"I'm cold. Why does Ben get to ride and I have to walk? I don't want to go home, but I don't want to be here."
What is it about standing on the precipice of four years old that makes kids grumpy? At least, my kid grumpy? He's old enough to voice his concerns, but still too young to hop in the car and take off for his friend's house if things aren't going his way.
We started off on the trail in spite of his complaints. He wanted to hold my hand. He didn't want to hold my hand. We were walking too fast. We were walking too slowly. The only thing that seemed to make the whining stop was reading the periodic signs about wildfire suppression along the trail.
This went on for about twenty minutes until we had all had enough.
"Alex, it's a beautiful day. Why can't you be happy to be outside? You love being outside. Look around you at all of the fun things to see."
Then I remembered - he's three. He doesn't want look at nature - he wants to interact with nature, he wants to have adventures in nature. It's not about being "there." It's about experiencing "there."
And so our adventure began. We were explorers searching for treasures on the trails. We found golden pine cone coins and filled our pockets. We ice skated across the frozen pirate river. We used our "navigation computers" to spot people in the distance. We hopped aboard our pirate ship when the great storms came and blew down the pine trees around us. We used our "magic color scopes" to find dead trees with brown needles and the trees with green needles that had survived the torrents. We found tiny holes into which pirate mice had fled to escape the arctic breezes of the ocean crossing.
It certainly wasn't the quiet, reflective hiking that I love. But I have to admit - it was fun! And suddenly everyone was happy. No one was cold. No one was tired. No one was grumpy!
I curse myself that on every outing it takes me a good half-hour to remember that all it takes is a little engaging adventure and my happy kid is back. I'll admit, sometimes I don't forget. Sometimes, I'm just tired. It's hard work always thinking one step ahead and creating the next big saga that will grab my kid's attention. Sometimes I just don't want to do it. But I always do because then I remember - that's my job. And I'm good at it.
And when I watch my kid playing with other children and he takes the lead in having an adventure - his friends laughing and playing along as they rush into a burning building or scuba dive in a hidden reef, it makes me happy. Happy that I can feed his imagination so that he can pass on his gift of creativity to someone else.