LAST WEEKEND WE challenged our 4-year old with a 2.5 mile hike - starting at 1800 feet down to nearly sea level. Yes, it was downhill, but this was still a formidable challenge for young legs. We told him this was the activity for the day and we were going to do it as a family. He accepted that and was ready to go.
Up the tram to start the downhill hike
This event has been on my partner's "to do adventures list" since the summer began. Each of us had a role in this family outing - my partner had the duty of carrying all 25+ squirmy pounds of our youngest son down the mountain, while my job was refreshment and comfort, cheerleader, and lending a guiding hand in the final .25 mile - a bit easier on me but still neccessary to the experience!
The weather that day cooperated with high overcast clouds, moisture-free air and mountain high temperatures in the high 50’s, warming as we descended back to sea level. The trail conditions were snow free, almost mud free, and surprisingly dry. Lil’ Cub greeted the steps with jumps and happily plodded along at a faster-than-I-would expect pace, experiencing the first hour of the trail with gusto. Shortness of breath was not a factor as his running commentary (mostly about animated-movie monsters) was constant, letting any wildlife in the vicinity know that we were there.
Juice boxes this way
During the second half of this downward trek the impatience started. “When are we going to be at the bottom?” and “My feet are getting tired from standing!” became more frequent. Our praises of, “you are such a great hiker” became more frequent in order to combat his waning enthusiasm for what was becoming an uphill battle. During the final 300 yards of the hike his whines of tiredness were impossible to combat, which is when I offered my hand to help him along. With 20 feet to go his weary legs tripped over a rock and he skinned one of his hands. He finished the hike in tears, yes, but he finished the hike. We had a juice box staged for him to celebrate this moment of completion, but he was just ready to sit and veg out with an iPhone.
Are you coming?
The advantage of young inexperience is that our son had no true concept of what this event would mean to his body and how long it would take. He knew where we were starting as he has been there many times. He also knew that we would be taking a hike through the woods and this would be a family endeavor. Beyond these small clues of our day together he had nothing to worry about or fear as he was ready to go. He knew enough to be excited and not enough to worry or fear. This is one of the many beauties of young innocence, the not-knowing that makes kids brave...until they tire.
His mother and I were proud of his perseverance and effort that day; we were relieved that the experience, his first long-ish hike, had gone so well but, looking back, we should have celebrated his efforts more than we did at the time. I think that one of the many pitfalls for me as a parent is missing that a particular moment is significant for whatever reason and then celebrating it accordingly.