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Parenting is Work, but Wow it's Worth It!

I can’t wait!  Our annual two week camping trip is coming up in a few weeks.  We’ll head out and away from town—the one time all year we actually drive a car—to explore the forests, rivers, deserts and rock formations around us in a roughly four or five state radius. 

We plan travel a lot like we plan unschooling—in broad swaths of possibilities.  We know we want to camp.  We know we want to fish.  We know we’d like to see snow.  (Yup, there are totally places to see snow in June.  It even snowed on us a little last June.)  Finally, we know we’d like to see the dry, warm desert. 

We’re making a north, then south loop that will get these things done, but we’re unclear on all the rest of the details so far.  I know we’ll stay off of interstates in favor of state highways.  The little towns and the countryside are better out there; there’s less traffic; and the people are really nice.  We might head towards a few places we saw last year, but didn’t have the capabilities to reach.  Other than that, we’ll pretty much point the car, enjoy, and see what captures our interest. 

You might wonder what capabilities we were lacking last year on our camping trip.  Mostly it was backpacking volume, a challenge that completely fixed itself aout six months later.  All of the kids: the 8 y.o, the 6 y.o., and the 4 y.o. can now carry their own sleeping bag in a pack for three miles or so.  This simple thing has opened up a whole new world of possibilities.  Where we used to be bound to places we could reach via public transit or (very occasionally) car, we can now strike out on our wanderings through nature to more remote locations.

This is the culmination of a lot of work on the part of all of us.  My day to day thoughts about the things the gang and I do, tend to gloss over this work.  It’s my natural disposition to pretty much forget the work we put into something as soon as it’s accomplished.  Where we are though is the product of years of daily physical and mental effort. 

The kids can hike and they’re used to hiking, because they’ve all been allowed and encouraged to move about independently since they could walk.  Most of the physical work was their own.  They were the ones that had to keep plugging along as we went from place to place.  For the most part they didn’t mind.  They got to be in the world.  They got to explore and check things out.  As the younger kids learned to hike with us, they we excited they were able to do the same stuff as their older sibs. 

Some of the physical work was mine, lugging them back into the wrap when they were small and pooped out, but the majority of my work was mental.  The kids being on foot every day meant it took us significant amounts of time to get places.  The kids were learning to walk, so I walked slowly.  I had to adjust my behavior and expectations to these new transit times.  I had to figure out schedules that fit around the reduced time we had left.  I also served as a coach of sorts.  I encouraged, I occasionally cajoled if we needed to pick up the pace and they could.

Another feature of our ‘work’: not long after each kid could walk, they became responsible for carrying their own stuff.  They all started out with a small backpack that could hold a fw diapers, a package of wipes and a PB&J sandwich.  As they got bigger, their packs got bigger.  They could bring along a sketchpad or something to read. 

Along with the effort, there have been payoffs for all of us over time.  I’ve had to carry less and less.  It’s been quicker and quicker to get places.  They take responsibility for themselves and their belongings.  The kids are in great shape.  They routinely hike three miles a day around town.  Every week or so they tackle a five to seven mile hike out in the nearby woods.  Every day the kids can do something new, and we can do more as a group.  The new things we can do tend to be incremental.  That’s the way it is with growing and learning. 

A few days before Christmas last year though, we got a huge payoff!  We got to stay at one of the most beautiful campsites I’ve ever seen, the Steep Ravine Ecological Site.  We couldn’t reach it before because of the sheer volume of stuff we needed to bring with us on the three mile hike.  We had to have food, a tent, a sleeping bag for each of the five of us, and sleeping pads.  Since I was still carrying the tent and three sleeping bags in my pack, frankly, it was a  hike I didn’t want to make.

But then, the kids hit a place where each of them could carry at least their own sleeping bag.  If memory serves, 8  y.o No. One carried two sleeping bags, her’s and 6 y.o. No. Two’s.  Two carried the tent.  Meanwhile, Four year-old No. Three shouldered one of the bigger kids’ day packs that perfectly held her sleeping bag.  That left me with just the last two bags for my partner and I, and off we went. 

We took plenty of breaks, setting our packs down to explore the stream that runs alongside the trail.  We found big snails and banana slugs. 

The kids played inside some of the larger redwoods that have little hobbit hole openings.  We ate our usual hiking fuel: PB&Js, and quaffed down a few bottles of water.  Two hours later we’d knocked out the three mile hike and settled into our new camp site.  (Did I mention that the kids also setup the campsite these days?  They do.) 

It’d be another two miles into Stinson Beach the next day to catch our bus home.  The hike was a piece of cake.  The world of actual backpacking has opened up for us.

I’ll keep you posted while we’re out on the trail this year.  Our newfound abilities mean we’ll get to see new cool things. 

And all it took was eight years of going slow, methodical work, sticking to our goals every day.  But seriously, what else were we going to do with our time?  And the effort’s been worth it in other ways.  I’ve learned to take things slowly, to stand back and watch the world go by.  Those weren’t bad lessons for me.  I’ve been privy to the world of kids.  It’s bigger and more remarkable than ours. On the other side of it, thanks to all the work they put in, the kids can all function in my world.  We’ve meshed into each other’s realities, and that’s made all the difference!


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