This summer was about hiking. About the outdoors. About adventures and accomplishments and snowmelt and slippery mountain trails. About drive and dirt and knee scrapes. About bonding. About her.
My youngest daughter turned 4 this June. She is sugar rush and enthusiasm. Supersized emotion and penny-for-your-thoughts conversation. She loves her dad. I mean, she loves her dad. Before the summer, verdict was still out on how she felt about me. But, we shared a lot in the way of time spent moving on trails this summer and it helped us both. I’m not one to come up with ‘5 important steps to getting your kids outside’ advice, but, I am absolutely about getting your kids outside. And if you want to take the following narrative as advice and it makes you get outside with your kids more, well then, call it what you want.
I spent the summer hiking with my 4 year old and I have to say, there were far too few young kids on the trails. And the reason? Us. Parents. We hate the whining, tear streaked, sloth like pace of the never-actually-get-to-our-destination-because-we-can’t-even-get-out-of-the-car-with-all-our-s*@t-before-somebody-has-to-pee-or-already-did-pee experience. We hate the snack overload and the water bottle carrying and the sunscreen vs. hat-she-keeps-pulling off debate. We hate the run, stop, run, stop, pick something up, throw something, get in the backpack, get out of the backpack, sit down in the middle of the god forsaken trail and refuse to move rhythm. We hate it all. It is the biggest parenting hassle. Ever.
Until, we realize it’s not about us. There was a definite and obvious switch in me when my daughter approached me the first morning of our summer in the mountains and said, “Mama, where are we going to hike today?” Last summer, I forced my girls on a hike a day for 2 weeks because I was convinced that I could force feed a love for the trails. It backfired big time with my oldest who spent the rest of the summer in self confinement in her room in front of a book. So when my youngest approached me with eyes full of light and blue sky and fresh air, I said, “I don’t know? Where do you want to hike?” Thus began a dance of give and take, lessons offered and lessons learned on both sides of the equation. My goals were simple: keep my attitude upbeat, light hearted and full of passion for the adventure; allow her to call the shots.
I stopped expecting our jaunts to give me any sort of an elevated heart rate. Our hikes were not about me getting in a workout or a dogged determination to make it to the peak. We had no organized snack breaks (if we had any snacks at all) and didn’t even come close to carrying sufficient amounts of water. Because, what needed to happen was a freedom and grit that comes in the absence of those.
It was about playfulness and falling in love. We played ‘rock monster’ games to scramble up mountains of granite and took turns in ‘follow the leader’ to learn how it felt to be in both roles. We toyed with being ‘lost’ and being ‘found’ and developed code words for animal sightings. We learned how to follow rock cairns and red ribbons. We sang Disney songs to pass the time and played silly made up games about imaginary animals when we just really wanted to be back at the trailhead. It was about the experience of it all. It was about adventure and exploration, about developing agility and observation skills and confidence in the unexpected. It was about the intentionality of endurance and the mental capacity to do more than what we think we are capable of. About pushing through feelings of hunger and soaking up the satiating feeling of accomplishment.
It was about standing on peaks and shouting at the wind.
Except when it wasn’t. Because we didn’t always get there. It was about addressing our feelings of powerlessness and fatigue. About wanting to quit and quitting. About the effort it takes to keep moving forward and the effort needed to go back. It was about being tired and getting in the backpack and putting her head down on my shoulder and exhaling, long and slow, filling my skin with sweat and hot tears. It’s not always about making it. And when we made it less about making it, we actually had the motivation to ‘make it’ more often. She realized she had a choice. She realized she had a drive inside her. She learned to ‘hear what her heart was talking about’ and pursue that goal on the outside. Self awareness, at 4 or 40, is so powerful.
And if ever there were a Winnie-The-Pooh quote to come out of her in hindsight, it might just be, “We didn’t know we were making memories. We just knew we were having fun.”
And if it were to come out of me? “Promise me you will always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.”