“You’re too big to be carried,” said the woman in the office, as Emmy climbed onto my back, ready for the walk home through the chaotic Indian traffic on market day. “You should be using those legs of yours!”
“But I like to carry her,” I replied, with an edge to my voice. How dare she speak like that to my three-year-old child? “It keeps her safe from traffic, out of reach of dogs and tourists who want to pinch her cheeks; I can walk faster, I can talk to her more easily….”
The truth is, I feel like a weight has actually been lifted from my shoulders when I swing Emmy up onto my back and stride out at my own pace. I wouldn’t want to say it in front of her, but it’s great to be able to walk swiftly along without keeping to her short legs’ pace, without dealing with trips, stumbles and grazed knees, close calls with cow pats, gobs of spit and gum and without having my hand wrenched this way and that so she can investigate pieces of broken glass and dandelion clocks or just stop and drag on my arm for no reason at all. It’s not that I want to completely stifle her sense of wonder and exploration and her own pleasure in walking, but it’s liberating not to have to do it on every walk we take.
And a child can experience the world in a completely different way from the relaxed vantage point of an adult’s back. Emmy and I talk about the different kinds of birds and trees, the people and their myriad activities in the villages we pass through, the stars and planets at night and our feelings, thoughts and issues. We thrash out conflicts she’s had with me and other family members and share our fantasies about what we’re gong to do and eat when we get back to Australia.
I love to walk. The only thing I really miss about life before children is being able to go on long, challenging hikes. Three hours is about my limit now when I have two on board, as is usually the case, and nothing too steep, slippery or otherwise hairy. But that does mean I can still walk for three hours, talk to Emmy and give her baby sister the stimulation she loves without having to do anything except put one foot in front of the other. And we do walk a lot – because we can. Because I can go anywhere that doesn’t require advanced rock-climbing skills, even with two children in tow.
A lot of people don’t realise that when they see Emmy on my back she’s not being lazy (well, not always, and what’s wrong with laziness anyway?) Chances are, she’s spent an hour walking at a challenging pace, up and down steep hills, and is only now enjoying a well-earned rest. Having the freedom to ride ironically gives her the opportunity to walk in places other children her age can’t reach by foot or stroller, and she is already developing a love of hiking, exercise and the outdoors.
The other day at lunch, someone remarked how lucky my friend Katie was, to have a toddler who wanted to walk all the time: “It’s such a nuisance when they want to be carried all the time!” Katie and I looked at each other in bewilderment. “But it’s so much easier to carry them!” I’m so glad to be past the stage of the toddler who wants ‘down’ every few seconds, something that Katie was suffering through. The great thing about wearing a three-year-old is that she’s not significantly heavier than a one-year-old but a lot easier to tote. Emmy has morphed from a chubby, 15kg toddler into a skinny, 16kg preschooler who knows when she’s onto a good thing and so is quite happy to ride for long periods. She can clamber on herself or will tolerate being hip-scooted onto my back; she can put up an awkward sleep-hood alone and help me get a babywearing coat on and off. If I start to get tired or my shoulders ache, she can cope with walking for a while and maintain a reasonable pace. In fact I can comfortably manage long outings with two preschoolers by alternating them on my back. Watching her sleep as I write this, though, I realise what a baby she still is. I’m so grateful she still wants me to carry her and even more grateful that I’m still able to do so.