Walking Together Along Life’s Path

By Dallas Woodburn

I took my first steps holding a basketball-sized kid’s play ball, the plastic kind you buy at the supermarket. It was painted with a picture of Grover from Sesame Street, my favorite TV show character at the time. We called it my “Magic Grover Ball” because I didn’t think I could walk unless I was holding it. It fact, I wouldn’t even try to walk without it, as though it were filled with helium to hold me upright.

Then one day, the unthinkable happened. My Magic Grover Ball…

…popped.

Oh no! What would I do without my safety net? I would never walk again. I was doomed to a lifetime of rug-burned knees from crawling too quickly across carpet floors.

Then my mother stepped in. After drying my tears, she positioned herself a few feet away from me – miles away in my 15-month-old eyes – and spread her arms wide.

“Dallas,” she coaxed. “Come here. Come to Mommy.”

I stood there on my newborn colt-like wobbly legs, still not quite believing my Magic Grover Ball was really gone. Didn’t Mommy see that? Didn’t she realize there was no way I could walk to her without it?

“Come on Dallas. Walk to Mommy.”

As my parents tell the story, I looked my mother square in the eyes and took a few hesitant steps, that turned into a few more-confident steps, that turned into walking all the way across the floor – without the magical powers of my Magic Grover Ball! Yes, I was walking all by myself. Well, along with a little helpful encouragement from my mom.

My mother and I went on almost-daily walks around the neighborhood; as I learned to walk better, I would climb out of my stroller sometimes and walk beside her for a bit, holding her hand. Later, of course, we ditched the stroller altogether.

My memories of these walks are filled with a sense of comfort and peace: gentle sunlight filtering through the leaves of trees above, the warm security of my mother’s hand in mine, the sound of her voice as we sang songs together. Who could ask for anything more?

As I’ve grown older, things have changed, as things always do. Life has grown more hectic. I run my nonprofit literacy foundation, volunteer as a tutor for grade-school kids and work as a freelance writer. My mother, Lisa, is the head of her planning department at work, does volunteer activities and keeps our household running. But, no matter how busy we get, over the years one aspect of our lives has remained the same: our shared walks.

Whenever I come home to visit, Mom and I take our family dog for a one-mile stroll around the neighborhood, just as we used to do every evening when I still lived at home. Now, as then, we talk. We laugh. We bond. I know when I have something to say, Mom will always listen. If I have a problem, she will always help me figure out a way to fix it.

After all, Mom and I have struggled through our share of problems together. Born three months prematurely, I weighed a mere two pounds, six ounces, and back in 1987, the chances that I would survive were extremely small as well. My mother was stricken with preeclampsia, a terrifying collection of syllables that threatened her life as well as mine. A team of surgeons flew me to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Fresno, California, because the small Santa Maria hospital where I was born didn’t have the specialists or NICU equipment to care for me. Meanwhile, my mom stayed put in the Intensive Care Unit in Santa Maria for three days and wasn’t well enough to come visit me for a few weeks.

Miraculously, both my mother and I are portraits of health now, twenty-two years later. Perhaps that is, in part, because of our walks. A ritual that started when I was in preschool has evolved into a passionate bond for my mother and me.

Together, we have hiked up to the peak of Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States at 14,496 feet. We have hiked down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. We have walked to support the American Cancer Society and to raise money for AIDs research. We walk around our neighborhood, we walk along the beach, we walk side-by-side on treadmills at the gym. We walked through shopping malls searching for the perfect dress for my Prom; we walked through college campuses searching for the perfect college of my dreams – which we found at the University of Southern California. And, at my college graduation this past spring, when I walked across the stage and received my diploma, I knew I wasn’t walking alone. Though physically cheering me on from the stands, in spirit my mom was right there alongside me as I stepped across the threshold into my future.

It’s funny. Looking back now, I realize that my special first steps weren’t because of my “Magic Grover Ball” after all. The real magic came from my mother’s love and encouragement. I know her magic will remain with me as I walk along life’s winding paths, and even when I have a little newborn colt-like wobbly-legged toddler of my own one day. Thanks to Mom, I’ll know just what to do.

“Come on,” I’ll say. “Let’s go for a walk.”

About this writer

  • Dallas Woodburn Dallas Woodburn, 22, is the author of two collections of short stories and a forthcoming novel. She is also the founder of Write On! For Literacy and Write On! Books Publishing Company: www.writeonbooks.org.

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