On one of the rare sunny days this spring, we took our tinies hiking. We chose an easy hike since our eldest, Anne, isn’t yet four years old and our youngest, Joseph, is just 21 months. The popular trail at Teapot Hill in Cultus Lake was our destination. We hadn’t hiked it before and were lured by the promise of a relatively easy 5K with an elevation gain of 250m which seemed equally reasonable for Anne’s skinny legs and our backs as we took turns lugging our sturdy toddler up the hill in the carrier.
For me, hiking used to be about the view at the top; the payback, if you will, for the climbing. I was usually on a mission to get where I was going, rarely dawdling. When there is somewhere to get to, well, then baby, let’s get there. So I charged up the mountain, eager for the goal to be accomplished.
That was then. And this is now.
We haven’t made too many changes in what we bring for a hike. There are still the usual snacks, water bottles, backpack, camera, hiking book with trail maps and other items but now we’ve tossed an extra couple of diapers and some wipes. We try to choose short hikes so that we aren’t packing a U-Haul’s worth of worst-case-scenarios up the mountain.
No, the changes are more in how we hike.
My daughter scampered, seemingly tireless, her coltish legs darting this way and that, always drawn to the path up. She’s a faster hiker than me, to be honest. But after a while, she was tired and so switched places with Joe, riding for a while in the carrier on my husband’s back.
Perhaps hiking is the wrong word when it comes to toddlers and preschoolers. It’s more a rambling exploration with a parental attempt at steering in one direction. Spotting an interesting leaf, Joe dropped my hand and scurried over, petting it, lifting it, holding it out like a precious gift. Then he spotted an enormous black slug which he promptly poked. After it curled up in fright and I told him to leave the poor thing be, he heard the creek running and charged off to investigate the water.
He held onto the bits of ferns and leaves he found. He collected sticks. He wandered over a metre of path like it was an archaeological dig. And a hike that was scoped at 2 hours, top to bottom, reached that time and we were only halfway up the hill.
I realised afresh that parenthood slows me down.
Here we are, headed towards a beautiful view of bluer-than-blue Cultus Lake but all my son can do is stare, transfixed, at the light streaming through the tall plants, not even halfway up.
And I though “When was the last time I just watched the light move in the flowers? And was satisfied with that?”
I didn’t like what I was doing with him, fighting with his natural instinct to explore and enjoy, trying to frog-march him to the final destination. I was missing opportunities to let him learn, absorb the world, learn to listen. We stood on the path and again, I said “Enough” to myself. I sat down on the path with him and we played in the rocks, him chucking them into the water to hear the splash, me trying to protect the occasional slug he spotted. Instead of charging up the mountain, like it’s another notch in our belt, hiking with our children has allowed us the gift of slowing down.
We were near the summit when we stopped for lunch. We spread out on our coats and had a bite to eat. We contemplated just turning around and heading back down. I was concerned it would be too much for their legs (and my back, if I’m honest – it was my turn to be the pack mule). Even that conversation was a shift for us – it wasn’t about the destination or summit any longer, but about the journey, about being outside together, breathing fresh air, marvelling at the forest and the fun of the hike itself. We began to pretend that we were visitors from out of country, seeing all of this for the first time and oh, the wonder we began to feel as the moss coated every tall tree and the trillium bloomed, the water run past the stinging nettles and sunshine streamed through the ferns.
Eventually, we made it to the top. And it was beautiful. The lake stretched out between the surrounding mountains, brilliant in the early summer blue. We took a few photographs, rested, chatted with other hikers. Eventually we started the descent, now with a tired little man strapped onto my back, a small girl in her dad’s arms for the steep bits and full hearts.
We are learning to walk a bit more slowly. We’re looking at beauty we haven’t truly seen in years, to be honest. Seeing the wonder and newness through their eyes. Learning to enjoy the moment instead of consumed with what went before and what will be, rushing to accomplishment.
There is just right now, the weight of him on my back with his hands in my hair, the sound of her voice over my husband’s shoulder, the two of us holding them on the descent, reminding me to be fully present on Teapot Hill.