What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
This summer, I inadvertently started a ritual with my mom: On Saturday mornings, we go for a 30-minute walk on a wooded trail in Piney Orchard.
I’m 28 and I live with her, which wasn't exactly part of my plan.
Moving back to Maryland in 2011 to live with my mom -- after more than a year of living with roommates in Virginia -- was supposed to be temporary.
I had hoped to save up money for a cross-country move to Seattle so that I could live with my then-boyfriend. My lease was ending and I figured I could start planning out the practical details -- finish grad school and look for work in Washington -- while still having some funds leftover to see him every few months before we moved in together.
Two days before I moved back to Maryland, he broke up with me.
When the time came to pack up and go, I felt completely humiliated as my friends and family loaded my boxes onto the truck -- it was too late to back out now.
At that point, I had nowhere else to go.
Still, everyone who volunteered to help that day treated me with kindness rather than passing judgment. I remember my aunt brought me flowers later in the afternoon and told me that this, too, would pass.
The pain of the break-up did pass, but my plans to move out of Maryland stalled.
The dual expenses of paying for grad school while simultaneously paying off student loans for my years as an undergrad began to mount. I switched jobs, but soon realized that apartment rentals near the office were exorbitantly out of my price range.
I continued to pay my mom for rent and utilities, knowing that it was the best situation I could manage while figuring out the next steps in my ever-evolving life plan.
During the work week, conversations with my mom are primarily functional. We text each other in the morning to make sure we’re both awake and haven’t slept through our alarms.
In one of many thoughtful gestures she extends on my behalf, she always has two iced coffees with soy milk waiting for us in the car before we leave the house.
She drives me to the train station so that I can save on parking fees and we talk about our schedules for work -- which one of us is likely to leave the office first, what we should make or order-in for dinner, as well as any upcoming housekeeping chores or assorted errands.
It helps that we’re both fairly considerate people and that we’re both equally invested in making sure that our living arrangement is beneficial for the two of us.
There are still limitations to the trade-off I’ve made in choosing to stay in Maryland. For one thing, the surrounding neighborhood mainly consists of tattoo shops, liquor stores and fast food -- going anywhere else requires a bit of a drive.
Going for a walk down the block has resulted in total strangers leaning out of their cars to scream obscenities at me. I stopped walking around the neighborhood after someone screamed, “Fuck you, bitch!” with a smile before speeding off.
After making my way back to the house, I texted a friend: I keep forgetting that I’m not supposed to be a woman taking up space on a public sidewalk.
But I still missed the open air and my walks.
Being on a treadmill feels like a timed hamster wheel. I never stop looking at the timer. My mom was sympathetic, but neither one of us knew where else to go.
Then one Sunday afternoon, I did a Google search for parks in my zip code -- and I found a match.
“Can we check it out?” I asked.
“Let’s give it a shot,” she said.
The park turned out to be ideal -- not crowded, with plenty of shade from the trees and paved cement for bikes (and my flip-flops). There were also two bridges for the small creeks running through the property.
We stopped to listen to the running water. Occasionally, someone on a bicycle would call out to us, but for the most part, we were blissfully uninterrupted and alone.
After I got home from the first walk, I wanted to learn more about this particular park.
TrailLink.com helped to illuminate the history of the Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis (WB&A) trail, which is actually part of an abandoned electric railway corridor: “The northern section of the trail in Anne Arundel County runs for 3.8 miles between downtown Odenton... The trail begins by traveling through the suburban backyards of Odenton and Piney Orchard. From Strawberry Lake Way to Bragers Road farther south, the trail's route is mostly wooded.”
Ever since that first trip to the park, my mom and I have instituted a weekend routine.
On Saturdays, after we’re both awake (no alarms, thankfully), we drink iced coffee in the kitchen and make oatmeal. Before we leave the house, we each grab a bottle of water and our sunglasses. We park on an incline, trying to get as close as we can to the trail -- because the truth is, we can’t wait to get started.
We don't have a set amount of time to walk; we don't have any specific goals except to just walk the trail for as long as we both feel like going before turning around.
We typically aim for 30 minutes, but sometimes it can go longer if the humidity cooperates.
We don't even necessarily talk for long stretches of the trail.
And yet this time together has become one of the activities that she and I look forward to most every weekend: an opportunity for us to spend time together in a way that isn't task-oriented.
Instead, it's become a way for us to relate to each other as adults.
I’ll say something like, “I hope we spot turtles today so that I can get a picture.”
And because my mother has this hilarious sense of connecting conversational threads, she’ll ask, “Did you hear about the alligator that popped up in someone’s toilet in Florida?”
I try to reason with her: “Mom, people don’t flush alligators down the toilet.”
“But they can flush baby alligators,” she says, as though that idea is completely obvious to everyone but me.
Then we both pause -- and start laughing so hard that we have to stop to catch our breath before we can continue walking together.
As for the life plan, I’m still paying bills, saving money and trying to figure out what’s next. It’s that sense of possibility that sends me out every weekend to the wooded trail, hoping for those moments of closeness and clarity.
Going for a walk with my mom is not a chore or an obligation; it’s a choice. I can take in the trees, the water, the pavement and the empty space. I can turn to my mom and share that with her.
That seems like a ritual worth holding onto.