On weekday mornings, my 22-month-old daughter comes with me to my office. She reads books, plays with toys, and breastfeeds while I do some work. Then we walk over to her nursery, which is on my university campus.
It didn’t occur to me that we walked slowly to the nursery until people began pointing it out. As we walk there, we often run into my colleagues or other people I know from work. A number of them have made comments about what a long, slow journey my daughter and I are making, or have asked if it’s boring or frustrating for me to go at that pace. These people say this to me in loud voices as they hurry to their offices. “Still going slowly, I see!” one yelled to me this week, his tone suggesting that he pitied me.
When I have dropped my daughter off at nursery and walk back to my building, it takes me about five minutes. When we walk together, it can take us anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. The only time I try to speed our walk along is if I have a class to teach or a meeting to attend or if it’s pouring rain. Otherwise, I let my daughter take the time she wants.
Why does it take so long? Besides the obvious point about a toddler having small legs, the main reason is that she’s curious. She likes to look at everything we see and to tell me about it. She’s especially excited by transportation, so she screams with delight when we pass the bus stops. “Orange bus!” she’ll say, pointing at one bus idling and waving at the driver. She’ll turn to a second one and shout, “Hello, purple bus!” Or she will count the people on their bicycles, “One bike, another bike, three bike!” Or she will call out the colors and sizes of the cars we see, “Big red car! Little blue! Big green truck!”
There are a lot of stones, trees, bushes, and flowers on campus, and my daughter likes them too. She’ll spend long minutes choosing just the right stone from a little pile and then she’ll show it to me, stroking it. She likes to study the changing leaves and to pick up fallen petals. If we see ants or flies or other insects, she will squeal happily and squat to get closer to them.
She will wave and smile at people she doesn’t know and she’ll stare at them, interested in their faces and bodies. She’s clearly trying to figure humans out; “Bye-bye, lady,” she’ll say to a man. “Black hair,” she might mumble, as though that tells her something important about the person. Often, people reply with a smile; others ignore us, talking on their phones or listening to music.
When I walk by myself, I don’t notice these things. Like my colleagues, I’m in a rush. I’m busy thinking about what I need to do next and where I have to get to. I have lists in my head: emails to reply to, books to review, papers to organize, students to see. Sometimes while I’m working, I forget that there’s life beyond my desk. I forget that work isn’t the most important thing in life.
Walking with my daughter, I get reminded of what actually matters. Yes, a tiny scuffed pebble is amazing. An ant scurrying is astounding. It’s fascinating to touch the pavement and to see if it’s bumpy or smooth. Who wouldn’t want to crinkle a dry leaf in their hand or to touch a velvety flower?
My daughter can walk fast; she can and does run, too. But what she’s taught me is that often it doesn’t matter what speed we go at. It’s true that we don’t always have the time to look at every single blade of grass, but we usually do have the time to look at a few, and to appreciate anew this wonderful world we live in. Her joy and curiosity are infectious.
So when my colleagues tease me or feel sorry for me because my daughter and I walk slowly, I smile back at them. “Yup, we’re walking slowly,” I say, “because there’s so much to see on the way.”