Mother went for a walk today.

Sometime around my mother’s 91st birthday, in 2019, she stopped working at the Greensboro Children’s Museum and decided it was time to move in with one of her three children. (Yes, that’s right, she worked until she was 90.)

It made the most sense for my mother to move in with my big sister, Leslie, because Leslie was retiring, and they had lived together when Leslie’s children were small. That meant moving Mother from her home in North Carolina to Leslie’s home in Virginia.

Relocating is never easy, even when it’s the best idea. Then the pandemic descended, which was especially frightening for over-90-year-olds with COPD.

One thing was certain: Mother  would go for a walk every day.

Mother daughter sister

Sister Leslie, Mother, Tish (I run things!) and Tish’s daughter Nina

“Caring for elders is like parenting toddlers—there’s a scan running in the background of every thought and every act, a scan that’s tuned to possible trouble,” Margaret Renkl wrote in her beautiful book Late Migrations: A natural history of love and loss.

Caring, as every mother knows, calls on deep reserves of patience and empathy.

Small children and elders ask a lot of questions (often on repeat). They move slowly and thrive on routine. They need help (though they don’t always welcome it!). They look at the world with wonder. They are changing. The key difference being that while the child is acquiring knowledge the elder is letting go, a poignant reflection on the circle of life, as Popsugar’s Denise Stirk noted.

(Important note: My sister is doing all the hard work. I’m merely observing from 200 miles away.)

“Leslie takes such good care of me,” Mother says on our weekly phone calls. “She takes me for a walk every day.”

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Mothers, daughters, sisters: Mother (center) stands flanked by daughters Leslie (in white) and Tish (black flowers) and Leslie’s daughter Beth (in black) and Tish’s daughter Nina (maroon).

Now 94, Mother is beginning to lose some of her words and her balance, but she has not lost her desire and drive to keep moving. She has not lost her belief in the power of movement.

At 94, the daily walk is more important than ever.

Walking (like running) keeps the heart pumping, lungs expanding, blood flowing. Every curb and pavement bump works the muscles, bones, and tendons in the feet and ankles that help keep a person mobile, agile, steady on her feet. Noticing the cardinal flitting around and the azaleas blooming stimulates neural pathways. When I visit and walk with her, the slower pace reminds me to try to be present to all the good.

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Tish and her mother walking in St. Simon’s Island, GA, where they attended a family wedding

Plus, the daily walk provides the comfort of structured routine, a bedrock ritual in a world that becomes increasingly confusing.

“It’s important to keep moving,” my mother says about her daily walk. “If you stop, you stay stopped.”

Time passes, people change, that’s life. And yet I still wake up in the morning feeling slightly astonished that my stubborn all-pink 4-year-old is leaving for college in August and slightly verklempt that my scholarly mother will no longer chide me for being unable to translate Latin. Sometimes it’s hard not to totally freak out about all the changes I see coming toward me. Life, love, loss!

walk with mother

Brother Chris walks Mother to his son Marty’s wedding to the lovely Sarah in St. Simon’s Island, GA. Sniff! Also: Heart emoji!

On this Mother’s Day, I’ll go for a walk with my daughter in the morning, check in with Leslie and Mother in the afternoon, and try to remember to stay calm and be present to all the good.