Strong foundations are an important strategy in developing anything worthwhile.
Standing on the top of Mt Audubon I was struck by the boys’ smiles. I had dreamed of and prepared for this moment for years. The day my son reached a peak that involved multiple mountaineering skills. The boys weren’t the only ones with a grin on their face. I was witness to how the foundations I had laid were holding up.
How do you make sure that your child enjoys what you do sufficiently to want to incorporate it into their lives? How do you make sure they have the skills to do it competently?
The journey up Audubon had started over a decade ago, along the way there had been many preparatory moments. Here are some of them:
Cai and I sitting around our dining room table, deciding all the things we needed to bring on a backpacking trip and drawing pictures for a gear list so that Cai could find, collect, and check everything off himself.
Cai sliding around the floor in a pair of cardboard skis I had made and covered with duck tape. When I asked if he wanted real skis he was eager. I sneakily followed it up by walking past a poster for a telemark skiing festival with a pirate theme. Cai, a pirate every day for several years, jumped on this opportunity, “I want to go pirate skiing!” “Oh Cai, but you can’t. Pirate skiing is at Alyeska and it is really steep. We need to practice pirate skiing at least twice a week at Hilltop to be ready.” Yup, we were the ones dressed as pirates at Hilltop practicing every week. Alyeska turned into backcountry which in turn became big long multi day trips.
Climbing started with us moving together using a guide’s short roping technique. There were a few times when a 4 year old Cai told me he was going to lead the next section, so I would take up the coils and spot him. He quickly told me it was my turn when things became a little too uncomfortable.
Then there were the stories we generated, mainly of Iac the mouse (he didn’t realize Iac was Cai spelled backwards for a long time). These stories prepared Cai for our adventures, told him what to bring, told him what to expect, told him how to act when things got tough.
Over the years the distances became longer, the height of the cliffs taller, the mountains bigger and the days fuller. Though the choice to focus on making it fun for him never changed. Suddenly, he was ready to take on bigger objectives and find them comfortable. Audubon was a tipping point. Yes he has had longer days, more distance, more height gain and steeper climbs, this though was a full on mountain day. We traded trails for talus, walking for scrambling and kicked steps up snowfields in running shoes before they had softened.
The smiles I saw on the summit were those of accomplishment. Borne from a competence gathered through the foundations of previous experiences and choosing the day wisely. Bolstered by good company and the chance to see wild life and incredible views. All the context we developed through exploits and stories led to this moment.
The love of wild places I see in my son is fostered by allowing him to appreciate them in his own way and time. It is magnified by the numerous days we spent outside without my agenda, where he shaped our experience. On Audubon, watching those smiles, I realized the investment had been so very worthwhile.