Kids are amazing explorers. Their drive for exploration and play can overpower their desires for sleep, food, and general grumpiness.
This past Monday we had a sitter sick day, and I was in charge of the kids. To get them out of the house we took a four hour round-trip hike down to the park near our house. This park is more like a nature preserve, with a trail that follows a quick drop down from street level into a canyon where a small creek that still supports a salmon run every year slowly meanders down to a mostly sandy beach and the Puget Sound, where local families dig their plastic shovels in the gravely soil and watch sail boats, freight ships, and the occasional harbor seal, bald eagle, or osprey fishing off the shore.
My daughter loved walking over the wooden bridges, stomping her feet to make the boom boom echo noise that only comes from wooden bridges. We went at her pace, taking as much time as she wanted at each spot, stopping at every bridge to look over its edge into the babbling brook or stream below, stopping to touch a cool tree, as well as the fire trucks that happened to be at the park. A few times I got bored and suggested we move on, and if she said yes we went and if not we stayed. Even towards the end of our adventures, although she was simultaneously starting to complain about being hungry and thirsty, she was the one demanding that we go down to the beach to at least sit on a log for awhile and touch the sand. She also wanted to go swimming in the creek and the sound, but we skipped those activities mostly because I did not feel like adding “wet” to the description of things I had to lug back out of the canyon, and she didn’t protest too much.
She balanced, climbed, slid, see-sawed, and ran up and down hills, falling and tripping a couple of times but brushing herself off each time and only needing one kiss to make a finger better before moving on to the next activity. She got to try an apple that fell off the park’s apple orchard, picked up leaves, and analyzed different rocks strewn on the beach. She walked more than half of the time down and around the canyon and park, and returning walked all the way down the hill from the beach cliff and towards the lower parking lot. She had an amazing time and had lots of things to share with her dad when we got back from our adventure.
But my son, my son enjoyed the day on an entirely different level. My son was so happy during our walk through the woods he looked like an animal released from its cage and realizing it has been returned into its home forest.
He would just lean over, reaching down over the edge of his stroller trying to touch the ground as it whizzed by him, feeling any dirt kick up off the path with those pudgy little hands that an instant later were reaching up up up into the sky, trying to touch the leaves high above and sunlight sparkling through them.
He was always sitting literally at the edge of his seat, at times riding his stroller like a chariot, bracing his feet against the step and grabbing the guard rail, standing straight up and wiggling his body to urge his rickety chariot to go faster. He would lean back into his chair, arching his back to look up at the tops of the trees, and look back at me as if to say “Mom, this is so cool!”
He wanted to taste and experience everything, and although he tired much more quickly than his sister he still grabbed for various sticks, rocks, and chunks of wood to taste as we sat on the beach. He would understand when I told him no and take the rock out of his mouth, but would then start searching for another one, thinking, “maybe this cracker shaped piece of wood is okay.” When he found an apple on the ground in the orchard, He was so proud and protective of it he struggled with wanting to show me but wanting to keep it for himself. He actually tried to pick up all the apples while holding on to his tiny little apple, but I tossed the rotten ones further into the field and tried to get him to focus on his precious little apple that he had already started chewing. He spent a long time nibbling at it, getting it about half eaten, and when I finally snuck it away from him to bite away a wormy spot I found that in fact it was pretty good, better than the one I picked off the tree for my daughter.
He had exhausted himself by the time we walked through the woods again and looked dazedly up into the sparking tree canopy before he drifted to sleep about half way up the canyon trail. My daughter rested in her seat, chatting here and there but was overall surprisingly quiet for a two year old.
After I made us a very late lunch and we sat around the kitchen table hungrily munching our pasta and sausages, I was still, and am still, blown away by just how long the kids both wanted to be out there in the park, playing, exploring, and just how happy they were to be out experiencing nature. I try to let the kids explore on their own at their own pace, but this day took that experience to a whole new level for me, one I will try to remember as we continue to explore and learn about our world together.