Sunday, February 16, 2014

Spunky birthday

Happy fourth birthday to this kiddo. We knew she was going to be a handful from day one.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Pablo Neruda was not as brave as my daughter

Disclosure: Piggyback Rider sent me a product for review, which was the genesis for this post.

A gate stands between us and Forest Road 89. A few steps and we pass out of (relative) civilization, away from paved streets, mailboxes, and chain-link fences. We pause at the threshold, pondering this weighty step we are about to take and we . . .

Later, dad!

. . . throw caution to the wind! My daughter is not one to wait quietly. Thresholds be damned! Because why stand still when you could be running? To have the wind blowing through your hair, tousled fondly by invisible hands. To feel your legs burning, pistons pumping, thumping, little engines of locomotion. To have your feet strike fresh, untamed ground, and strike it again, and again, thrusting into that great unknown with the impulsive courage of an explorer. Pablo Neruda said,
. . . life definitively ends at my feet,
what is foreign and hostile begins there:
the names of the world, the frontier and the remote,
the substantive and the adjectival too great for my heart
originates there . . .
But Pablo was a man, and not as brave as my daughter. Her heart is bigger than the world. It swallows up the frontier and still craves more. Onward! Stronger! Faster!

Until, that is, her seemingly infinite reserves suddenly run dry. The perpetual motion machine stumbles and collapses in a quivering heap. I'm left no option but to carry her tiny form in my arms, letting her soak the sun's rays while she moans about impossible distances and insurmountable barriers. And my arms grow heavier. And heavier.

I love taking walks with my daughter, but we mostly stay close to home. My daughter knows nothing of pacing herself. Hers is a personality of extremes. Her primary setting is full throttle, and so when she hits a wall, she hits it hard. The idea of being miles from home with a thirty pound melt-down on my hands makes my palms sweat. Which is unfortunate, because before I got all domesticated, I was a bit of an outdoors fiend. I'd disappear into the mountains for weeks at a time to get away from people, schedules, and modern "convenience."

As a parent, I've had to alter my expectations. I'm probably not going to be hiking twenty miles per day out into the wilderness with a three-foot-tall person in tow. Responsibility, and its attendant anxieties, has moderated my ambitions ("moderated" may be an understatement). But I want to prime my girl for a future of dad-daughter outdoor quests. 'Cause she's an adventurer at heart. She's my little Amelia Earhart, my Edmund Hillary. A love for the outdoors, a desire to reconnoiter our surroundings -- these are impulses we have in common. If only there were a way to "boldly go" without having to risk utter, soul-crushing defeat.

So I did some research and procured a "Piggyback Rider." It's a simple product, offering a lightweight harness and platform on which to stand a melodramatic "I can't walk anymore!" three-year-old. It's the mechanically perfected version of a piggyback ride, but a version that doesn't destroy your neck or back, and that allows the carrier full use of his or her hands.

I squat and let my daughter climb onto the inch-wide platform that rests just below my hips. She leans her head against my neck as I attach my harness to hers. Her hot little breaths blow into my ear. I stand and begin walking, and as she clings to the hand-holds on my shoulder, she offers me advice and constructive criticism.
"Go that way!"
"Your hair smells funny."
"You should go faster. I said FASTER!"
With her attention removed from the complicated task of putting one foot in front of the other, she's even the first to see the bird of prey. "Look, a eagle!"

A hawk, actually

It's good to get outside, but more than that, it's good to get out beyond the sanitized "outside" that's formed from sidewalks, playgrounds, and mowed lawns. It's a way to show my daughter that there's more to the world than can be found on a road map. That trails can be blazed beyond the paths that the masses travel. That having a picnic in the sand puts fun crunchy things in your snacks.

When you get far enough away from "civilization," you start thinking more seriously about self-sufficiency, about the things you want versus the things you need (Hint: water. Water should always be at the top of the list. And gummy bears). And when you have to carry all of those things, it gives the process of winnowing down a necessary urgency. Given that we don't make a lot of money, these are lessons that are really important for my daughter to learn. And for me to re-learn, in the process of trying to teach her.

'Cause in the end, most of the things that should make us happy, or keep us alive, are pretty simple. My daughter seems to get this.

Even with a clever device, trying new things with my daughter is not always easy. I used to think that I was an easy-going chap, back before I had responsibilities to anybody but myself. Now that I'm a parent, my sense of calm is very closely tied to routine and to the comfort of successful repetitions on a theme. Which is one reason that being a parent is such a growing experience. I know that even as my daughter and I benefit from setting achievable expectations and meeting them, there's something important for her and for me in trying things that are harder and riskier than our normal fare.

See, I relate to Pablo Neruda's anxieties about the "frontier" and the "remote," especially in the abstract sense. But with the help of a brave companion by my side (or on my back, as the case may be), there's something heady about the possibility of pushing at the boundaries that mark hostile territory, to ever expand our domain until it includes countries, until it includes worlds, until it includes universes.


Disclosure: Piggyback Rider sent me the NOMIS: Standing Child Carrier System in exchange for my thoughts about using the product. It should come as no surprise that my thoughts went all philosophical, so if you have any additional questions about the product, I can answer them in the comments! My opinions are my own.

All in all, this simple thing made our hiking experiences appreciably better. "Riding the bar," as the company puts it, requires the rider to stay alert and engaged, at the same time that it offers a nice break from having to hoof it every step of the way. By this same token, it encourages a kid to get down and continue walking when they're ready, rather than just falling asleep like they might in a different type of carrier. While there's a place for a more substantial, cocoon-like product, the Piggyback Rider is the one that I like for getting my daughter used to outdoor adventures in which she has to remain an active participant. 

SPECIAL OFFER: Piggyback Rider is offering a chance to win a free child carrier, just for my readers! All you have to do to get in the running is leave a comment here and then post an image to Piggyback Rider's Facebook wall using the theme, "Why I need a Piggyback Rider," and mention my blog. *** (EDIT: Expired - Congratulations to Ishkhanoohie Ouzounian Clayton for winning her own Piggyback Rider!)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Oh the weather outside is frightful . . .

Which means there's nothing to do but light a fire, and be ready for whatever nature sends your way . . .