Ah, fall. And yes, it's still fall. Before winter really sets in is the perfect time of year to gather up your family and head outside into the clean, crisp, cool air for an autumnal adventure. Lucky for us, St. Louis has no shortage of family friendly outdoor activities. For our family, nothing beats throwing on a pair hiking shoes shoes and hitting the trails at one of our many breathtaking parks.
I started taking my kids hiking when they were only a few weeks old. I grew up in a small town, so one of the concerns I have for my children, whose childhood is strictly suburban, is that they'll miss out on the rural experience that shaped me in so many ways.
For instance, from a very early age I taught them there's no reason you can't be the mayor, police chief and own the town fireworks stand all at the same time. They know how to open a beer bottle with their teeth and my 6-year-old can hit a spittoon at 10 paces.
I'm not a religious person, but the closest I come to a spiritual experience is marveling at the miracle of flora and fauna. I am in awe of the way an ecosystem is constantly balancing itself into perfection. And now, thanks to our regular woodsy outings, nature has become a spiritual experience for my children as well. Not so much in a “we're basking in the aura of a higher power” kind of way, but rather a “our mom is forcing us straight into the bowels of hell.”
Here's a typical day in the woods for us:
The screams of agony begin once the car falls out of sight and the life-threatening thirst sets in. It's not thirst that can be quenched by the water I packed that has turned tepid, however, but rather only by perfectly chilled ice water that does not exist.
Their poor, aching feet, relentlessly pinched by tennis shoes that were seemingly fine moments before.
Mind numbing fatigue that overtakes their exhausted little bodies almost immediately, despite their hours-long aerobic stamina on the playground only yesterday.
All I am asking them to do is walk. Like, literally put one foot in front of the other in a forward motion for roughly 45 minutes – maybe 60 on a particularly gorgeous day. Usually with the promise (bribe) of a playground once we complete the trail. Maybe even ice cream.
There has been at least one point in every hike we've ever taken where I'm fairly certain someone is going to call the police. That someone might be them, me, or, most often, a concerned citizen. I liken their horrific wails to someone being repeatedly hit in the face with a hammer.
“Hey, look at the beautiful colors!” I'll say.
“Hey, I'm going to hold you down and rip out your toenails one by one!” They'll hear.
I can only imagine what sort of torture devices fellow hikers think I'm using on my children somewhere deep in the woods.
But I'm nothing if not determined – something else I learned growing up in the sticks. I'm facing this parenting challenge with the same resolve as anything I do that I believe will make them into better people.
I'm going to force my kids to eat their vegetables. I'm going to force my kids to stop wiping their boogers on the backs of car seats. I'm going to force my kids into the outdoors.
My children are going to grow to be well-rounded, decent human beings, even if it lands me in jail for child abuse.
Engage your young scientist in science-related learning at the Saint Louis Science Center's Preschool Science Series. Through interactive stories and hands-on exploration, children learn about science, as well as language, problem-solving and social skills.