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Monday, September 10, 2012

The Art of Parenthood #2: Being Needed by Your Children through Daddy-Daughter Dates

Daddy-daughter camping dates are the perfect way to bond.
 "Daddy?" my 3-year-old daughter's frightened, trembling, needy voice pleaded with me to be there for her all with one simple word. Her hand touched my shoulder and I came out from under my covers with my headlamp shining in her face.

All the worry, concern, tiredness - everything - drained out of her voice when she knew I was there and awake.

"Oh," she said nonchalantly. "Why is the headlamp still on?"

We were on our first-ever Daddy-daughter camping date in Grand Teton National Park on Jackson Lake. It was 3:30 a.m. and the full moon shone overhead so brightly that I had woken up an hour earlier thinking it was predawn light coming into the tent. I was so alert thinking of impending morning that insomnia set in in a big way when I checked my clock and found out it was 2:30 a.m. So I had finally turned on my headlamp and started to read a book I had brought for just such an occasion.

But when her little hand touched my shoulder and I heard that wavering, higher-pitched-than-normal voice, I felt needed in a way I don't think I ever have before. It felt... good. Insanely good. I felt loved, appreciated, and even depended on. I knew had I not been there immediately for her, she would have burst into hysterics instead of calmly laying back down and falling instantly to sleep, which is precisely what she did when I told her I was just reading, tucked her back in, and kissed her goodnight.

Daddy-daughter camping also helped her feel needed, as I was
able to let her help gather kindling for our fire. She loved it.

Being needed may be the greatest thanks a parent ever receives. Had she awoken during our Daddy-daughter date crying for Mommy I would have been heartbroken. But she wanted me. Needed me. That is all the validation I ever need as a parent. And she made me laugh with her abrupt mood change, which made it all the richer.

The Daddy-daughter date came about because we have been having discipline issues lately with our son, 4. He is testing boundaries and really pressing us to see if we can make child-shaped holes in the wall. He began voicing to his mother recently how he feels like his only interactions with me were for discipline, and I could feel distance mounting because of it, as could my wife. I scheduled a Daddy-son camping date with him just to let him know that I love him, like to be with him, do things with him, and most importantly can do more with him than discipline.

We had a great time. We got doughnuts and other snacks from the store, we headed into the mountains, set up the tent together and he fell asleep as I read to him from a children's chapter book. The event brought us closer together and I can honestly say I haven't needed to discipline him as much since, although there have been plenty of bumps in the road. We are also more liable to play together again, something that was beginning to lack in our relationship as he did so many naughty things that could make Curious George blush. I'm now more of a necessity in my son's life since I took him camping.

So the Daddy-daughter date was a continuation of that. And boy did it ever work. Leading up to the camping with her after hearing of our son's experience, she would pump her fist and say "YES!" every time I told her it was almost time for Daddy-daughter date. After the fact, I feel closer to both my children after spending the night with them in the mountains. We laugh more together, they are more open to teasing sessions with me, and just enjoy being with me more than they have in a while.

Daddy-son camping helped build a relationship that had been
struggling through major obedience/discipline issues.
Of course it's a two-way road. I also feel more apt to want to do things with them, knowing now that they will be happy about it. Heck, my daughter has even been thanking Heavenly Father in her personal prayers for her Daddy-daughter date. There may be no better way than establishing one-on-one ties like this with children to truly establish a need- and love-based relationship, especially if things are faltering in the slightest. Try it for yourself and see, even if you don't camp. Just take your child to a movie, or to the park and really play with him or her. Certain doors can only open in a child's personality if you know where to find them. For me, I found doors in the mountains and forests, alone with my precious children.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A magical hike to Jenny Lake and Hidden Falls with family in Grand Teton National Park

Getting family to Hidden Falls is more
difficult than going solo - by far. But it
is also a much more magical experience.

Our 3-year-old daughter was the first one to know we were lost. Luckily, she had a map: a large thimble-berry leaf rolled up and crinkled to look as authentic as possible. Glancing at her map and then looking up the trail and down, she gave the verdict.

"The map says we need to go that way," she stated with surety, pointing the exact direction we had been traveling along the much-used horse trail stringing between Jenny Lake and Hidden Falls in Grand Teton National Park.

Our 4-year-old voiced his concern about her map, collecting rocks that served as indicators of trouble - sort of tea leaves for the tiny.

"Mmm," he said. "My rocks say there is trouble that way."

It turned out he was right. We soon passed into a beautiful rock garden with view rivaling the much-more visited Inspiration Point above Hidden Falls. The garden was infested with goblins, trolls and ogres.

Inscribing on the already beat-up map with a twig, I assume
to make it more legible. Didn't work, whatever the case.
The map must have been hard to read at this point, because it tried to lead our daughter down the rocky slope infested with prickly raspberry bushes and the fore-mentioned magical creatures. A guiding hand from an almost invisible parent turned the tykes back to the path at hand.

We quietly passed through the beautiful rock graveyard so none of the trouble would know we were there. Our quiet warning whispers were occasionally punctuated by a gleeful scream from our uncontrollable and easily excitable 1-year old.

Luckily no trolls seemed to take special notice of her. Maybe they knew they couldn't eat anything so cute and friendly. The 15-month-old girl had been greeting most people we passed through the day on the busy lower trail with a wave, a grin and the word "Hi." And if you haven't seen her smile, you don't know what you were missing.

Our 4-year-old son enjoys the view from
the horse trail leading from Jenny Lake to
Hidden Falls in Grand Teton National Park.
We soon passed out of the dangerous goblin rocks into the fairy forest, where the little critters tried to play tricks on us as we drew magical marks on the trail to try to deflect their attention. Our astute son made sure he struck first, playing tricks on the fairies first. We had to teach him his idea of tricking the fairies by throwing them to the ground so they couldn't chase us anymore wasn't very nice.

In the forest, the map wielder made sure we were still on course.

"We just need to follow this trail right through to Salt Lake City," she said, probably stemming from conversations earlier in the day about a possible visit to the city for our son's birthday party at the dinosaur museum at Thanksgiving Point. Somehow, the Nauvoo Temple stood in Salt Lake City on a big green hill, and seemed to be a landmark we needed to pass on the way to the van at the edge of the lake. idea where that came from at all. Who was doing this make-believe anyway?

The best part about all this is how much they loved it despite complaining about us going hiking again. We had just gone on a hiking trip for my work, and though they also loved it, they always think it will be torture going into another place like it. But once out, their fears usually dissolve amidst the playful atmosphere we foster on the trail, munching on any in-season huckleberries, raspberries, thimble berries or currants we can find.

A couple we passed commended us for hiking with our children, saying they wished they had tried harder to get their children out before they succumbed to foot-dragging. I told them my philosophy is that you usually only have to endure the pre-hike whine and the tired last bits. Everything in the middle can become magic, plain and simple.

They agreed with me, again voicing their wish they had done things differently with their kids. I hope to be a parent that never has that kind of regret with my children. I want my children to know and love the outdoors. To crave them like I do. And I think magical hikes like this one will cement fond memories of the forest and mountains, even if I do tend to jump out of the woods and make my son scream like a girl when he's dilly dallying too much. It even worked to scare an adult hiker on his own in the woods at one point. My son thought that was so funny he suggested me trying to just scare other people. I digressed.


In the meantime, he told every hiker we passed about it.

"Hey," he said to a random man passing us. "I want to tell you something." He then launched into his story about how his daddy scared a random hiker and himself. It took a minute for the man to even register that my munchkin was talking to him, but when he finally did, he looked amused.

"Great story," the man said and continued walking on, smiling a little more than before.

I have to think differently when I hike with children. I have to constantly remind myself its not about the speed or even the destination. It's all about the experience. I don't have much to say about our time at Hidden Falls. It was little different from other times I've been there among hordes of excited tourists. But I will remember my daughter finding a tree that seemed the perfect hangout spot for a little girl, with defensive branches forming a fort-like structure just off the busy trail. I will remember the fairies, the ogres, the trolls, the maps, the tea leaves and all those things that made our day pure gold.

But most of all I will remember the family magic.