TAKING BABY STEPS TO THE TOP–RAISING A FUTURE ADVENTURER
Words and Photos from Kat Englishman
It all started when a few of our good friends and fellow parents began asking my husband and me if our eight-month-old baby girl had fallen asleep in the hiking backpack. They'd ask us eagerly, "Has Filly napped in the pack? Oh man, we loved that stage", to which we'd reply with a somber shake of our head and defeated shrug of our shoulders. No, she hadn't. In fact, she hadn't lasted very long without a meltdown, and I was starting to give up hope that we would be able to take her on a winter hike or mellow ski tour at this age.
Despite my best efforts to stay optimistic, the negative thoughts nagged at me: Was I expecting too much of her? Putting too much pressure on the situation? Hard to say, but as time went by, I couldn't help but wonder if this was a pipe dream for our little family and if we'd simply have to wait until she was older. With those "bigger" objectives on the back burner, we resumed our normal daily walks and short hikes, focused only on enjoying the outdoors together.
As many parents of young ones will tell you, the hardest part is almost always getting out the door. There are steps. So many steps. There are hurdles and obstacles, and setbacks galore. Oh, and there is crying, whining, flailing — general discontentedness around the board. Many times I have come close to losing my sh*t, and I am typically very sweaty and exhausted by the time we finally exit the battlefield that was once our sweet and cozy home. Why is this so hard? Can't say, exactly. It just is. But whatever the weather, I was determined to bundle her up and take her outside every morning so we could start our day with some fresh air and sunshine (pro tip: it leads to a very good nap). It didn't always go smoothly, but as the saying goes, nothing worth doing is ever easy. And after a little while, we kinda, sorta got the hang of this morning routine. Then, one day, we were invited to join our friend and his little girl on a winter hike.
An article from the Harvard Business Review has this to say on the subject of mastering a new skill, "recognize that learning a new skill takes extreme commitment. Unless your goal is attainable and you're prepared to work hard, you won't get very far." As a first-time mother of an amazing and lively baby girl, the amount of new skills I've learned in a very short period of time has, by and large, eclipsed any others I've picked up during my 32 years of life on earth. Have I mastered any of them? Well, it depends on the day. Yet, there's no question that parenting demands the extreme commitment and hard work that HBR claims are necessary for learning a new skill.
As we considered the five-mile hike, poured over trail maps, and discussed all possible outcomes regarding naptime, it struck me that I might actually know what I'm doing. All of the months spent walking our local trails, traveling with her, and taking small outings here and there had accumulated a wealth of knowledge I didn't realize I had. We'd dealt with countless unsuspected messes and tears, eventually learning something new for next time. As I rattled off our packing list (I'll admit, somewhat neurotically), I saw it clearly for the first time: those small and consistent actions had become the basis for the big one. As a culture, we tend to undervalue baby steps, if you will, because they seem unimportant, but oh my, do they matter. The hard work and unwavering dedication to the simple act of getting started are what set the wheels in motion and eventually propel you forward to a place you didn't think you'd be. You don't think about the 5,280 feet in every mile you walk, but you walk them anyway. Sometimes, over and over again. In hindsight, we had done much of the work to prepare for this, and my biggest challenge of the day was to simply trust it would all work out.
Our bags were packed to the gills with gear, including diapers, bottles, 79 extra layers, and whatever else I could think of at the time. It was a bluebird day, and there was plenty of snow on the ground. I trailed behind the guys to keep an eye on Filippa, who looked like a shiny, purple starfish in her nylon down bunting as she hitched a ride on my husband's back. We steadily climbed the Firewarden's Trail to the summit of Pleasant Mountain, where we looked directly into the heart of the White Mountain's majestic Presidential Range and took some time to enjoy some well-deserved snacks and baby giggles.
The late afternoon winter sun was still shining as we descended the small mountain, and I watched calmly as they carefully and deftly traversed the soft snow and patches of ice that had formed on the trail. No longer worrying, I walked alongside our friend Justin, trading thoughts on everything from home building to what is the appropriate amount of screen time for kids, and I began to sense that bittersweet emotion creeping up from the pit of my stomach when a great outdoor adventure comes to close. Things didn't go well that day; they went extraordinarily well and far exceeded my expectations. Yes, I was proud of the effort and time put in to make this very moment possible, but it was releasing my white-knuckled grip on the situation that meant the most and seemed to open up a whole new world of family adventuring.
Deep in conversation and nearing the trailhead, it was then that I saw it: Filly had fallen asleep in her pack.
Katherine Englishman is a writer and yoga teacher based in the beautiful state of Maine. You can find her outside skiing, hiking, biking, or teaching yoga and meditation for the modern yoga student at Waypoints Yoga