Last weekend we hiked in Arches National Park. It is one of the most breath-taking, beautiful places I’ve ever seen. When Jennika was just a little baby, and still content to be carried in the front pack, we hiked through Devil’s Garden. This 7 mile hike is listed in the brochure as difficult. I think mainly because there are high, narrow fins to walk across and a few places where scrambling (using hands and feet) are required. We decided to try it again this year, though we just did the basic trail without the side trips, making it just a little over 5 miles. We carried Korban and had a pack for Jennika just in case she got tired of walking. She was amazing, walking almost the whole way. We hiked with our friends, who also have kids, and I think having company for Jennika helped her hike further. There were a few times I carried her because I was nervous about letting her walk and a few times that she wanted to rest and ride for a bit. Overall, I’d guess that she hiked close to four miles.
The next day we decided to hike into the Fiery Furnance. This area of winding canyons and high fins is closed to general hiking and it is recommneded that hikers take the ranger guided tour. There are several reasons for this, primarily to preserve the pristine landscape, protect the cryptobiotic soil, and protect the hikers. There is no marked trail in the Fiery Furnace and hikers have gotten lost. The next available guided tour, however, wasn’t for three days. So we decided to apply for a permit to go into the Fiery Furnace by ourselves. Yes, it sounds scary and at that time I was feeling a little bit scared.
In order to obtain a permit for this hike, we had to watch a short video about where to and not to step and how to conduct ourselves. It was pretty basic, no shouting, be respectful of others and the environment, but good for the kids to hear. After the video a ranger came in and told us they would issue the permit but with hesitation because, “this is not an appropriate place for toddlers.” By now I’m really nervous about taking our four kids into this area and almost wishing the ranger would just say, “You can’t take those babies in there!” The guys persuaded us to just give it a try and promised that if our kids were out of control and ruining the area we would head back to the car.
Again, all of our kids did fantastic. They stayed on the trail, I don’t think the cryptobioic soil even knew we were there! They were quiet, whispering or talking quietly, and again I think they hiked at least two miles. This hike did require a bit more scrambling and balanced walking. There were several times when I’d tell Jennika to be careful or ask her to please hold my hand. There were several times when I would ask her if I could carry her, not because she needed a rest, just for my peace of mind. And there where times when I didn’t ask her, I just scooped her up to keep her safe over a slippery or dangerous section.
One section was particularly steep and the hard red sandstone was covered with loose sand and pea rocks. On one side was a little drop off, so I asked Jennika, “Do you want Mama to carry you?”
“No.” She said confidently
I nervously watched as she inched her way down, little step by little step. Again I said, “Jennika please let me carry you. I don’t want you to fall.”
Her response, “I’m being careful.”
As I resisted the urge to grab her anyway, I thought about her answer and our exchange. She is adventuring, taking risks, enjoying her freedom and ability to do something big. I know that feeling. I, too enjoy knowing I’ve done something difficult. As her mama, I am proud of her for trying things that are hard. I rejoice with her when she turns to me and says, “I did it, Mama!” But I also see the risks that she may not see or fully understand. I can see the drop off or the slippery rocks that she ignores and I can visualize her slipping and skinning her elbow, or worse. I want to protect her from getting hurt, but I also want her to try these things and to experience the thrill of pushing herself.
It’s a quandary that I really never knew until I became a mother. It’s a quandary that I think I may wrestle with for the rest of my life. When do I let my children live out the risks they wish to take and when do I interfere and scoop them up? I do not want my kids to life a cautious life. I do not want my kids to live in fear of what might happen. I want my kids to live big, to experience new things, and to push themselves to try the things they dream of. I know that means they will get hurt, skinned knees, hurt feelings, and maybe even broken bones or a broken heart.
It’s hard for me to think about my kids experiencing pain of any type, but it gives me comfort to think of my daughter’s response, “I’m being careful.” She may not see the dangers I see, but she has been listening to my warnings and is following my instruction. I have to trust her and the teachings I’ve given her. I have to let her try. And I will be there to comfort and cry with her when the hurts come.