Every parent of a baby or toddler knows that there are morethan 120 minutes between 4 and 6 pm. These are the long hours between naps and dinner, when kids and parents alike lose the ability to keep it together, and patience flies out the window. Someone is begging to eat, someone wants the TV turned on, and someone is screaming, face down on the floor. (In my house, usually it’s the kids.) The “witching hours” are a universal time of torture that every parent of a young child must endure.
At some point early last spring, when my three year-old son and twin infant daughters were howling in unison because I refused to carry all of them in my arms, I made a game-changing decision. “Let’s go out for a walk,” I said.
Yes, it was probably 40 degrees, and there was a lot of bundling to do. The jackets and hats didn’t muffle the wails as much as I would have liked. Still, something surprising—dare I say, magical—happened once the door closed behind us, and they were loaded into the stroller. They were silent. My ears stopped ringing. We all took a breath. This was the first of many evening treks that became known as our Attitude Adjustment Walks.
As I started pushing our behemoth triple stroller down the street, I wondered what had quieted them. No one had yet discovered the snack traps stuffed with Goldfish crackers. No one had passed out from my overzealous bundling with blankets and hats. Instead, they were all looking around. Liam, from his perch in the front, was the first to spot a roaming cat. Maeve and Emily reached out from the sides of the stroller to trail their fingers through the neighbors’ bushes. I paused and enjoyed the hush of the evening as we circled the block.
As the weeks passed and the weather grew warmer, our walks lengthened. My son, an animal lover by nature, quickly learned which streets were best for spotting dogs and would request routes to see his furry friends. One evening we collected pine cones and seedpods and brought them home for dissection. Another time we raced from puddle to puddle to see which ones would make the biggest splash. Over time, people started to recognize us. The pitying stares I once received as I pushed my three uphill were replaced by shouts of “Here comes Liam and the twins!” to which my son would reply with a huge “Hello!” and outstretched hand for high-fives.
It had never occurred to me that time outdoors was exactly what my children needed during that interminable stretch before Daddy came home. For my son, who happened to get hearing aids around the same, the Attitude Adjustment Walks were also a chance for him to listen for sounds he previously had not noticed: the crinkling of leaves, the chatter of squirrels, the meowing of a cat.
For the girls, it provided visual stimulation. After a long day of fiddling with their toys and watching the dust bunnies grow under my couch, they must have been glad to see something different.
For me, the walks afforded a chance to connect with my kids in a way that I couldn’t inside. I pointed out the budding trees in the springtime and tried to explain the seasons to my son. We made up silly songs about the worms in the puddles and waved to strangers who jogged past. We enjoyed the outdoors together. Soon the previously dreaded witching hours became a time to which I looked forward.
Of course, we live in New England where the weather does not always cooperate with our walks. This winter, we’ve been marooned inside more times than I’d like, but we can still sing our songs, make obstacle courses, and take pretend adventure walks in the playroom. I am no longer counting the minutes until my husband comes home from work to help with the kids. I am counting the days until we can get back outside for our walks.
Kelly Schultz is a marathoner, mom of three and middle school English teacher in Massachusetts.