After a particularly frenzied week, my husband and I decided that we needed a relaxing activity to soothe our fried nerves, reunite our family from the pulls of multiple activities and exercise our poor stir-crazy dog, Ozzy. A simple Sunday afternoon walk in the park seemed to fit the bill; what better way to get unplugged, in touch with nature and refreshed?
We piled the kids in the car and then whistled for our six-month-old Shepard/Akita puppy to join us. Car rides are a rare treat for Ozzy, and he leapt into the back of our Suburban with a big sloppy happy-puppy grin on his face. We grabbed the leash, a couple of poo bags and several bottles of water to combat the 90 degree heat and we were on our way.
By the end of our street it became apparent that Ozzy had grown considerably since his last car ride, and he was now able to easily jump over the back row of seats into our seating area. It didn’t take long for him to realize that for once we were the ones who were restrained while he got to walk around freely. Every dog’s dream, I’m sure. He excitedly paced back and forth over the kids’ laps, squishing them beneath his massive paws and whacking their faces with his tail, stopping only to take advantage of the opportunity to slurp the baby’s face while she couldn’t get away. Eventually he climbed his way to the front of the car, spun around in a circle and plopped his fifty pounds of hair and slobber directly onto my lap. Did I mention it was 90 degrees? How about the fact that we have no air conditioning in the car? Feel bad for me yet?
With my arms pinned under Ozzy’s weight, his doggy drool was free to stream down my legs un-wiped and his thick fur flew around the car, sticking to my sweaty face. While the car wove up and down the roads, luckily Ozzy was able to steady himself by digging his claws into my skin and bracing his fuzzy butt up against my neck. Good thing, too. I sure wouldn’t want him to be uncomfortable.
We arrived at the park relatively unscathed, strapped the baby into her stroller and set off down the paved trail. The thick trees formed a canopy above us, blocking out much of the sun and dropping the temperature considerably. The slight breeze, chirping birds and babbling stream running along side us made for a picture perfect afternoon and lifted all of our spirits immediately.
The children stayed a few paces ahead, holding hands while they skipped and giggled, pointing out birds and chasing butterflies. Ozzy marched proudly beside Brian while I pushed Lacey in her stroller. Delaney waved at every passerby with a witty greeting and strangers stopped to compliment us on our impeccable family. At one point rainbows sprung out from behind the trees while doves serenaded us and fish splashed us with cool refreshing water. OK, maybe not, but it was an utterly perfect moment.
As we passed each quarter-mile marker Brian asked if I was ready to turn around and head back yet. No way! This was too perfect, everyone was so happy and relaxed there was no way I wanted to go back to that hot box of a car yet. So we continued on.
About a mile into our walk I heard the first “I’m tiiiiiired, my feet don’t want to walk anymore!” and decided that it was probably time to turn around before we got too far away with fussy kids. Too late. The complaints caught on like wild fire and soon even Lacey, who was riding leisurely in her stroller, cool drink in hand, was yelling “Tired! Tired!” along with her cohorts. “I’m hungry! Did we bring snacks?” “I’m out of water!” “I have to go potty!” “I think I lost my shoe awhile back.” We walked faster and faster to get back to the car, which only enflamed the complaints.
In an effort to accommodate the smaller children we traded tasks, leaving me walking the dog, Brileigh pushing the stroller and Brian carrying a pouty Delaney on his shoulders. At that moment Ozzy, who had remained quiet and polite until then, decided that he really needed to run over and visit the extremely large Rottweiler walking in the opposite direction. The unexpected jolt sent me flying off my feet behind my pup with only my slippery flip-flops to stall him. Brian grabbed Ozzy right before he became an appetizer to Cujo and demoted me back to baby-carrier.
In all of the commotion it took a moment for me to notice that Ainsley was a few steps behind munching on a Ritz cracker. When I questioned her about the snack that seemed to materialize out of thin air she replied “Don’t worry mommy, I found it on the road.” Oh good, cause I was worried it would be something gross.
Tony took the edge off his boredom by torturing Brileigh, who in turn screeched like, well, a six-year old girl being tortured by her brother. Ainsley was pouting over the cracker I had wrestled out of her hand and my back was straining under the weight of Delaney, who struggled to climb higher and higher around my neck.
By the time the car came into our view, three of us were in full blown tears. (I’ll spare my husband the embarrassment of naming names.) The walk that had started out so fabulously had quickly unraveled into exactly the kind of catastrophe that we were trying to get a break from. I was frustrated that we couldn’t get through a single family activity without complaints, I was angry that the kids were misbehaving, and I was annoyed at the discovery that I can no longer walk without getting a friction burn from my thighs rubbing together.
As I was packing the stroller back into the trunk a woman approached me, stating that she had been walking behind us for some time now. I felt my face flush, sure that she was going to have some comment about the spectacle that our outing had turned into. Instead she informed me, with tears in her eyes, that she has a family much like ours, with a son and five daughters all close in age. She introduced me to one of her daughters, now grown, and thanked me for letting her relive the “good times” for a little bit. She reminded me that it goes fast and to enjoy every minute before disappearing to her own car.
It’s amazing to me how messages can come from unexpected places exactly when we need them most. Whether delivered by coincidence, fate, or a higher power, the end result is the same. I climbed back into my car with my crying children, nestled our slobbery beast back into my lap, and smiled at our wonderful afternoon.
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