psy·chot·ic leop·ard sīˈkädik/ˈlepərd/ noun · anything that is funky, interesting, beautiful, niche, useful, and grabs one's attention

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Posted by Lisa Johnson on


When I was little, every Sunday morning started by walking with my dad “to get the paper.”  Instead of The New York Times being delivered to our house, he liked to go down to the local drugstore for it, and I would accompany him.  As the eldest child, my sister still a toddler and at home with my mom, I basked in his full attention.  

The neighborhood I lived in was called Indian Village, and all of the streets were named after Native American tribes.  Probably less for tradition and more as a deterrent for cars, almost every property had a significant rock at the front of the yard.  Some were large boulders that Sisyphus could have left behind, others much smaller, and painted white.  What I looked forward to the most was holding my dad’s hand and  jumping on every single one, as we made our way down the hill of Ramapo Road.  The finale was being allowed to stick dimes in the vending machines at the supermarket for tiny plastic prizes, which I’d stuff in my pockets and later keep in my jewelry box, which I still have.  

On weekend evenings, my father and I would take another direction, and head toward a deli in Roosevelt Square - this time, with ice pops as our goal. During the week, he would inhale a half gallon of Breyer’s pretty much every night, his love of ice cream a genetic trait which passed on to me.  He was a wrestler and runner and could get away with it, and the walking counted as more than just exercise.  These early walks fostered my love for wandering.

Before my son was born, my aunt bought me the biggest ticket item on my shower list - a jogging stroller. I imagined meandering for hours with my baby contentedly napping in this cocoon of blue canvas luxury.  Unfortunately, mine was not the type who could sit still for more than a few minutes, and nearly every attempt to get out and enjoy the weather ended within a few minutes of me struggling to push the stroller with one arm, while wrangling with him in the other.

As a toddler, Izzy was the kind of kid you could never “go for a walk” with because he literally did not move in a straight path.  His quirky brain and ability to get distracted always led him in contrasting directions, and it was impossible to ever get where I needed to go.  The world was just not big enough, and I would take him to huge fields, limitless with space.  Somehow, he would always make a beeline to the far edges, and try to climb over anything that kept him in.  

At some point, possibly as a third grader, we tried taking walks again, this time with his nearby elementary school as a solid destination.  A lot of the neighbors did the same, modeling that this was what people did, walking to school on warm, sunny days.  It finally worked!  Plus, we had a new puppy, and Izzy played big shot, bringing the dog onto school property to get a slurpy, public goodbye.

Somehow bringing Po the pup to school became a routine, which continued into junior high, which was also fortunately within walking distance. We spent three years walking there together for twelve minutes every morning, in all weather, bickering, talking, me nagging him about a progress report which didn’t live up to either of our expectations, him complaining about a teacher’s poor classroom management skills, the former educator in me often disagreeing, but having to swallow my opinions, remembering that I was talking with a teenage boy, who I loved deeply and who could also use an understanding, and often silent, ear.

When Izzy started high school in Stamford three years ago, it was the first time he would have to ride a bus regularly.  I thought our walking days were over, but it turned out that the stop was at his middle school, the same one we’d been walking to for years.  The catch was that he’d have to be there a full hour and a half earlier than before.  No matter - he decided that he wanted us to keep doing our morning stroll.

We walked our way through his best friend’s suicide, sometimes in silence, both our hearts completely shattered.  We walked our way through my extreme divorce, and his father’s subsequent abandonment.  We walked through his and my own confusion and fury, angst and dread.  And we walked through his victories at the same time: winning first speaker at a Dartmouth camp debate, scoring a date for the junior prom when he was only a freshman, and the smaller, daily stuff, both mine and his.

Some people do family dinners, but we are so often in different directions that this doesn’t happen unless we eat at a restaurant, or do it with others.  I have to remind myself that there are different ways to stay in touch with one’s kids.  Walks are the time Izzy and I catch up and connect with each other.  And we’ve actually grown to enjoy each other’s company!  

Now Izzy likes to join me in other activities - including not only a hip hop class, but another for toning, jam packed with mostly middle-aged women.  The teacher has marveled at how a teenage boy can actually want to spend time with his mom, and other adults have made similar comments.  

Earlier in the week, I overslept and Izzy chided me later in the afternoon that we had “missed our talk.”  Even though it was the middle of a busy workday, I got up and grabbed my coat off the hook.

“Come on,” I told him, pushing the front door open.  “Let’s go walk the dog.”

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  • You have a gift for writing that taps into the emotions of the reader. The detailed memories you retained from such an early age made me re-experience the joy of being the father of a dear young child. I was moved to the point of tears. Love, Dad.

    Charles Rodman on

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