Our new bus stop is exactly a half-mile from our house, only a small distance farther than our old bus stop was. Tim knew my expectation with the old bus drop-off was that he would walk it without complaint, though if it was raining or snowing or below about thirty degrees – all of which were frequent occurrences this past winter – I usually drove out to pick him up.
From the new bus stop, my expectations are the same, but after a week with a lot of rainy days followed by a week in which he was sick, Tim seemed to fall out of the habit of walking uncomplainingly. Most days this month he has called me from the bus to ask if I’ll come out and get him.
Typically, my response is the same as it used to be when he would do this: if it’s not raining or snowing or cold, I tell him to walk. End of discussion.
But within the past week or so, I realized that although there was no reason he needed to be picked up at the bus stop in the car, it wasn’t a bad time for me to take a break from my work, and it wasn’t a bad chance to get the dog moving around a little bit too. She and I do our run together first thing in the morning; by 2:30 it often feels like we’ve been sitting still for hours and hours. (Often, we have.)
So for the past few days, I’ve tried to resist the temptation to tell him I’m too busy with work when he calls. Instead, I grab Belle’s leash and head out to meet him on foot.
I expected him to be discontent with this solution. I thought what he really wanted was a ride. I thought his call was mostly about wanting to avoid the half-mile walk.
But I came to realize in the past few days that I might be wrong about that. He seems to be delighted to see me walking out to meet him as he makes his way down the road. (I never actually start my walk early enough to see him get off the bus; he’s always already on his way by the time our paths cross.) And I don’t know why this should surprise me, but it does. I’m just not used to thinking that Tim really wants my company. For so long now, it’s seemed to be the rule that he likes being with me at baseball games and mealtimes and bike rides, but quiet strolls together aren’t particularly a priority. But without my even noticing, that seems to have changed. Ever since I started walking out to the bus, he seems happy just for the chance to walk with me.
What made me take notice of this transformation was that late last week when he called from the bus, he had a specific request. “Mom, could you either walk out to meet me at the bus stop or cook me some bacon for a snack?” he asked. Bacon isn’t an everyday thing, but once a week or so I’m willing to allow it.
“Sure,” I said. “Which would you prefer I do?”
I was sure he’d say the bacon, partly because he loves bacon so much and partly because he’s too lazy to fix his own snack.
He didn’t even seem to pause. “Walk out to meet me,” he answered. “I can make the bacon myself.”
I have to confess, I was irrationally flattered. But this is really interesting to me. For so long, it seemed that my purpose to Tim was based on the primal components that mothers provide to children: sustenance and comfort initially, entertainment and transportation and nourishment as they get older. But by Tim asking me to walk with him, I’m discovering that even when he needs none of these things, he values my company.
I don’t want to make more of this than it is. For one thing, at the old bus stop he had two neighbors to walk with; here there are no other kids on his bus shift. It might not be me in particular, just that he’d rather have company than walk alone.
But still, my company trumped bacon. At the moment, I can’t think of anything more validating than that.