The "Prep" Talk - Kids and the Outdoors
I took my two and a half year-old on his first outdoor adventure of 2017. We recently moved and it’s been a slow start to the year in terms of getting out and I just couldn’t wait any longer. Friday’s are “Daddy Daycare” days and we always try to do something fun, just he and I. Last week he wanted to go catch some fish. “BIG ones” as he always tells me.
So, he and I met up with my brother and we went ice fishing. Now don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. It’s pretty dang fun and there is much more to it than sitting on buckets and drinking. Don’t get me wrong, those are both great reasons to go but there is more.
Anyways, I spent most of the morning explaining to my son why we can’t eat worms, that the fish won’t bite him when we bring them up and why I can’t “just catch a BIG one” like he keeps telling me too. The rest of the time I spent drying out all three pairs of mittens he dunked in the holes while scooping ice out, opening snacks for him to munch on and making sure he was comfy on his bench seat as we patiently waited for me to catch him that big fish he had been talking about all week.
It was not the day I had planned, but these days they rarely are. Every time I head out with my “little man” I go to bed the night before dreaming of how it’s going to go. The next morning, I get everything and everyone ready just hoping it will at least be half as good as I had dreamt about. And as the day goes on I remind myself often that it could have been worse.
You see, getting outdoors with kids, and especially young kids, is not easy. Sometimes it’s downright tough. But it is always worth it. Last Friday I was greatly reminded of that as I finally hooked a fish after numerous misses. As I pulled my mittens off with my teeth, I yelled to my brother to grab my phone and take a picture of me helping my son reel up his first fish of the year.
My son put down his PB & J, stood up, fell immediately after slipping on the ice, got back up and snatched the pole from my and started reeling. Backwards. He started reeling backwards. The line began to spool; the rod tip went limp and his “game face” became more intense. After some untangling, I got him reeling the right direction, we got the slack out and up came the line.
Gone. The perch was loooooonnnnnnnnng gone. I finished reeling up the line, my brother laughed harder than I had heard in years and my son looked intensely at the bare hook as he politely told me: “There’s no fish on the hook, daddy. You lost it.”
After many more misses, another set of wet mittens and the last of our snacks we finally landed a little perch. He loved it! He hadn’t caught a fish since last October and you’d have thought he just landed Moby Dick.
We put him back in the hole, watched him swim away and then he turned to me and said, “I’m ready to go now. I’m cold.” That was it. Day over. All done. It’s 11 a.m. and we’re headed home.
On the drive home, I started thinking about what it was like when I could go with my brother all day long and any day I wanted. We’d go at dawn, fish, hunt, hike… do whatever all day and head home well after dark. It was a lot different than what this day had been and as I thought about it more I started to remember all the “advice” my wife and I got from friends regarding our free time and outdoor adventures in the months leading up to the birth of our first son.
The “advice” we got most often dealt with learning how to just give up on going out or doing anything outdoors again. Things you’d never expect to hear from people that you had often viewed as some of the most optimistic people you knew. It got to the point where we both felt like people were trying to make us question our decision to start a family. Maybe it’s because we had so many friends who were as into the outdoors as we were, but most of what we heard from them centered around giving up on our love and passion of the outdoors and all that we loved to do.
I am fortunate enough to have grown up in a family that did everything we could outdoors. I can’t remember a time in my life that we weren’t outside recreating in some fashion or at the very least, working. Even our chores were catered to being outside and I never understood why it all was so important until I had kids of my own.
As I ventured into fatherhood the excitement and pep talks from buddies about sharing the outdoors with my kid(s) just weren’t there. The friends I had once hiked, camped, fished and hunted with and who now had kids of their own, didn’t seem interested in trying to sneak away any more and as the arrival of my first born neared, their “pep” talks were more like doomsday “prep” talks.
“You’ll never get to go fishing.”
“You’ll sure as heck will never get to go on a weekend camping trip.”
“It’s too cold for the kids.”
“It’s too hot for the kids.”
“The boat isn’t safe enough for the kids.” (Ok, maybe that one made sense given who told me that.)
“If you do go, you won’t be able to enjoy it or fish (insert hunt, ski, hike, whatever you want here) for yourself.
“It’s just a pain in the a*$.”
You know what? The last one was spot on! It is a pain. It’s tough to get toddler going and to keep him excited. It’s tough to go on adventures planned around snacks, naps and a bedtime that often comes just as the evening hatch is coming off or the best mountain-top sunset begins.
Speaking to this particular adventure, it was a pain putting snow gear on a 2.5 yr-old, loading him and the gear into a sled, towing him across a frozen lake, stopping twice to undo all the snow gear because he must pee and finally, only getting to fish for about two hours before he gets to cold and we have to go home.
It. Is. A. Pain. But you know what else it is?
It’s a chance to get out of the house or office.
It’s two hours of breathing fresh, clean air.
It’s the reason I bought all that gear in the first place.
It’s seeing a whole new view of a place I’ve lived ten minutes for most of my life.
It’s the workout I got towing my kiddo around.
It’s the shared snacks as we talked about why fish don’t freeze but the water does.
It’s the honesty of a toddler who tells it like it is.
It’s the chance to spend some time with my brother and my kid with his uncle.
It’s the chance for me to share with my son the passion I have for being outdoors.
It’s the opportunity for my son to learn about nature, fishing, peeing outdoors and why we shouldn’t eat worms.
It’s the laughs we all had as my brother and I told him stories about past adventures.
It’s about the new memories we created.
It’s the fact that for a week now my son talks every day about the last time we went fishing and how he can’t wait to go again.
It’s about my son.
Yes, it can be a pain to take kids outdoors and yes, ice-fishing probably isn’t the easiest activity to take a little one on. But we did it and we all survived. Was it a full day of everything going as planned? Heck no. It was a cluster just like most of our family adventures, but it was an adventure and that’s what matters.
My son and I took an adventure just like we have numerous times before and will again. He learned about nature, recreation, his family and himself. I learned about nature, recreation, my family and myself. That is why we recreate. That is why we choose to be outdoors. That is why we share our passions with our children.
Ice fishing may never be my son’s favorite activity, and that is ok by me. But, as long as he still wants to do anything and everything he can with dad, you can bet I’ll take him as often as possible. Kids love to do what you do. You could be ice-fishing, skiing, hiking or cleaning the bathroom, it doesn’t much matter. They want and will do everything with you if you take the time.
For most, it is time that is hard to come by. Do we really want to spend three hours getting ready to spend half as much time doing the activity? Wouldn’t it be easier to just hang out at home and let him watch the iPad?
Yup. It sure is. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t do that from time to time. I have in the past and I know I will again. Heck, I’ll probably do it sooner than I hope to. BUT, I will certainly never tell anyone that it’s not worth the time or energy to take your family outdoors. It’s simply not true. A great part of being a parent is getting to share with your kids, no matter the age, all of your passion, love and knowledge. In our family, and I'm guessing for you as Campman Community members, the outdoors and recreation is a big part of who we are.
So, take your kids outside this weekend. Take them skiing. Take them ice-fishing, hiking or biking. Take them to swing, sled or climb. Just take them outdoors and share with them the love and passion you have for recreation, but more importantly, the love and passion you have for your kids themselves. - I promise it will be worth all the prep work.
I’ve gotta run. My son and I have somewhere we need to be.