Monday, July 6, 2009

Tough Stuff

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Open Letter to the Worried Woman we Met in the Park:

Please don’t be concerning yourself over my four-year-old and (your lack of confidence in) his ability to navigate the monkey bars six feet off the ground. I assure you he has a healthy grasp of his own strength even if you do not, and that confidence will go far in carrying his little body across the jungle gym (or it will send him on a quick trip to the ground, but that’s how he will learn).

Sincerely, the mother who was paying better attention to her child than you might think

But allow me to expand, because this brief encounter reminds me to tell the story of Nate and Calvin’s two-night backpacking adventure with my father a few weeks ago (this would be before the Washington trip but after school had let out). What was meant to be a casually-planned 4.5 mile jaunt to an unusually cushy coastal redwood campsite (running water, for one!) turned out to be something of a lesson in perseverance.

You see, it’s not customary to reserve sites before trekking out this section of back country, and when they arrived at the 5-6 campsites nestled four miles in, they were all taken for the night. Which meant that they needed to hike another four miles or so to the next available place that allows overnight camping.

So they forged on with full packs and tired legs, and when they finally got to the site eight miles in, they gratefully made themselves at home before realizing that this section of sites, unlike the ones closer in, did not have water faucets.

Now, we’re not accustomed to having fresh water at our disposal while backpacking, so that shouldn’t have been a problem. We usually pump lake or stream water. However, knowing that the site he planned to use had this luxury, my dad neglected to pack his pump (and I can hardly blame him…he had, after all, an already overflowing pack since he was the only adult on the trip to shoulder the bulk of the weighty items).

After a quick readjustment of priorities, he decided to use his available propane to boil stream water instead. This made sense: they had been hiking all day in summer heat, and were mindful of becoming dehydrated.

But since he hadn’t initially planned on allotting his propane supply to boiling water, he found himself quickly running out of fuel to heat food. Now, no one was going to starve…they had plenty of ready-to-eat items like granola and fruit and crackers. But it was still quite the inconvenience, and a small worry that grew when he began to wonder if he would have enough fuel to continue boiling enough drinking water.

Long story not-so short, he had cell phone service, and called my mother and me, and we called the ranger station for him and secured him a site four miles back for their second night. They hiked back the next morning, set up camp with running water, had a nice day playing on the beach and in the woods, then hiked out--still without a warm meal--the next morning and drove straight to Denny’s, where Nate reports he ate the biggest breakfast of his life.

And here’s where the ‘tough stuff’ comes in: my dad tells me they never complained once. Here they are, before setting out for what they thought would be a four mile hike (ignorance is bliss!):


And you know what, I'm really proud of them for this, because in my observation, this world--or at least this country--is in the process of raising some pretty wimpy kids. You know it’s true!

Case in point: A recent contributor at Free Range Kids boggled at a sign at a local swimming beach that read: Caution: Sand Provides an Uneven Surface. Let’s pause for a moment to consider the vast over-kill of that warning. Are we assuming children and their parents have collectively lost their common sense? And if so, how did families manage in the harsh element of beach sand during the last…oh, I don’t know…thousand years before they were adequately warned of its lurking dangers?

Think back to when you were growing up. If you were raised like me (and granted, I grew up in an idyllic small town), you went outside to play on a weekend morning and didn’t return unless 1. it was dark, or 2. you were hungry. And even then, you usually had a five dollar bill in your pocket to use at the corner store and could always call from some random friend’s house to beg to spend the night. By contrast, I have just recently allowed Nate, age 10, to ride his bike three blocks to his buddy’s house. And usually, unprompted by me, he calls to check-in the moment he gets there.

Now I will admit to being less than the most sympathetic of mothers. When my kids get hurt in the normal rumble and tumble of childhood, I tend to brush it off, buck them up, and tell them get on with things. I really don’t put up with much. And as a result, they usually rise to the occasion, as any kid would. And so it annoys me to no end when other, random parents we encounter frown at this, such as occurred at the playground with Toby.

And please don’t take this to mean I’m the sort of parent who forgoes safety measures like shin guards and car seats. Of course I don’t. They are always well padded, their heads, knobby knees, and elbows incased in the latest protective gear when bike riding or ripsticking (is that an accepted verb yet?). When they ski race, there are times when I can only identify them by the color of their high tech helmets. I spend my springs teaching school kids to carry whistles and bright bandanas while in the woods, for heaven’s sake.

But once you are geared up, let ‘em rip, I say.
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