I slowly take my pack off, for the fourth or fifth time inside a half mile, and find a nice, big rock to sit on beside the trail. I dig out my water bottle, take a long sip, and lean back to stretch my antsy legs. Impatiently wishing I could just get up and hike on, I turn back and watch my hiking partner comfortably splay himself out in the dirt in the middle of our trail and start digging with his tiny excavator.
My hiking partner is my almost-three year old son, a high spirited, fiercely independent toddler.
We log a lot of miles together, Luke and I. Most of those miles are hiked with him on my back, taking in the scenery and talking about what we see along our route. But more and more often, he wants to hike on his own, and by “hike” he means “play in the dirt.”
I’m a doer by nature; sitting still can be very difficult for me. I prefer to move, to check things off a list, and to watch those miles add up (the faster, the better!). I enjoy pushing myself and basking in the feeling of accomplishment that comes from achieving a challenging goal. Admittedly, I have a hard time feeling like I’m doing anything productive when I’m sitting on a rock beside the trail I’d hoped to hike, watching my son play happily in the dirt.
Still, when Luke asks to get down and play, if we aren’t too pressed for time, I usually let him. Some days it’s hard for me to sit when all I want to do is go, but I stop and give him the time he needs to sit and play, to observe and experiment. It’s good for him, and he’s happier when I let him dictate our pace.
I constantly work on striking that balance between meeting Luke’s needs and meeting my own, that balance between quietly making memories and diligently logging miles. If I resist the urge to label a hike as a success or a failure based on how close we come to a specific goal, it’s easier to take pleasure in sitting and watching my son explore the world around him.
The sun slowly arches its way toward the western horizon. It’s clear we won’t finish the loop I’d planned for the day. I’m disappointed, to be honest, but I tell myself that we can always come back another day.
Blissfully unaware of the hour or the fading light, my boy continues to play in the dirt beside me. Sticks, rocks, and dried leaves sit in rows next to Luke, treasures from the day’s excavation. After a few more minutes, he’s ready to start moving again.
I gather our things, pull my pack back on, and gently coax him down the path and toward the trailhead. Luke happily follows, only a step or two behind.