I stopped making summer to-do lists two years ago. Something about checking off ‘look up at the stars’ felt too finite, like the checkmark made it complete, now on to the next. But what of looking at the stars the next night? And every night?
This year I focus only on how I want our summer to feel. Though I have an idea of activities we will do, my only set intention, is connection.
Especially so for Kaya, my 6-year-old, who is headed to Grade 2 which brings with it more friends and greater independence. As she is quiet and not much of a talker anyways, I want to make sure this time together is valuable time. Not picking up and dropping off and taxiing from gymnastics to music to playdates time.
In the spring, Kaya surprises me by telling me she wants to hike The Chief with me. The Chief is a prominent fixture in our parts, a 700 metre monolith of rock that rock climbers and hikers flock to. This is no little stroll, it’s a steep 600 metre climb up, up, up and once you are up, there are no barricades or fences to prevent a fall
As such, I am not so sure. My internal voice goes something like this:
‘She’s still a baby! There’s no hurry. It’s not safe enough. She’ll whine the whole time. She has no clue what she’s in for. She doesn’t really want to do this.’
But my girl keeps asking.
So early on in the summer, I decide to take her on a test run. A much shorter hike, but one that still heads up to a viewpoint.
Which is when I relearn, never underestimate my children.
Not only does she handle the hike easily, she, my non-talker, converses with me the entire way. Our conversation ranges from fairies to animal scat, existential ponderings to space. She asks me how trees came to be and why a mountain is called a mountain and that she’d like to name something someday. We talk about all the kinds of scientists she might be one day, though she sticks with Rainbow Scientist as her first choice. On the way up, I am regaled with stories of fairies dancing on mushrooms under the moonlight, and on the way down, would you look at how the fungi respond.
Weeks later we are running out of summer holiday days so decide on a whim to head up one cloudy Sunday morning. If I have learned anything as a parent, it is this:
Be as prepared as you can be. Then just go with the flow.
I used to believe this was a paradox, thinking preparedness equated planning and planning equated order. But what I know now is, preparation makes you ready for the eventualities, and being open to numerous and completely unexpected routes opens your life to joy and things you never could even have imagined.
With this in mind, I fill my backpack with snacks, lunch and more snacks. I throw in some treasures in case we geocache, storystarters in case we need distraction, cups in case we want to play the cup song. Not to mention the change of clothes, tons of water, bandaids and my phone. We make a stop for Kaya’s ultimate treat, Starbucks lemon loaf, her prize for the top, and we set off.
This is where I take a moment. A moment to release any expectations I may have. Of making it to the top, of how long it will take us, of where our rest stops should be, of it being as bonding as our last hike… I breathe in deep, then breathe out fiercely, letting go of all those ‘shoulds’ so that our day can just be as it is.
With that, we set out. Kaya’s face beams. She is so ready for this and before we even hit the first set of stairs (there are A LOT of stairs) I am filled with pride at her enthusiasm and determination and joy.
The entire way up she shows me- enthusiasm, determination, joy. No matter the steepness, obstacles or nerves that arrive, enthusiasm, determination and joy predominate.
When I hike The Chief on my own, it is a slow, steady pace that takes me up. With Kaya, well lets just say it’s a good thing my ‘go-with-the-flow’ attitude is along for the ride because today we go, go, go with fast feet then stop for a break, go, go, go, break, go, break, go, break, go, go, go, break. It is not my usual pace, but it is a fun one.
And all those breaks on our way? They are filled with magic I would never find on my own. Knocking on fairy trees waiting expectantly for a reply, deep conversations on ghosts and zombies, plant life devoid of green growing in the deep undercroppings of rock, and taking our shoes off for a dip in the waterfall pool. Truly, I’m not sure there is anything in the world better.
Just as Kaya is getting tired of all the up, we hit the good stuff, ladders and chains and clambering up the rock face. It’s turned quite foggy and rainy so both of us are a little bit nervous about the final ascent, especially after several people approach to tell us how slippery it is, but we carry on to see for ourselves. No pressure, I tell Kaya, if it’s too scary or dangerous, we won’t do the final climb. Just having that pressure released, calms Kaya. That and our self-designated nicknames of Nervous Nellie (me) and Scaredy Squirrel (Kaya) makes us giggle. Fortunately, the rain subsides, we don’t hit any slippery sections and the fog rises just enough so that we can see our town below and feel like we’re in a magical land above.
The wind blows as we summit but Kaya’s fear is gone. She is in a zone and just sits there eating her lemon loaf with a grin on her face. “Mom, I really love it up here! I want to stay here all day!”