“Are you drunk?” I asked my 8-year-old. She had requested me to hike with her up to Scotchman Peak. “Can you get drunk on coconut milk?” she asked, looking suspiciously at her glass.
Since the day my daughter was born, I have systematically attempted to brainwash her into thinking The Great Outdoors are where it’s at. Mostly in vain.
It could have been that time we got caught in a freak snowstorm in the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland and she nearly got frostbite in the backpack. Or maybe it was the time I got so mad that she was pushing her bike down a hill that I yelled at her. Or maybe the time I forgot a map and our stroll through the woods turned into an epic journey for survival. (Or so it seemed to a kid who ran out of crackers.) In any case, her propensity toward aquariums, museums, and sidewalks suggests that my endeavors to share the beauty of nature with her have been mostly ineffective.
It is not for lack of effort. I have schlepped that child around the world on my back, pushed her up hills on our bikes, carried her load to backcountry camps. I have bribed her with yogurt covered pretzels, rewards and lectures about experience being richer than anything money can buy. “Money can buy you a helicopter ride to the same place,” she said while shoving a pretzel in her face.
For every hike or ride that has been fun, there has been a hike or ride that was made miserable by the incessant discontent of the offspring.
Somewhere along the way, I nearly lost resolve. I began running alone instead of bringing her along on her bike. I would hike after dropping her off to school. It only backfired. We shared fewer experiences and she lost stamina, so going out on occasional trips was even less comfortable for her. I had heard that children resist our lessons pretty much until they have children of their own. In fact, I believe mine experiences a certain kind of personal joy in expressing her individuality on such matters.
“I’m the kind of person who likes movies, Mom. And Katy Perry dance parties. I’m not really into nature so much because I’m surrounded by it all the time.” When she’s really mad at me, she asks if we can move to the city. A piece of me dies a little every time.
But this morning she was asking me to take her on an eight-mile hike with considerable elevation. Not only that, but she wanted to see the mountain goats. In their natural habitat as opposed to stuffed in a zoo exhibition. Was this a breakthrough?
Having failed miserably at teaching my daughter the value of quiet mornings or household chores, an inherent appreciation of outdoor adventures or Bruce Springsteen have been my last hope. Despite the periodic lack of excitement, I feel committed to exposing my child to that which brings joy and health to my life. Not because I want her to appreciate trees, but because I want her to appreciate happiness. It might be that she discovers different things make her happy.
She may not become a pro mountain biker or Olympic sprinter. She may grow up and move to the city. But the fact that she asked to go share an experience means the value has been passed on. Whatever our children grow up to be and do, so long as we teach them to live fully, we’ve succeeded.
Keep throwing your kid in the stroller for runs. Keep dragging them up mountains, pulling them in the bike trailer, covering them with sunscreen and mosquito repellant. Ultimately, you’re teaching them how to adventure through life. Eventually, they’ll grow up to make their own. // (Ammi Midstokke)