Walking has saved my sanity on multiple occasions. I’m completely convinced that had it not been for my overriding urge to leave the house and walk (even when I knew it would probably have been ‘better’ for the children for me to have been at home whilst they napped, etc), my underlying postpartum enui would have segued into depression.
In the early months after my first child, Fred was born, I walked everywhere. He was a crier. A tongue-tie that wasn’t cut till he was five months meant I often felt I couldn’t comfort him, which was tough. I remembered saying to a new, barely known friend after a particularly operatic sobbing session/ new mums coffee morning (one of those ones where everyone but me seemed to have it down with cherubic babies burbling happily in their laps, whilst they oozed maternal competence into their Twinings)… ‘What am I doing wrong?’. My new comrade, wide-eyed with judgemental compassion, said: ‘It just doesn’t seem normal, Zo….’.
Betwixt these little outings, had I been inside my house, flitting about anxiously like some sort of crazed Ibsen character, I’m sure I’d have ended up throwing myself out of the window.
For me, as soon as I step outside the door and breathe in, I start to feel a little bit free again. It sparks the prickling sense of spontaneity that gets so buried by the banal realities of new motherhood. It’s as if it reignites some sort of psychological muscle memory: that I am, a little bit, still the mistress of my own destiny. That’s something it’s far harder to feel behind the gloss of a closed front door, with the invisible tug behind it, spurring us mothers away from relative freedom and inward to meet the unceasing demands of washing, wiping, and, on a bad day, weeping (theirs and ours).
Of course, the giddy mental trick is just that; there’s always bathtime and bedtime to get back for, even if you manage to fill the day with wanderings. So in practice, that satisfying reminder of the world of ‘what ifs’ translated for me most days as…. ‘I might just walk the four mile river path. It’ll take two hours to travel a ten minute train journey, but that’s just the kind of maverick I am!’
Above all, these lengthy wanderings felt good because they seemed a pleasurable waste of what could have been productive mum-hours doing dutiful, housewifely things indoors. In summer, I sometimes spent the whole day ambling through the park, and remember one snowy March day when I pulled my buggy backwards through the snow from Hampton to Kingston. I knew things were out of hand when I found myself on an unlit path, past bedtime in the middle of an inky-dark park, bugaboo careering wildly off-road amongst the tussocks and bracken as I tried to make a short-cut to the road.
Now I’ve got two children and live in a hillier town, I don’t walk quite so much, but I still prefer to use my feet rather than take the car whenever I can. I run, too, and find that the pilgrim thrill of two feet is only more acute when I’m buggy-less. I often look down at my Asics, and think, in the vein of Faithless and their paean to clubbing, ‘this is my church,’ or more so, ‘this is my Prozac.’
Leaving the house with two children and myself breakfasted, clothed and ready to face the day is a perennial struggle, but as I close that door with a satisfying thunk and see the sky, tune in to the noises of the outside world (I’m talking noisy traffic interchange and gaggles of school run scooters, rather than birdsong and pastoral white noise by the way), I remember a little bit that I’m a person and not just a mum.