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Challenge: Walking the Talk

Connecting sideways with my son

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When I was a kid, I would come home from school every day and my mother would have some kind of homemade freshly-baked treat ready for me and my sister. Over cinnamon rolls, cookies, or pepperoni bread, I would spill all the details of my day with the slightest prompt. My sister, on the other hand, wouldn’t crack under threat of torture. She would wait for a few days and then, snuggled on the couch one evening, she may find the words she had been thinking about.

Years later, with my husband, I noticed that we had many of our best, most open talks while riding in the car. There’s something about sitting side by side that facilitates conversation. Now that I’m a mom, I can see this principle in action with our son, too, and when he and I are engaged in some sort of activity together, especially walking or playing, he surprises me sometimes with topics I hadn’t expected.

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I recently read an article that calls this "sideways learning" – making a connection with your kids while active. For small children, connection may take place while spending time together baking, running, walking, crafting, building or playing games. For parents of teenagers, that connection sometimes occurs in the car, when you're both facing forward and watching the world go by. It’s that same thing I noticed during car rides with my husband.

In the summer, my sister and I take long walks every morning when we’re visiting our parents in Indiana. After three miles, we’re exhilarated and feel as though we have accomplished something, and we have also had a one-on-one chance to catch up. Knowing we have that time set aside is precious and valuable, and we never run out of things to talk about.

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My son is 8 now, and he rarely stands still. I find if I’m willing to move with him, we connect even more. Sitting on the couch isn’t good for either of us, anyway. This summer, we started walking together and logging our miles, choosing a topic to discuss for every mile from Marathon Kids' summer Walk and Talk program.

He likes to ask me about my life before he existed.

"Mama, who were your friends when you were a kid?"

"What was the best moment of your life?"

And he asks me tougher questions, like, "Why don't I have any siblings?"

I like to delve into his mind and pursue conversations about his viewpoints.

"What would you do if a friend called you a mean name?"

"How do you feel about playing baseball?"

"If you could have three super powers, what would they be?"

That last question is one that I also asked my son and a carpool full of 8-year-old boys and it elicited some hilarious – and insightful – comments.

We have logged several miles together, he and I, and we're getting to know each other and building stronger connections as we walk the equivalent of a marathon or two over the summer. And in my mind's eye, I can see the road roll out in front of us, unfurling like a red carpet.

Kristin Shaw is a writer based in Austin, Texas. For more of her writing, you can find her at KristinVShaw.com for her essays and ThrillsandWheels.com for stories about positive, uplifting stories within the automotive industry. Her essay and video "I can still pick him up, so I do" has been seen by millions of viewers on the TODAY Parents platform.

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