Story by

Kate Saffle

June 7th, 2016

We woke up one Saturday morning groggy from the grind of a long week. The birds began their morning song ritual, picking at the dewy grass in the backyard, and the weather was unseasonably warm for northern Indiana. As I gazed out the window at the sun streaming through the woods beyond our house, I was emboldened to take on a spontaneous trip with two kids age five and under with little preparation. I turned to my husband with an idea. "Why don't we travel to Starved Rock State Park today and hike?"

"Let's do it!" he replied.

We hurriedly ate breakfast, packed a picnic lunch and hit the road. Leaving behind the weekend chores and "to do" list, we embraced an impromptu day trip to the next state over. Although the park was crowded when we arrived, we soon found some breathing room along the trail to LaSalle Canyon. The trees were still partially bare from the recently retreated winter, but the sun was summertime warm.

Unsure whether our two year old could handle the hike, I carried her on my back while my husband chased our five year old along the trail. At one point, the two of them veered off the path to an overlook of one of the smaller canyons. After several years of this parenting rodeo together, we've learned each other's limits through a deeply developed and intuitive trust. As I watched my young daughter weave herself between tree trunks to descend down a steep path, I felt unnerved and wanted to make her return to me. But knowing that my husband was teaching her how to safely descend erased my fears.

We soon reached LaSalle Canyon, a glacier-etched sandstone canyon tucked deep below the trail. As we trekked closer, my daughter began straining against the straps of the carrier, eager for her chance to run and explore. She watched as her older sister began climbing up the canyon, testing rocks for footholds, crawling over large boulders to reach the top. And so the youngest began to climb, slowly and unsteadily, but with the certainty that comes from a young child determined to accomplish great things.

As an adventuring family with a case of curiosity, we let our children explore and test their limits. Often, we're leading the way as we encourage them to trust the strength of their bodies and overcome their fears. Our kids, like most kids we know, were born to climb and explore, and it is in their very nature to do so. Early on in our parenting adventure we agreed to let our children be as independent as possible and to learn from the world around them by getting dirty outdoors. We're just there to catch them if they fall!

That unplanned Saturday at Starved Rock, a day that almost didn't happen because of weekend chores, was the day I watched my two daughters triumphantly climb a canyon wall that most adults wouldn't tackle. Proud smiles stretched across their dirt-smudged faces as they held their arms up high above their heads in victory. Nothing can replace the knowledge and confidence that is gained from coming face-to-face with your fears in nature and conquering them.

We love to travel to learn about new places and to immerse ourselves in local history and the outdoors. But more often than not, we learn more about ourselves through the experiences we have on the trail. That day we learned about the way the glaciers carved out the canyons and sculpted the landscape from the nature center. But we also learned that parenting is teamwork, that teaching safety results in more confident little hikers and that our daughters are strong and capable beyond measure.