I had just finished reading A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park with my boys (Alex, 9 and Nicky, 6) when I saw the notice for a “Run for Refugees,” a month-long charity run organized by the running club at my office. Participants could register for the virtual group run by making a donation at a website created by the group on the International Rescue Committee’s site. Then participants would relay their walking and running miles each week to the club organizer for the whole month of October. If we reached a total of 2000 miles, our generous employer had agreed to match our group’s donation to the IRC. And if we reached 3500, they would double their match.
I was thrilled to have the opportunity to participate with my boys and hoped to utilize it as an empathy lesson.
I excitedly explained to them that with every step, they would be helping children like Nya and Salva (characters from our book who walked endlessly to fetch water or escape war). I knew I was off to a rocky start when my 6 year old asked me “I don’t get it—even if I walk, they still need to walk so why should we both walk?” Let’s just say that 6-year-old boys are not terribly empathetic—nor do they respond very enthusiastically to the concept of “matching contributions.”
Yet, somehow I managed to get my boys to crank out some serious miles week after week this month. I used various strategies—none of which included appealing to their humanity. I arranged for their friends to join us for hikes—turns out they walk a lot longer with company. I appealed to their competitive streak (“Who can get the highest number of steps on their fitbit?”); I strung them along on a long hike with periodic not so nutritious snacks. I bribed (“Two more miles and you can watch Star Wars for the fifteenth time!”). I threatened (“No dessert the whole weekend if you don’t get your butt moving outside!”). I can’t say it was always pretty getting them up and about but I can say that the end result was always worth it. We ended up going on amazing all day hikes which took us through glorious fall leaves, ice caves, waterfalls, stunning overlooks.
The office group as a whole made it well past the double match mileage target. And altogether, my sons and I logged a total of over five hundred miles. Sure there was some whining, some mishaps (boys and walking sticks are a bad combination), and a lot of peeing along the way (boys have it so easy), but through it all, we walked, and walked, and walked—together.
Yassy Okamoto lives and works in New York.