When this blog first launched, I said we were going to cover a lot of topics related to enjoying the outdoors. We’d focus on hiking and trail running for sure but nothing was going to be out of bounds.
With that in mind, I want to talk about parenting, specifically how much freedom do you give kids who want to explore while still keeping you sane as a parent. It ain’t easy.
My daughter is 9 and she loves being outside. I’m incredibly thankful for that. Sure, she loves playing games on her tablet, and she can get a serious case of TV face if I’m not paying attention, but really she would prefer to go and do stuff. I will always find that to be a blessing. It comes with challenges though, especially when she wants more leash that I’m ready to give. Every parent knows the feeling.
That brings us to the reason for this post. It was a serious reality check.
Over the weekend, she and I went skiing, just a normal Sunday. It’s how we spend weekends in the winter. As she gets older, her group of friends is expanding and there are more chances for her to do stuff with friends … and without me, including at the mountain. So we met some of her friends and I introduced myself to their parents and we all decided we would ski together for awhile. It gave the kids a chance to hang out and the parents could chat and ski behind them, doing our best to appear casual and give them some space. Inevitably though they asked to go ski by themselves, leaving the parents behind.
This is where is gets complicated. I had so many questions. Is she too young for that? The mountain is a great place to play. It can also be a dangerous place without supervision. My daughter is a good skier. I trust her to be on her own and make good decisions. That doesn’t make the mountain smaller or less dangerous. It doesn’t make her anymore ready to make good decisions if she has a problem.
So I gave her the green light with specific instructions. “You are back in this lodge at 2:30; there is a clock on every lift house, a lift ride takes 13 minutes; be here at 2:30. No black diamonds. Ask courtesy patrol if you need help. Back at 2:30! 2:30! Did you hear me? What did I just tell you?
“Got it, dad. Jeeeez!”
OK, have fun. What time are you back here?”
“2:30.” (eye roll)
I started watching the door at 2:30. I started to get worried at 2:45. At 3 p.m., I’m in full panic mode, trying to look like I’m not in full panic mode. Other moms are texting.
“Have you seen them? Where the hell are they? I’m WORRIED.”
If you’ve ever lost sight of your kid in a crowd or at a grocery store, you know this feeling. Your brain isn’t yours. You try to fight off the thoughts that they are hurt, lost or God forbid, something worse. You try to figure out when to make the leap from it’s OK to we have an emergency. That’s a blurry line.
I crossed that line at 3:10.
We contacted Ski Patrol and told them we had three kids on the mountain, their age, what they were wearing and that they were LATE, really late. Before I could even finish explaining, a Ski Patrol snowmobile was zipping up the mountain.
Ten minutes later, radio silence broke. “We have them … they’re OK. They’re on the lift. They’ve been told to ski to the lodge, pronto.”
It turns out, one of the kids dropped a pole off the lift, so they all skied back down to help recover it but found themselves on a lift that didn’t go back to the lodge so it required another ski lift to get to a trail so they could ski to the lodge. And on and on. It was innocent enough.
The worry was real, though.
So after the all-too-tight hug when she finally came snowplowing to a stop in front of the lodge and the “DO YOU KNOW HOW WORRIED I WAS?” that came flying out of my mouth like I had channeled every parent I promised never to become, we were good. Everyone was fine, telling stories of misadventures and why they decided a ski pole was more important than collective heart attacks of all the parents.
But I still didn’t have an answer about how much rope is enough. She wants to adventure. She wants to explore. She wants to be with friends. She wants freedom. The tricky part is I want her to have all of that and never lose her enthusiasm for reaching and pushing outside where she’s comfortable.
But after getting her home, I told her mom about what happened. I was ready for fire and fury.
Instead. “You do know, in a lot of ways she did what we would want. She took care of her friends, took responsibility for helping and caring. She didn’t abandon him. She made that choice. We need be good with that.”
She was right, of course. But I still had so many questions about if letting her go it alone was the thing to do. How can we tell? I need some kind of rule here.
“We can’t and there aren’t any rules for this.”
At that point, our daughter, no doubt sensing opportunity, came rolling back into the room.
“Ya know, if I had a phone, I could have just called.”
IN UNISON: “You’re not ready for a phone!”