I can still remember when my oldest son was a tiny baby – I would rock him to sleep each night, daydreaming of what was next. He was just a few months old, and as sad as I was for time to be passing far too quickly, it was also so exciting to imagine what was on the horizon. Even in those beginning days we would try to get out as much as possible; I felt like it fixed most things. That became a huge part of my parenting style – having a rough day? Get outside. Feeling stressed? Head to the backyard. A crying baby? Go on a walk. And now that both of my boys are well into toddler and big-kid-hood, we’re outside more than not. Adventuring, exploring, spending our time in nature as much as we can – these have all become the central theme in our life.
Just the other day the three of us headed out on a hike. We’re quite the crew – my five year old leading the way, me in the middle, and my two and a half year old taking his time behind us. It was a sunny, unseasonably warm winter day, and we were indulging in short sleeves as we walked along. We live in Northern Arizona, so the terrain we hike on varies from high desert to pine-treed forests, and that day we found ourselves in the Granite Dells, an area marked by exposed bedrock and large granite boulders.
My oldest has been interested in rock climbing for some time, and whenever we visit this part of town he asks if he can climb a little farther, go a little higher. That day I let him go up ahead of us and climb one of the biggest boulders. Safe for sure, but I can only imagine how large it must have felt to his five year old self. He did it though, and in just a few minutes he was waving and proudly grinning, yelling “Hello, down there!” to his brother and me.
But then came the hard part – getting down. Our brave climber suddenly became scared, and told me he couldn’t do it. He sat up there for a bit, reciting all the reasons he wouldn’t be able to make it down on his own. The thing was though, the only way down was to climb. So after explaining this to him a couple of times, I watched him take a deep breath, give himself a pep talk … and make his way down.
It seems like a small thing, right? Climbing up, getting scared, then eventually climbing back down. And it is, but it’s also so much bigger. This is why we adventure. Sure, we love nature and being outdoors, but these lessons – trying new things, accomplishing feats we aren’t sure we can do – they all roll into the building blocks of these little people I’m raising. And one day when maybe it’s not a boulder, but a new job or an unfamiliar place or a scary situation and he’s all on his own, this little guy will know somewhere inside of him is the will to do that thing, overcome that fear, and triumph.
Every day we do these small things as parents. They don’t seem large at the time, but looking back they always are. Reading to our children, taking the time to sit on the ground and play, getting outside to adventure and explore. These are the foundation of a springboard for our children, the base from which they grow. And so one day when they’re on their own two feet and we’re not around, they have enough experience to believe in themselves to know they can climb all the way up, and be just fine.
Danielle Hampton is a writer and blogger enjoying small-town life in the mountains of Northern Arizona with her husband Hank and their two boys, Henry and Charlie. She’s a former high school English teacher who now authors the blog “Sometimes Sweet.”