Sometimes a thought pops into one’s head that is so compelling, one must drop everything to consider it. To pursue it. To follow its course and see that thought through to an argument. A case for something. And when one is done wrestling within one’s inner monologue, it leaves one completely convicted, breathless, until truth is the only thing that remains. Friends, today this happened to me.
I was going to publish my final post about our recent trip to Iceland. But this is too important. I had to get these words out before they made my head explode.
I’m reading a book right now, in which a widowed father is taking care of his young, disabled daughter. They’re not wealthy. For her birthday, he gives her a book, something he knows she will love. He sees how happy it makes her, and then he explains that this is only part one of two books, and that if he saves up enough, perhaps, by her next birthday, they could buy the second part. But she doesn’t care. She has already started reading.
It brought tears to my eyes. Maybe it’s because I’m a new parent. Maybe it’s because I want to give my children anything they want (even though I won’t). And when they want something I don’t have, or cannot control, it breaks my heart. Maybe it’s because this very story is in a book that I got from my local public library – an incredible freedom and privilege that I take for granted even though it touches my life directly every . single . day. My family and I have access to virtually any book we want to read, at the click of a button. It costs me nothing. It is free, and freedom is a beautiful thing. It makes you stop what you’re doing, and makes you observe a silent moment of gratitude for the things you know you take for granted. Do that, right now.
Friends, there are so many opportunities we have every day that we don’t spend enough time thinking about. If you’re reading this right now, you are alive, breathing, not living in modern slavery or extreme poverty, not lacking clean water or nutritious food. You likely have the ability to go outside and explore your neighborhood, read or listen to books, eat a scoop of ice cream when a craving hits (sugar-free, gluten-free, non-dairy options, anyone?), save up enough money to fix something broken in your home, or take your kids on an outing to enrich your time together or broaden everyone’s horizons. These are wonderful opportunities.
So, when we are faced with senseless tragedies nearly every day, let them remind us that nothing is guaranteed. Not our health, not our jobs, and certainly not tomorrow. But we can find strength in the Hope that we have now, and happiness in the moments we give thanks. Take a deep breath, and savor it, knowing that every breath is a gift. Go take a walk around your neighborhood, read a library book, utter a silent prayer, have that conversation with your spouse that you know you’ve been meaning to have but just haven’t yet, and give thanks for those freedoms and opportunities. Hug your loved ones extra tight this week, my friends.
There are seasons of exploration. And then there are seasons of contemplation. Opportunities to slow down and soak in change. A chance to grow amidst life’s transitions. This is that season for me. For us.
Last year was a year for exploring. It was soul-enriching. We went new places, did new things, and had a ton of fun. And then, in October, our second child was born. Our new baby girl Arya has added a whole new kind of enrichment to our family life. She has given us the opportunity to slow down and figure out life with two littles. It’s been a couple of months of hard work to maintain peace and find balance in our new life. We have worked hard to simply keep up with the mundane, but still very necessary things. Things like keeping our two dogs walked, making time to exercise or finish an important conversation with the spouse, keeping everyone fed and bathed and in clean clothes, tackling the never-ending piles of dishes and laundry (compounded by the fact that we have two kids in cloth diapers). But we’ve also cut back and slowed down in other areas, to savor and give one hundred percent to the things that truly matter. Things like serving others. Fostering friendships, old and new. And we’re hearing things better. Sounds like leaves falling off trees while taking our toddler to the park, and hearing our toddler give his baby sister kisses (which may be the sweetest thing we’ve experienced yet).
If you’ve been reading for a while you’ll know that I’ve blogged about this before. For years before our kids were born, we said our lives won’t stop when we have kids. When Johann was born it was a hard change, but it seemed like we fell back into an active life soon enough and he just came along for the ride. While life is certainly harder now with two young kids (and it’s only been three months!) in some ways not much has changed. We’re still the same people, we still have the same values, the same priorities, the same purpose and the same drive. We’re just in a season of contemplation. Transition. Figuring out our new normal.
Ryan and I are talking about what backpacking, camping, and travel will look like for us this year. People still ask us if we’re crazy for continuing to do this stuff with two littles aged two and under. We may be! And, we hear a lot of “I don’t know how you do it.” But the things we do: get outside, travel, be still in nature, live with less stuff, live responsibly towards our planet, be more self-sufficient, continue enjoying financial peace and debt-freedom…among other things, these stem from our values, our WHY. These are things we so desperately want to pass on to our children that we are being intentional about them. A little planning, and starting small goes a long way. Arya went out on her first real hike at four weeks old. It was a tame forty-five-minute back-and-forth thing, but it was enough for us to see that she, too, has inherited her parents’ love of the outdoors. We took her to the mountains to play in the snow and went sledding all day at nine weeks. She is already adventurous like her big brother, and every bit as flexible and easy-going.
Life is good, and it’s about to get very, very exciting indeed.
So, I’m still here. And, I’ll be back to post more frequently as we move towards our new normal. Thank you so much for sticking with me, for reading, and for the words of encouragement.
Exactly one year ago, we took Johann on our first backpacking trip as a family. Just a few days before we left, we were speaking with a couple we had recently met. They have a kid who is only a few months older than Johann, so I was expecting some sort of reaction when we excitedly shared our weekend plans. After the initial response of “Oh, you’re so brave for attempting to take a baby backpacking,” the other mom immediately said that she would never do this with her own child, and would never even go camping either. We asked why, and she shared a few stories from her childhood, when her parents had dragged her and her siblings along on long uncomfortable backpacking trips. She recalled that one of those had been a thirty-mile trip over five nights, and she had been ten or twelve years old at the time. It was easy to see that she had not enjoyed any of this as a child, even if it had been great fun for her parents.
The conversation with this other parent was a year ago, but it left an impression on me. It made me question my own motivation for bringing Johann along on the activities that Ryan and I enjoy. After all, I remember plenty of times from my own childhood when I’ve had to go along with stuff that was fun for my parents or extended family that I had no say in, found absolutely boring, and sometimes dreaded. So does Ryan. So do a lot of our friends. Sure, now that we are parents ourselves, we get it. But that also means we know how miserable our kid is going to feel when he gets dragged along to do something and he’s still too young to understand its purpose. And, I’m not talking about the boring things weall have to do to keep our lives running smoothly. I’m talking about good stuff. The hobbies and activities we pursue, ways in which we replenish our souls and derive joy.
What if my kid grows up to hate the stuff we do? What if my kid grows up to hate my ways?
Every parent asks this question at some point in his or her life. Maybe you’ve got older kids, or fully grown kids, and are facing this question in a different way. Or maybe you don’t worry about it. Or maybe your wisdom and perspective in parenting allows you to have peace about it. But it keeps me up at night.
What if the things we find most meaningful are absolutely boring to our kids? What if the choices we make, the lives we lead, our very values, end up being completely rejected by our kids when they grow up? As responsible parents or parents-to-be, we take a huge leap off a cliff. We pour our hearts and souls into our children, making immeasurable sacrifices of our own for them, with the same end goal in mind, hoping they will fly the coop someday as responsible, capable, ethical adult citizens who have a solid foundation, and whose choices make us proud. And there is absolutely no guarantee of how things will turn out. It’s a huge risk we take, becoming parents. Probably the biggest risk we’ll ever take.
But we do it anyway. Why?
Because it’s worth it. Because our kids are worth it.
Ryan was less rattled by the woman’s story. He pointed out that in the world of a very young child, fun is paramount. Sure, it makes sense. Before children can understand the purpose of an activity, they need to be somehow engaged in the activity, and they won’t stay engaged in the activity if they’re not having fun or being properly challenged. Eventually, Johann will have opinions of his own. He will have hobbies and interests of his own that may very well turn out to be entirely different than our own. And, eventually, he will have a say in the things that we do as a family. How we listen to, encourage, and support our kids, and how we do family adventures then will be a good test of parenthood.
Right now, Johann is only eighteen months old. So, when we’re out, he is fascinated by everything. His entire visible world is one amazing place simply waiting for discovery. On hikes, he spends long minutes gazing up at the forest canopy in wonder. He is happy to play with sticks, dirt, and mud especially. (What’s up with the mud fascination, anyway?) He squeals with glee every time we see a waterfall or rushing river. He gets very excited and flaps his arms when we see wildlife, heck, he even loves on the dogs we see at the park or on trails (whether or not they reciprocate). His world is very simple right now. He has no choice but to come along with us on our adventures, and fortunately for us he seems to be enjoying them as much as we are.
I’ve been wondering when things will get more complicated, as I know they will.
It seems silly, really, to worry about things over which I have no control. Because, at the end of the day, would I really change what I do, how I parent, out of fear?
I do what I do because of my values, my core beliefs. My why. Exploring, appreciating, and being a good steward of the world around me are key components of those values. These are things I greatly hope Johann will value someday, too, when he’s old enough to understand. Until then he will be growing up as an active participant of his parents’ world. And so, we’ll keep exposing him to the things we reasonably can, big or small, while trying to balance our sanity. But I see families who swing the pendulum too far to the other extreme, too. And that seems unbalanced. We personally don’t enjoy running around a lot. My husband is a classic introvert and, while I am not, we both truly enjoy being home and like our quiet evenings! But we do want to give Johann the chance to sample things even Ryan and I have no strong interest or ability in, things like organized sports, and things that we enjoy and appreciate but did not seriously pursue, like drama and music. Of course, we’ll teach him the things we enjoy. Ryan can’t wait to give Johann his first set of woodworking tools, and I am waiting to teach him basic cooking. Of course we’ll keep getting outside. We’ll keep traveling. We’ll keep exploring. We’ll try to make sure Johann is still enjoying himself, learning, having fun, and discovering his why along the way. So when he is old enough to have his own opinions and forge his own path, we hope to be able to guide him well. And, maybe then, the question that keeps me up at night will be a mere memory.
Have you asked yourself this same question? How do you handle it, and how do you curb the fear it induces?
We get this question a lot, usually from people who don’t know us very well, whenever we mention that we’re doing something crazy like taking our son, Johann, kayaking or backpacking or that we’re traveling somewhere together. “Why?” The question is almost always accompanied by a bewildered expression on their faces. When we answer them, we get a “Good for you. I could never do that!” And, in response, I can’t help but ask “Why not?”
As a couple, my husband Ryan and I have always tried new things and pursued active outdoor experiences, travel, and adventure. For years before we had Johann, well-meaning friends and acquaintances would warn us about how our lives would stop when we had kids. And, we always said that when we had kids, our lives would not stop, because we would simply bring them along on our adventures.
Our son Johann is eighteen months old now. To name just a few of his adventures so far…he has hiked over a hundred miles with us (lashed to either me or Ryan), visited more countries than either Ryan or I had before we turned eighteen, gone camping and backpacking with us multiple times, eaten more strange and new foods than either of us had while we were kids, gone kayaking with us a few times, and gone swimming in pristine but frigid alpine lakes and two of the world’s oceans.
We know Johann is only one tiny kid, and our family is still growing, so we know it will get harder. But, so far, none of this has been easy. A lot of it has been challenging. But all of it has been worth it. And, our adventures will not stop. We have set these priorities, and accepted the risks that have come with them, so we get to continue doing the things we found fun in our pre-baby days only now in family-mode.
But it’s not just about fun. It’s bigger than that. It’s also about the pursuit of lifelong learning. Our kids are going to learn more from actually doing these things right alongside us, than by just reading about them or watching others do them. Learning doesn’t stop either. We learn new things every day, and we want to set the right example for our kids.
It’s also about simple purposeful living. We try hard to organize our time and budget around the things we value most. This is the reason we have no debt, and why we live below our means so we can instead save up for more meaningful things like world travel. It is why we cook and eat dinner together at the table every night we’re home. It is why we read books together and separately every day and love our local library. It is why I became a stay-at-home-mom, why we don’t have smartphones and don’t pay for TV programming, why the cars we drive are eight and fifteen-years old and fully-paid-for. It is why we grow a backyard garden and are slowly converting our lawn to all edible landscaping, bit by bit. It is why we use cloth diapers on our kid (which we’ve found to be a far cheaper and more environmentally-friendly alternative to disposables), and why we get joy from giving to and serving others. It is the reason we get outside so much (because the best entertainment and exercise is simply being in nature and it’s free). Someday, we hope our kids will form their worldviews based on these values, which allow us to have such a richly fulfilling, and high quality of life.
Another question we often get is “Why now? Why not when the kids are older?” The answer may be different for you, but for us there’s no time like the present. We have our health and energy now, and we like being able to establish momentum and figure things out while Johann is so young and forgiving. And, we like being able to go places now while he’s not yet tied down to a school calendar, and have the freedom to explore places at less crowded times and in the off-season. And, we want to take him places while he’s small and relatively easy to manage. (We’ve already seen the difference in air travel and miss how easy it was to fly with him when he was a sweet, immobile, squishy infant.)
But more importantly, we want him to grow up like this. We want to expose him to as many different experiences as possible now. We don’t know how big of an impact this is having on him, but he’s absorbing and learning so much right now…new environments, new foods, new cultures, new languages, etc. So, at this very impressionable age, we absolutely want our child to sample more than he will find within the four walls of our home, our town, our state, our country even.
This blog was born to document our journey, our lessons learned, our experiences, our challenges, and to offer support and encouragement to fellow new parents, parents-to-be, and anyone who is looking to get outside and explore the world with little ones and less stuff and enjoy it.
We don’t have all the answers, but we’re figuring it out as we go. Your motivation to get outside with your kids might be different than ours. Your interests might be different than ours. You might have a unique why. But if you’ve got little kids in tow like we do, our struggles are the same. And, we’ll walk alongside you.
My point is this: Use your why as momentum to do the things you really want to. Don’t be afraid to fail, and learn. There will be risks. Aren’t there always? I mean, I could get hit by a car while walking down the street. There is no prescription, or one method. Every parent, every family has to forge their own path in pursuit of the life they want, not just for their kids but also for themselves, and not let fear hold them back. We’ve seen “lives stop” for many parents, and if there is fun it’s usually a kids’ activity. That’s not wrong, but it’s not a good balance. It’s one reason I started this blog: To encourage and support you to get outside with your little ones and enjoy it. And, you don’t need to bring your whole house along, either. It is possible to do it simply, with less stuff. We don’t want our kids to change us, but we want to influence our kids to explore and appreciate the wonder that is in the world. These are some of our reasons. This is our why.