Hiking with Van

When you are the parent of a busy three year old, you try and find ways to redirect and channel their attention in constructive ways. My boy has so much energy that I suspect he may not just metabolize his food, but use some sort of fusion to extract that much pure energy. As my first born every play his offense runs is one that my defense has never seen. Lately he has really been running the score up on my wife and I. I can only hope that our newborn takes pity on us.

I have read some moderately helpful blogs and articles on how to deal with defiance at this age as it pertains to new siblings.

When munchkin refuses to allow you to dress him, give him a choice in what he wants to wear of two acceptable options. He will feel included in the decision making process and therefore be empowered.

Awesome. We have a plan. I like plans.

Me: “Hey buddy. Which shorts would you like to wear, the green ones or the tan ones?”

Van: “No thanks daddy.”

Me: “These are really cool shorts pal, which ones do you like best?”

Van: “You can wear them dad.”

Me: “Touché young padawan, touché.”

The best laid plans of mice and men. Amiright?

We needed an outlet and I wasn’t about to surrender to the electronic babysitter. It was high time to take him on a hike. I don’t mean a walk in the woods either, three miles round trip with 1,000’ of elevation gain ought to do the trick. Oh, and the trailhead is at 6,000’ above sea level to start.

So I said to my wife “Hon, pack us some snacks. We’re doing the Bear.” Thats what the trail is called, “Unal” which is a local native word for bear.

She thought I’d lost my mind.

“He’s not ready for that yet.” She said with all the concern of worried mommy.
“I’m not a monster babe, I’ll just hike him into the ground so we can get to sleep before midnight. ” I defended myself in my most matter of fact voice.
“Hmmm, I’ll pack you some snacks.” Apparently sleep deprivation makes her reasonable.
“Van, are you ready to go on an adventure?” I was as enthusiastic as Richard Simmons with a new mix tape.
“Umm, sure.” He loves to ponder his replies.
“Alright pal. Load up!” I used the same command to get our dog in the car back before he found a new home. One without a curious, ear pulling child. Why would I mess with success? It worked every time.

So at the trailhead we did the obligatory pictures, but we were both chomping at the bit to start hiking. He took off up the hill with me. He was talking about how much he loves trees, rocks, dirt, or anything else that he could see. Super. Just keep those feet moving kiddo. About half a mile into our adventure he took off at a dead run. This couldn’t be happening.

“Stay where you can see me buddy!” I found that works better than putting the emphasis on where I can see him. It’s an easier concept for him to grasp.

He would run ahead and stop to wait for me to catch up. This went on for some time until I realized the intervals were getting shorter. My plan was staring to work. I asked him if he was thirsty, and we took a breath in the shade together. His hair was getting damp with perspiration.

“Let’s keep moving pal.” I prodded.
“Ok dad. I’m tired.” He said.
“I know buddy.” I could hardly contain my grinch smile.

Shortly after the switchback that turned us toward the summit I realized jus how much I was enjoying little man’s company. He was walking and enjoying his surroundings, just like me. I was in awe at how at home my boy was in the forest. He was casually walking through a grove of elderberries and ferns. His hands feeling the soft flora at either side of his little body. Then he stooped and said “I like hiking with you dad. You’re the best.” This kid was a subtle genius. He had taken my evil scheme and turned it into one of the best days of my life.

Van and I capped out at the summit and had a seat on Dynamo’s bench. A park bench left as a memorial to a man I had never met. We ate sliced apples and goldfish crackers, and I enjoyed his company. I taught him how to listen to the forest. At the top of a mountain or ridge the wind is funneled through trees to make a whisper. Hearing these sounds is an unusual skill for a world increasingly inundated with stimuli. For me it was perfect, sitting with my son and listening to the wind as we looked down on the oak covered foothills that were so far below. The setting was so perfect that day, that Steinbeck himself could have written it just for us.

I was reminded of how wonderful moments like these are not in spite of their passing, but because of their impermanence. Try as anyone might, that moment cannot be recreated. It can belong only to us on that day. In my line of work I bear witness to all matter of tragedy, which gave me a perspective to truly recognize the importance of this new memory.

I floated down that trail on the way back to the car with the recurring thought, “how lucky am I” rolling around in my head and my little gladiator on my shoulders. We cruised home with the windows down because he likes to feel the wind, and I like to watch his little hand making swooping movements in my side mirror.

So my plan failed on its original objectives.

  1. Wear Van out
  2. Return home the conquering hero
  3. Get to sleep before midnight (his fusion power parlayed those snacks into enough energy to last until 1am.)

But, in my humbling failure I found a greater success.

  1. Spend quality time with my son