As my only child, Neko, goes off to Kindergarten, I think about all the wonderful times together, when it was just us. Often, it was just the two of us, as my husband worked long hours to support our little family.

Being the Branch Ambassador for Hike it Baby Ann Arbor, most of these times have been spent outside and on the trails. We’ve made it a goal to hike 500 miles and spend 1,000 hours outside every year. This is a lofty goal, but a fun goal that we have attempted to reach together every year.

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So, as the tears are rolling down when I wave goodbye to him on his first day of Kindergarten, I think about what lessons he has taught me out there on the trails.

10 Life Lessons Learned from Hiking with my Son:

  1. Stop and enjoy what’s around you. Whether it’s to literally smell a flower, poke at a bug, watch a bird, or study that very interesting rock – stop. Stop and do it. We spend so much of our lives rushing to the next errand, the next event on our calendar, the next work day, that we forget to slow down and enjoy what’s in front of us.
  2. Bring snacks and water. It’s important to stay hydrated and keep our calorie intake up when we hike. One thing Neko never lets me forget is food and water. Because the moment we start hiking, he’s ALWAYS hungry and since he’s eating, I may as well take a bite too, right?
  3. Jumping in puddles is FUN (and so is getting dirty!). My favorite hikes have always been in the rain. Neko always encourages me to jump in the biggest puddle. I used to respond with “I don’t want to get wet!”, but then I saw how much fun he was having and decided to buy myself a pair of rain pants so I could join him. Best. Decision. Ever. These are great bonding experiences that immediately boost my mood!
  4. Use all of your senses to explore the world. The outdoors is a multi-sensory experience. Being stuck inside overly-sanitized buildings all the time as adults, really makes us forget that the world can be explored in so many ways. I mean, how many times have you been out on the trails with your little one when you have to fish a rock out of their mouth? It’s how they explore the world! I’m not saying stick rocks in your mouth, but you can eat that blackberry off that bush or find that sassafras tree and nibble on that leaf! (Sidenote: know what you’re eating! You probably don’t have someone along to fish something dangerous out of your mouth!)
  5. Give gifts. How many times has your child given you a dandelion? Those are things they’ve picked just for you! How special! It may seem so small to you, but to them it means the world that THEY could give something to YOU. How often, as adults do we give someone gifts “just because”? I bet if you do, it will make you feel really good too.
  6. Hikes (and life) are not about the destination – it’s about the journey. Neko and I have hiked 7 miles at once together, but we’ve also hiked 7 feet. I have to say, Neko has had much more fun going 7 feet than he did 7 miles. Now, I will often let him decide how long we hike. Maybe a shorter trail has more interesting things for him to discover than a longer one, even though I’m trying to get my “mileage” in. It’s no longer about how many miles we cover, but, instead, just being out there and discovering the world together!
  7. It doesn’t matter what time it is. Sometimes it takes 2 hours to cover 1 mile. You know it’s time to get home and cook dinner, but your child is having so much fun, why interrupt it? Maybe every once in a while, you don’t look at your phone and you enjoy the moments. Dinner can be late every once in a while. Everyone will survive.
  8. You’re never alone. As a Branch Ambassador for Hike it Baby Ann Arbor, we host tons of hikes. Sometimes these hikes are no-shows, even with having over 1,400 members. I will never forget the words that Neko will use on these hikes. “It’s OK mommy, we always have each other.” He’s right. We are never alone when we have one another.
  9. Everyone is a potential friend on the trails. I always get anxious about meeting new people, but it’s second nature to Neko. Anytime there is another rambunctious child on the trails with him (his age, or not), he will tell me on the ride home “Mommy! I made a new friend today!” Make that connection with people. Find your community! Neko does it nearly every hike, which means, I can too. If we are out on the trails together, we already have something in common.
  10. Resilience. Such as Neko does, at least once per hike; when you trip on a tree root, stay down on the ground and check it out, study it, then get right back up.

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Neko and I have been hiking together since he was 2 days old in his olive green Moby. In rain, snow, wind, sun, cold, and heat, we’ve shared experiences that the average family never gets to in their lifetimes. We’ve climbed mountains, waded through rivers, hiked through deserts, snowshoed, and eaten wild grapes. We’ve survived temper tantrums, scrapes, ten thousand mosquito bites, and getting lost in the woods. Through it all, he has taught me so much more than I could possibly teach him. We have built a foundation for a lifestyle of adventures in the outdoors – and it’s only the beginning! (But that still didn’t make seeing him off to Kindergarten ANY easier!)

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