It was my weekend with the kids, and the weather was nice enough to go out, so we went to Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland for a four mile hike. I am often asked about how I got my kids into hiking. The truth is, they didn’t always love it, and I had to cultivate their interest. I have two boys, a seven year old Type 1 diabetic, and a nine year old. They are twenty one months apart, so a lot of my saving grace when they were toddlers was to get them out of the house, but as you can imagine, this used to be a time-consuming and daunting task. A former principal once gave me this advice: The more time and effort you put into children as small human beings, the easier they become as older children, then the more responsible and reliable they become as teenagers. I am reaping the rewards of the time I put in earlier.
My youngest son developed diabetes five years ago at the tender age of two. I detected it early, because I also developed diabetes when I was two. We are very close, and I know part of it has to do with how we understand what living with diabetes entails. He loves to be near me. He often holds my hand, leans into me as we walk, and loves to sneak into my bed before dawn and snuggle. As I sat down to write this, I remembered a picture I had taken and posted in 2014 to social media of us holding hands- his chubby small hand sticking out between crib slats. I captioned it “My back hurts. There’s this anxiety creeping in that I have a million other things to do. But as soon as I try to move, these little fingers grip tighter to my hand. So I’ll sit in the dark with an achy back and hold his hand until he falls asleep because one day soon he won’t want to hold his mommy’s hand. And I’ll be glad I had these moments with him.” The martyrdom that I assumed came with motherhood is striking. Motherhood has made me a better, more fulfilled person and I truly believe it is a privilege, but I understand now how, and why, I lost myself in it. I tried to be a Pinterest mom. It was not for me.
A few years ago, my house became a place I wanted to avoid. I was not comfortable in my skin, because I was not being true to who I am. To give myself the space and freedom to think, we started going for “nature walks” in the local park. To get them amped up to go walk in the woods, I had them make a scavenger list of the things they thought we’d see. Often their lists included “robbers” and “porta potties” but I always made sure they included actual aspects of nature I could teach them about. I found some space, peace and freedom on our walks, and I quickly found their favorite hikes (and I have to use this term loosely because there are times our “hikes” are just walks in a local park) were the ones I hyped up. Whether this was done because of creating a sense of purpose, or my own excitement, they fed off the sense of purpose on those early adventures. I felt more confident in my mothering as I found a way to parent that suited me. Obviously plenty of parents hike/adventure with their children, but I had an early mindset that I had to find my parenting style from those around me, and Pinterest, and do what the Mommy Bloggers would do.
My kids love hiking because I love hiking. My kids love going on adventures outdoors because I love having adventures outdoors. On this weekend’s hike, I explained to them as we were packing up why I was adding weight to my backpack. They think it is impressive that my brother and I are going to hike and camp and carry all the equipment on our backs. My oldest told me that he wanted to add some weight to his backpack because he told me he wants to be a hard worker, like me. Then my younger son asked for a small weight. I gave them very minimal amounts to add to their packs, and they didn’t complain once on the hike. These days, they are interested to know about the places we are going to, the elevation gains, the terrain, etc. It’s cool to watch them enjoy the anticipated sense of accomplishment, and look forward to telling their teachers and friends that they climbed a mountain this weekend. The hikes these days are more of a shared experience, rather than a way for me to escape into my head without throwing them in front of the television. As a result, I am a more authentic mother, because I was able to find a more authentic sense of self.
This all comes with compromise. I allow them to play video games on our car rides to and from places that take over half an hour to get to. I also know that they don’t love flat walks, so I make sure hikes with them have at least some hills to go up and down. I have to pack a lot of snacks, and be willing to take a lot of breaks. Often, my mind likes to wander and fixates on what I have to do. I get frustrated that we aren’t going fast enough, or that we won’t have the time to hike extra miles. But, it’s a compromise. They come with me, I have a shorter and slower hike, but I get the intrinsic rewards of watching my boys challenge themselves, and participate in life with me in a meaningful way. Yes, the moments like the one at the crib all those years ago still come, but I have the clarity now to not pretend that I am a victim of being a parent. It takes effort, but I try to make sure that I am no longer fixated on stupid shit that needs to be done when they ask for my attention. By allowing myself to be who I am, not who I thought others want me to be, I have become a more patient, and present mom.