The first few weeks of school have not been easy on anyone. My son, now in Kindergarten, struggles daily and has exclaimed that he doesn't fit in at school or at karate. My daughter, as much as she LOVES preschool, is acting out at home in developmentally appropriate ways - asserting herself more, living the paradox that is growing up. So as this weekend approached, I knew that we would have to hit a sweet spot that would blend time for decompressing and doing something interesting.
The weather is beginning to turn and in the Colorado Rockies that means that our camping season is approaching its end. Everyone was excited to get outside and camp this weekend. My daughter helped make a list of what we needed to take (which will be another blog post about pre-literacy). My son prepared what he would take in the car to occupy himself while we were on the road for 1.5 hours. I could hardly wait to get up high in the mountains, enjoy that wonderful fresh air, and my favorite...waking up outside in the wilderness.
We were all geared up. Until my son woke up Saturday morning with a mild fever and the attitude that accompanies it. The morning of packing the car and hopping in turned into epic battle after epic battle after battle. "I don't want to camp. I want to practice riding my bike." "Anna can't pretend to be Dashi because we aren't pretending Octonauts." "She can't pretend to drive the Gup X because her bike is orange and the Gup X is red. I get to drive the Gup X because my bike is red." "We can't listen to her stupid songs in the car. I hate them." "If we are driving up into the mountains then we HAVE to camp." "I'm too sick and tired to do this." Oh, the litany of complaints!
On the other hand, I breathed in the alpine air. My daughter proudly marched along the trail exclaiming up pretty it was. Aspen trees have just begun to dabble the hillside in autumn color. The cloudless blue sky seemed to stretch on forever which was mirrored by the sparkling water of alpine lakes. Anna and I tromped along, listening to her brother complain. Smiling at passers-by, all of whom were tickled to see a 3 year old hiking with her own water backpack.
Anna talked about the trail. She talked about how the logs and rocks were like steps. She observed that the bridge was over muddy mucky ground. She loved showing me how she could drink from her Camalbak. I listened to her discuss what I recognized and Preschool Engineering...all the technologies that supported our hike. She made observations of the nature she saw. We discussed how the responsible thing to do was to stay on the trail so we could protect the wilderness. One thing after the next was offered to me and I recognized her learning and I loved it.
But moments of feeling lovely luckiness were countered with irritation. My son wanted to be in front. He didn't want to carry his water. He had to make dust with his feet. He didn't like the people talking to him when they passed by. And after a mere 30 minutes of walking my son "won." His father turned back with him, leaving us with a decision. Do we continue on and have a special Mama-Anna lunch or do we chase the boys back to the car? Anna chose to turn back...and it crushed me.
My disappointment nearly overwhelmed me. We had worked SO hard to get here. I didn't feel like I was done yet. But my sick autistic son needed a win. My daughter needed us to all be together. So I needed to get over myself. We walked back to the car where the kids played together during lunch. I took my sandwich and water bottle to relax by myself and wrestle with all my feelings.
I was so happy to be enjoying the mountains this way. I was angry that it had been so hard. I was disappointed that we had to turn back earlier than I had wanted to. I felt proud that we had gone further this time than the last time we had attempted this hike. And before I returned to the car my blood pressure had gone back down, my heart was happy again, and I was ready to return home.
On our way home we listened to "Into the Alpine" by Jeff Kagan. One part of it hit home for me:
"There is a relevant joy that's earned by the deserving
when you leave behind the spires of the skyline
where your feet become the trail and the trail becomes your guideline
as you step through timberline into the alpine."
It wasn't easy. It felt like an enormously frustrating morning. But as I listened to Jeff sing I thought about my daughter. She was so proud that she had hiked further this time. She was so happy to have spent some time in the mountains. All her joys - walking that trail, carrying her own water, relishing her surroundings - she earned all that joy. And she deserves it.