with a spare seat or two. We finally ended up catching a taxi to the stadium where we enjoyed the large, raucous crowd and the talented play of the Gigantes del Cibao.
Gigantes fans watch the game.
On one walk with Josh, Zora, Max, and Sue, I witnessed a surprising act of sibling closeness. Yes, they can really push each other's buttons at times and burst into conflict at the drop of a hat. On this day, as we walked, Zora asked Josh to carry her. Even though he was carrying something in his right hand, he scooped her up with his left arm. However, she was soon slipping through, and she yelled, "Max!" and he stepped up, lowered his shoulder and pushed up to support her on his shoulder saying, "Don't worry, Zora, I've got you!"
That is one way to carry a child.
Lest you think taking a walk can only be a vacation in some exotic clime, I want to share two other walking stories from much closer to home. You see, it's not the exotic clime that is key, but the grandchild. About once a month we travel from Toppenish to Portland. Sometimes we stay with our son, Sam and his family, and when we do, there is a Sunday morning ritual. We take a long walk with Bria, our 9 year old granddaughter, to the Safeway Starbucks for our morning coffee and a hot chocolate. As we walk, we hear about what she's been doing in school, her favorite book of the week, and more family "secrets" than her parents would probably want her sharing. We try to help her think through the latest challenges with her friends, and we share in her excitement about all the positive things happening in her life. It is something we all look forward to on these visits.
Bria and Susan on a morning walk.
On the weekends when we don't stay at Bria's house, we stay at June and Oliver's. June is 4 and Ollie is 1. When we last visited, June took me for a walk in her neighborhood. We take many walks in this neighborhood, but usually with other members of the family. This walk was just for June and I. I never know what adventures will develop. As we walked, she talked....and talked. As she held my hand, she stopped in front of one house to tell me this was her "favoritist" yard. I could see the remains of flowers that spoke of a colorful past display. She told me all the reasons this yard was special. Then we walked on. Suddenly, she stopped and stooped down, whispering that we had to be quiet so we wouldn't wake up the monster in the yard ahead. We duck-walked by the yard, with nary a sign of said monster, but I was much relieved to have such a knowledgeable guide. Then she shouted it was time for a race. She counted 1....2.....3.....4......5....GO! And off she went with me laughing and running to keep up. Then we crossed the street, with her telling me when it was safe after looking both ways from the curb and from two steps into the street to look around the parked cars. A savvy city walker, indeed. Then I was told, as we walked up the hill, that we needed to watch for rabbits, and that she would catch the rabbits on the left side of the sidewalk while I was to catch the rabbits on the right side. Before I knew it, she had scooped up 3 rabbits, and I was still looking for tracks. I barely had time to grab one rabbit before we stopped to examine the branches of an interesting bush. By the time we returned to the house, we were both ready for a nap.
June will definitely keep you moving!
Want to have that refreshing, reinvigorating feeling of a vacation? Take a walk - with a child. 

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