When we head west, we sometimes land at a cabin in Custer National Forest. It’s far enough from the civilized world that our devices connect to nothing, leaving us to focus on the wind stirring the trees, water cascading over boulders, and the people right beside us.
Once, after a series of bright, high country autumn days, a veil of clouds rolled over the mountain, carrying cold, splashy snow. It fell all afternoon and into the evening. As night closed in, we saw a shadowy figure in the distance—a moose plodding across the meadow. We watched until it vanished into the forest. When morning came we pulled on our boots and burst into the bright day.
The snow revealed that the moose was not the only wildlife to pass through in the night. Deer tracks meandered around the wooden dance floor and a coyote left prints for us to follow down the driveway. Though we’d never seen them, we’d known the animals were there. In the middle of a national forest, how could they not be?
Tracks in the snow proved their presence.
We headed across the meadow in search of the moose’s tracks. Unlike those at the cabin, his were gone—buried by the snow. We took to the one-lane road that wound between the frosted trees as it led higher up the mountain and deeper into the forest. At a bend, my son stopped. Silently, he pointed at a line of footprints on the road—big ones, fresh and clear.
The best bear defense is a good offense and a good bear offense is to give them space. We turned back—making our presence known by talking and laughing just as we had been before. Emerging into the clearing I felt the familiar relief of having made it back from the wilds with the family intact—unharmed and uneaten.
Learning from the Inevitability of Blood and Tears
When we reached the cabin, my husband launched a snowball at our son just as the door shut behind our oldest girl. I paused, torn between following her in and staying out. Snowball fights aren’t my thing. To be more accurate, playing isn’t my thing. At least, not playing the way kids like to play. Hiking, biking, and downhill skiing? Yes. Going for walk and reading books before bed? Yes. Playing? Not so much.
I opened the door and called my daughter. Together we followed the laughter and squeals around the cabin to where the battle between the rest of the family had spilled. I launched a snowball. It fell short. Woefully short. But every one of us was in the game. It ended, of course, the way such fun often does—with blood and tears. In this case, mine, when I walked into the path of my teenage son’s well-packed snowball. Horrified, he was at my side in a moment, apologizing and asking if I was hurt.
I laughed. “I’m okay. My reflexes just aren’t made for this kind of thing.” He knew this and looked sorrowful. “It’s okay, Buddy. I’m okay. These things happen.”
We turned and walked toward the cabin, my son’s arm around my shoulder and my daughter at my side.
“Thanks for coming to get me,” she said. “I knew there would be a snowball fight, but I didn’t know you would play.”
My kids needed me that day.
What They Need (and what we need)
Just as the presence of the moose and the bear were revealed by the snow, sometimes the landscape of everyday life highlights the needs of those around us. My son needed me to let him know that mistakes happen and that it’s okay. My daughter needed me to show her the way. Each of those called on me play, to join them in the lighthearted side of life–something I often choose to observe from a distance.
I learned a few things that day. My kids taught me something of what they needed from me and I understood a little more about what I need as a human. Whether it’s because you’re a parent or because to be human is to be perpetually in the process of growing up, perhaps something here will be helpful to you.
- Our kids need us not only to invite them to step up into an adventurous life but also to step back into theirs.
- They need our participation, not just our observation. (And we need to participate.)
- They need us to play at their level so they can learn to navigate ours.
- They need to see us laugh. (Conveniently, we need to laugh.)
- They need us to remember how easy it is for good, honest fun to end in blood and tears.
- They need us to remember what it’s like to be a kid—uncertain of so many things.
- They need us to remember that even without jobs and bills it’s hard being a kid.
- They need us to understand that they are learning every single day, navigating mistakes in a world that doesn’t offer a lot of grace, and changing faster than they can adjust. (We could probably benefit from some of that same understanding for ourselves.)
Pause & Reflect:
What needs are the circumstances of your life revealing–both in you and in those you want to live adventurously with?