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Our daily destination.

Okay, I admit it:  I’m still carrying “baby weight” from a pregnancy that ended a year ago.  I’ve forever threatened to exercise, but with six kids I’ve not managed to make good on the “plan.”  I have a lot of DVD workouts I love–including P90X, which is amazing–but the same thing happens every time I pop one in:  mayhem.  Something always interrupts me, and it’s usually screaming, crying, and/or borderline earth shattering (per the interuptee).

The excuses are grand if I’m trying to avoid the exertion … but I want to exercise.  I want to feel better and have the energy that comes with it.  Unfortunately, by the time I drag my brood to the park–the only place we can walk safely, as we live on a narrow rural road with a high speed limit–I’m caught in an epic What was I thinking?  And that’s before we’re even out of the car.

A peaceful walk through the woods?  Pshaw!  Here’s the reality.

It takes forever to get out of the car, make sure everyone has their backpacks, walking sticks, and spare change (all overkill, but they are required to carry their own stuff, so my hands are up).  After I check for the nth time to ensure I have my keys (not to mention yell for the also-nth time, “Wait!” for the ones already walking off) we set off on the first quarter mile … to the camp store.  There, I wait outside with the younger half of my brood while the older three spend about 15 minutes determining which 15 cent piece of candy they want.  When we finally get everyone together again, I’m already exhausted.  The trip back to the car is slightly more tempting than the one to the river, if you can imagine that.

The gravel path to the river ... wide enough to not worry *too* much about snakes.

But we’re there, so … the walk to the river is 1.25 miles.  The gravel path is wide, well-packed, and winds through a thick canopy of trees, periodically offering a glimpse of the water and nearby picnic venues.  Every time my three-year-old sees a picnic table, he decides he wants a sandwich.  This is often, and we don’t have any.  Now, I have to give the park officials credit for marketing genius.  The 1.25 miles isn’t enough to warrant backpacking for most folks, so the drink machine at the river end of the trail is just brilliant.  We spend another ten minutes while the kids spend their own money on ice cold drinks.  I sip lukewarm water.

After an additional 10-15 minutes spent by the water’s edge–largely full of “get away from the water” and “there are snakes over there” and “don’t throw rocks in the water” (not to be confused with skipping rocks, which is okay)–I round them up again.  We split from our original trail to take a new route back, this one slightly less maintained and dotted with puddles when it rains.  You can imagine where this is going, right?  “STAY OUT OF THE MUD.”  (That didn’t last long.  I decided to pick my battles, and that one wasn’t worth it, LOL.)

When we reach the end of that trail we’ve accumulated about 2.5 miles and still have to walk down the park road another half mile or more to get back to the car.  This involves passing a steep hill that goes straight down to the water, so needless to say I won’t let my three-year-old go to the top because I don’t want to fish him out of the water, and there’s no way I can take the stroller with the baby up that incline–particularly when it’s slippery as ice all covered with pine straw.  This is the part where the aforementioned three-year-old starts screaming, and I listen to it at one volume or another until the older half make their way to the camp store and exit with more goodies.  (Again, this is all at their own expense.)

Then we walk the half mile back to the car and spend another ten minutes putting the backpacks and stuff inside.  I obsess over the keys again before locking up, then we head another quarter mile to the playground. I give them thirty minutes there before dragging them back to the car to go home.

Whew.  Just … whew.

Insanity, yes.  But by the time it’s over with, some pretty cool stuff has happened.  In the moments of silence, I’ve been able to think about my WIP, the peace of nature and the woods offering a bit of a “reset” for days naturally hectic with a house and six kids and homeschool lessons to tend to.  As much as I love that break, however, it’s in the rest of the moments I find what’s perhaps more valuable.  Not so much the arguing or saying for the 10th time to stay on the trail, but in being with my kids.  In seeing them discuss which tree is which and how to tell the difference, or in watching my five-year-old walk slowly because she’s got a hitchhiking dragonfly on her shoulder she doesn’t want to scare off.  It’s the excitement of positively identifying a bear track (gulp) or a squirrel’s nest, of recognizing birds by their songs and trying to figure out if that lightning bug is male or female.  It’s turning around to see my five- and three-year-olds holding hands as they walk, singing Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem” with impressive accuracy and a lot of zeal.

It’s three miles and three hours we’ll never get back … but all the more reason to spend them just like that.  I’m pretty sure our walks will fill their a page of their childhood memories, and in time–when I’m not sweaty, dragging, and trying to figure out who gave me the authority to have bright ideas–I’ll treasure these moments even more than I do now.

Could do without the bear, though.