For this third installment, I want to tell you about the adventures The Pretender and I have.
This began when she was very small. I remember taking her for walks around the hospital when her mother had to check in for a few days. The hospital was in fact a huge indoor town, and one of the things it contained was trees. Potted, nearly full-size trees. Indoors. I remember carrying The Pretender around and showing her these things, letting her tug on their leaves, getting her face up close. She would've been about 2 mos. old at that point.
Another time in those early years that sticks out is when she was learning to walk. I took her to a nearby state park because there was a paved road through the woods. Closed to cars. Essentially, a paved trail. I thought she'd like to ride in her stroller through the trees. Which she did: for awhile.
But when we were on one of the trails, she did a strange thing- she started crying. Mind you, The Pretender did plenty of crying in those days. But not when we were out in nature. I gave her a stick to drag on the ground and generally make trouble with. After a minute, she dropped it on the ground and went on crying. Until I let her out. She wanted to push the stroller. Not ride in it.
This went on for a good long while, with her pushing on a lower bar while I supervised and provided propulsion from behind. And then she didn't want to be burdened with the stroller. I jokingly said something like, "Well, why don't you just walk off into the woods, then?" She turned 90 degrees to the right, and began climbing the hill at the side of the road. I should've known then we had a character on our hands.
Another of the fairly early adventures we had was climbing Mt. Monadnock while The Pretender rode on my back in a backpack. To this day, I think that the only reason I survived that was that I was focused on cheering on her mom to get to the summit. We were so tired when we got back to the car.... When we stopped for food, those were the best McDonald's fries of my entire life.
There was a lot of singing on these adventures. I remember singing 'Old MacDonald' while walking in Middlesex Fells (the backpack, again), and I must've sung through 50 different animals. We also got lost on that trip and ended up on the other side of Rt. 93, but perhaps that's for another time.
Another high point for me, personally, was when we finally figured out that training wheels are worthless (a fact I already knew but had given up on) and got The Pretender a 12"-wheeled bike from a yard sale. We took off the pedals, cranks, and chainguard (and chain) and lowered the seat to make it a balance bike. The very first day we had it she was riding down the trails and loving it. Amazing. She wouldn't ride it every day, but somehow would actually improve in the week between riding sessions on that bike. She would be able to coast farther and farther with her feet off the ground. My theory is that her brain was busy processing the experience. Now she rides a regular bike and joins me on a trailer bike, but she took that little bike on the BMX track and over jumps before she was done with it. Can't say enough good things about this way of learning to ride a bike.
And the kayak. The height and depth of my parenting adventures. We took trips down the river to picnics and we explored the river next to our house. We played in waterfalls and we found 'China', where we played with the remote control car we brought along (and lost my first pair of Crocs in river bottom mud when we tried to land on an 'island' that was surely all mud, though it looked dry. She was still in the kayak at that point).
But we also tried to go out together in a smaller kayak and flipped it over. She was surely only submerged for seconds (or so Mom and Grandma told me- they watched from shore) and was wearing a PFD (life jacket), but that day I felt like the worst father that ever lived. She went in the kayak the next day, but is still leery to this day of the notion of going out again. Way to go, Dad, you ruined kayaking! (insert sarcastic clapping).
And why have I done all these things 'to' The Pretender? Why has she been bitten by mosquitoes and sucked on by ticks? Why has she come home muddy and occasionally bloody? Why did she flip over those rocks at the BMX track on her balance bike? (well, that last one was her fault- I told her to go straight!)
You know, I'm not sure I can answer that right away. I'd say it's an intuition. The more of the natural world we can expose her to when she's young, the more it'll be hardwired into her soul when she's older. And I truly believe that will be beneficial to her. That there is a complexity to, and a relaxation from, nature that cannot be found anywhere else.
Of course, this requires that we preserve a natural world for her to find comfort in, some day. (and now, of course). This is why I also made sure to teach her about litter. About recycling. And why we've tried hard to nurture her love of animals that I mentioned in part two of this series.