My husband and I are both avid hikers. We met on a snowshoe hike; our first anniversary was spent hiking the West Highland Way, a 100-mile trail in Scotland; our pre-kid days were filled with rambles through the mountains of Colorado. So, when we found out we were pregnant, we dreamt about raising outdoorsy kids who loved hiking as we did.
Our first year as parents didn’t look all that different from our days before kids. We’d pop our daughter into the Ergo and then, as she grew, the hiking backpack and kept on trekking. It wasn’t until she became an independent toddler that our expectations of family hikes were put to the test.
It’s not that we thought our 2-year-old would be able to hike more than a mile or so, but we were hoping she’d be content to stay in the pack in between her own sprints along the trail. We didn’t reckon that our hikes would dwindle down to a quarter mile exploration. Our norm became an hour drive into the hills, a half hour or so walk, plenty of snack breaks, and an hour drive back home.
On one of these excursions, my husband’s best friend, Uncle Steve, came along and completely reframed my mentality of hiking with kids. As we drove to the trailhead, I found myself warning Steve that this hike would be short and slow. I apologized for the way kids stopped all the time and tried to create realistic expectations.
Steve responded by asking our daughter what wildlife she was hoping to see on our hike. A Mountain Lion!! was the enthusiastic response.
We piled out of the car and within a couple hundred yards of the trailhead, Steve bent down and exclaimed, Look! I found wildlife! Our daughter ran over and knelt beside him, inspecting the centipede that was inching its way along the trail. After that, every few feet, they would find more wildlife: an ant, a snake’s hole, a bird or a butterfly.
This hike changed my mentality of exploring nature with my girls. Now, we ask what wildlife they hope to see each time we head to a trail. Our oldest is still hoping to see a mountain lion one day. Our youngest is convinced she’ll find a hippopotamus hiding in the Rocky Mountains. We always settle for squirrels and prairie dogs and a variety of insects, but the wonder doesn’t change.
Steve taught me that raising hikers looks small at first. It looks like wandering less than a mile, like piggyback rides and lots of snacks. It looks like examining all the wildlife in wonder—from the smallest ant to the soaring hawk. It means remaining ever-hopeful for a mountain lion spotting but still feeling successful at noticing a bird’s nest.
Now, I barely even notice the mileage of our hikes. They are measured not in feet but in experiences. Have we used our imaginations? Is there a sense of wonder? Do our girls want to go back?
When our youngest asked to go hiking for her second birthday, I felt like we had achieved a goal. We drove to our nearest National Park, hiked a short waterfall trail with plenty of snacks and drove back home. Our oldest can’t wait for summertime when we can go camping again.
Maybe one day, we’ll add miles and maybe even an overnight backpacking trip. But for now, I’m thrilled that, on a Saturday without plans, my girls request a hiking trip to fill our morning.
A friend recently commented that we are so intentional about getting the girls outside and exploring. I never really viewed it as intentional parenting but just as something we loved and wanted our girls to love, too. But I suppose we are intentional about getting outside and looking for adventure. When we moved to our new neighborhood, we found a wetland persevere about a mile away. It’s small and surrounded by neighborhood houses, but it’s filled with bugs and birds and all sorts of winding trails. Last spring, we watched a mama hawk teaching her babies to fly from the nest. When we forget about achieving a mileage goal, we’re able to stop and observe so much more easily.
I suppose this is how most of life is, isn’t it? When we take away a measurable goal, when we slow down and let our children take the lead, when we are intentional about taking on a spirit of wonder, even the shortest hike becomes a magical adventure.
I’ve been thinking about other passions of mine I want to pass along to my kids. How am I starting out slow and modeling wonder? How am I modifying my expectations and keeping the experience playful? As my oldest learns to read, we may or may not finish an entire book but we celebrate the pages she completes on her own. As my kids have gotten older, we’ve taken them to marches around town, so they are surrounded by citizen activists. As they show interest in science or art, we seek out activities at our local museums and libraries. I don’t know what will stick, but I want them to feel empowered to explore and to look at life in wonder.
As our girls grow, I remember to pause and look at the small moments on the way with them.
Today, it’s pausing to watch a cricket hop across the trail; as they grow these experiences will take on new dynamics. The foundations we build today with these little habits will add up, and I’m excited to see where our slow hikes take us.
Annie Rim lives in Colorado where she plays with her two daughters, hikes with her husband, and reflects about life & faith on her blog. A world traveler, she has taught in the classroom, at an art museum, and now in the playroom. You can connect with her on Twitter and Instagram.
For April 2018, we are hosting a whole series about Intentionally Cultivating Your Family Culture. Check out Episode 38: Every Screen Tells a Story with Christie Thomas and members of the Kindred Mom team, and check back to read more essays in the series as the month unfolds. If you missed it, check out our completed March series on Becoming a Resilient Mom!
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Check out the most recent episode of the Kindred Mom podcast, Episode 38: Every Screen Tells a Story!