Baby Steps 

(First published in Le News edition 24, 8 – 14 May 2014)

Ever since we arrived in Switzerland my husband and I have been fantasising about the outdoor adventures we could have, if only our children would walk.

In true Johannesburg-child fashion, they seem to believe that feet are things meant for pressing accelerator pedals. Not that they’re lazy. They’ll run around in the park forever, bounce on the trampoline for hours … but ask them to actually walk on the actual ground and they cannot cope. At the mere thought, both children begin to wail as loudly as if we’d just … I don’t know … pushed them straight down an icy mountain on two waxed planks. Oh wait, that’s me I’m thinking of. The children love hurtling down slopes. It’s only when the ground is flat that they complain.

The smaller child, particularly, is prone to sudden and debilitating attacks of Short Legs.

‘I can’t go on,’ she sobbed recently, falling facedown on the dusty ground and clutching her ankles. ‘I have Short Legs! Carry me!’

‘We’re still in the parking lot,’ I pointed out. ‘Get moving!’ For the rest of the walk (all 2 kilometres of it) she wept pitifully and shuffled along like a cross between La Belle Dame Sans Merci and a woodland zombie.

I’ve only seen the children walking with any enthusiasm once, and that was when we were stampeded by a herd of cows. Delirious with joy at being let out of their barn, the herd immediately broke into a gallop.

‘Crikey!’ I shrieked, as thirty tonnes of grass-fed beef hurtled down the hill, straight towards us.

‘Calm down,’ my husband said, pointing to a flimsy piece of wire strung between a few wooden poles. ‘There’s a fence.’

Sure enough, the cows got to within ten metres of the wire, veered sharply to their left and stampeded on in an orderly fashion. Swiss cows. Amazing. If we’d been back in South Africa, not only would we have been trampled but one of the herd would have stolen my sunglasses.

By the time we caught up with the children, they were halfway home and still going strong. It was quite difficult to slow them down, actually. But seeing how fast they can move when motivated didn’t solve my problem. I can’t employ the services of an overexcited cow every time I want a stroll.

Let the reluctant little walkers lead the expedition,’ the parenting book said. So one sunny day I packed sandwiches and juice into a backpack and told them we were going for a hike.

They screamed and fainted for a while, but the promise of a picnic lunch eventually got them out the door, up the road and into the forest. Then disaster struck.

‘Where are the juice bottles?’ I asked, reaching into the backpack and finding nothing but a giant soft toy. ‘Where’s the food?’

‘At home,’ the bigger child answered. ‘I took everything out so I could fit Big Monkey in.’

The children immediately began to howl with hunger, fatigue and Short Legs, and the trip home was not a happy one. As soon as we got inside I slammed the door and swore we’d never travel anywhere on foot ever again.

Not long afterwards we were driving down Germany’s lovely Romantic Road and my husband said, idly, ‘Maybe one day we could do a walk along here.’

‘Great idea,’ I answered, ignoring the horrified screams from the back seat.

My memory, it seems, is as short as their legs.


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