I walk back to our mudroom, where we keep Ruby’s leash and collar, and the dog is right on my heels, crying with anticipation. After I get her ready, which takes too much time because she won’t stop jumping, I turn around and call for Ben, my 20-month-old.
At this point, Ruby’s excitement dims visibly. A walk with me means a brisk pace, and the opportunity to cover lots of ground. A walk with Ben and me means slow going; Ruby runs ahead until there’s no lead left on the leash, and then waits impatiently for us to catch up.
Ben, my curious little explorer, isn’t overly concerned about letting Ruby get her schpilkes out. He is content to mosey across neighbors’ lawns as though he owns the entire neighborhood. He walks up to each door and lifts up his hand to knock, knowing it’ll get a semi-panicked reaction from Mommy, especially when she knows these neighbors aren’t particularly friendly. He turns around to see what I’ll do, decides not to knock after all, and then darts back down the path to trample another neighbor’s lawn. He picks up every rock, acorn, insect, empty water bottle, chewed gum, cigarette butt, worm and goose poop that comes across his path. He keeps the rocks and acorns to himself, but hands me the other items for identification.
Ruby, agitated because a squirrel is within reach, suddenly chases the animal to a nearby tree. As she tries to climb up the tree, barking like a maniac, Ben runs over and howls along with her, pointing up at the elusive squirrel. Sensing defeat, Ruby makes her way to the fire hydrant for a sniff, with Ben close behind. Ruby finds a good smell and decides to make the area her own, and Ben follows suit, squatting alongside her as she does her business. It’s a Kodak moment.
At this point, Ben’s hands are full of rocks, and he’s trying to squeeze in more. He can’t understand why his hands aren’t able to do what his little boy brain is directing. I ask him if he’d like me to hold some of them, and he says no. He is determined to pick up one last rock, and somehow figures out that even though his hands are both full, if he holds the last rock between his closed fists, it will stay put. He looks at me triumphantly, and I respond in kind. Toddler victory.
We are about to cross paths with a Golden Retriever and his owner. Ruby’s tail is wagging so hard her whole body is shaking; Ben is yelling “Goggie! Goggie!” I start to remind him to be gentle, but before I am even at his eye level, the dog and its owner have crossed the street. Ben and Ruby both turn and look at me, disappointed and confused, and I am left wondering how to explain that sometimes we just don’t get everything we want. Ben points across the street and says “Goggie” once more. My heart breaks a little.
We collect ourselves and move on, 20 minutes into the walk yet only halfway around the block. A school bus drives by, and the Golden Retriever is forgotten. Ben trots after the bus, and Ruby is thrilled for the opportunity to run. We all race to the corner, where the bus drops off three students. I tell Ben that some day he’ll go to school and ride the bus, too. The thought of it makes me teary, but he grins and points to the bus.
Rounding the last corner, we make our way home. Ben starts to slow down, knowing the fun is almost over, and that he will have to leave his rocks in the designated bucket in the garage. Ruby speeds up, knowing that she’ll get water and a cookie, and a nice, long nap on her favorite stair. Before Ben can argue about going inside, I remind him that there are lots of new library books to read, and macaroni and cheese for lunch, and he takes my hand and leads the three of us inside.