I watched the red tail lights move down the block until they turned East at the end of our street. The dark was that of night, but the traffic was less at 5.40 am. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a couple walking down the middle of my street, following in the path of those lights. “What a peaceful time to walk,” I thought, and then remembered the hour.
Usually at this time of day I am tucked under the covers, and the only movement in my house is children rolling over in their beds. Even the early-rising one of the three doesn’t climb down the bunk bed ladder this early. We are a house of late-night homework, Netflix and snacks, I being the last one to fall into bed after finishing work, maybe a sip or two of Port, and a mindless repeat on tv. Yes, we violate all of those get mellow before bed rules, all the more so in this last year of pandemic.
But there is one rule I stick to, nearly without fail. It is Peggy’s rule. My friend Peggy is the patron saint of parenting counsel, the one who walked my neighborhood with my 3-month old daughter and me the day before my maternity leave ended 17 years ago. Even before that day, Peggy gave me sage counsel. Recognize the needs of each child, and walk with them as they ask or need, even if you are certain they can do it themselves. They will, ultimately, make their own way. Now, to be clear, this is much less articulate than Peggy whose words arrived in a real-life example of accompanying a child to a familiar place and staying for extra time to walk familiar paths, even though she knew that her child was fine. Those words remain in my pocket each and every day, so often pulled out that they are crumpled but not dusty.
Some years earlier, on a weekend retreat at camp, Peggy and I got up before the teenagers we were teaching and took a Shabbat morning walk. We got a bit lost on the return. As we sought our path back, a nice person called out to us, “You’ve got to walk your block.” Hmmm..what did that mean? We reflected with puzzlement on our way back. Did it mean walk a full square block? Or…what?
This morning I finally figured it out. I awakened without hitting the snooze when my phone buzzed at 5.17 am. Some would say I should have stayed in bed and let the 17-year old get up and get out on her own. Perhaps. But, it’s her first morning of (socially distanced) early morning water polo practice in a year, and the first dark morning she can drive herself to practice, license in hand.
I walked upstairs to her calm white room under the eaves. The length of the legs under that Marimekko floral comforter still surprise me — how are they so long? The legs moved toward the floor, and I departed for the kitchen. I made coffee as if in slow motion, and remained quietly busy with the dishwasher, but for offering a cup of Grandma Ruth’s famous coffee milk when she came down the stairs in swimsuit and fleece, looking for sweatpants. She stepped into mine, tucked the tye-dyed beach towel into the LeSportsac bag claimed from me as a swimming bag years ago, nary a sound, belying the thoughtful deliberation that was certainly going on within. Sure enough, without verbal preface, my taller-than-me daughter remarked that she thought she could drive to school this morning.
I handed her the car key. She clipped it on her key ring and was out the door, blond curly ponytail swaying behind her. I did as asked, and watched her back out of the driveway, an act she was fully capable of. I stood on the porch, watching the lights until they were no longer visible, just like she and I had watched countless taxis taking my parents to the airport years ago. Then she was a tiny cherubic-faced child with short blond curls who grinned and jumped excitedly. Now those blond curls rest on shoulders that feel the injustices of the world, atop a body that aggressively swims after a polo ball, those legs in constant movement to keep her afloat.
Then she and I would wave until the aqua and white taxi carrying her grandparents was no longer seen, my tears dripping into her curls. Today I stood transfixed, my tears invisible in the dark as she set out on the short drive to school. My tears fell on the spot we began that stroller walk with Peggy seventeen years before.