Welcome to this three part series from our guest blogger, Mary Finley! Mary shares her story of raising her kids to be outdoorsy through all the challenges and changes that life has thrown their way.
Nature has always been a large part of my life. Growing up, we spent much of our time on our property on the Shenandoah River and camping and hiking in state and national parks, as well as swimming and camping at the beach. Those are some of my best memories from my childhood. In 2001, I found myself back at home, living in my childhood town with my mom in her house. I was in my mid-twenties and had given birth to my firstborn, my son, after being on bedrest most of my pregnancy. Before that, I had been a nanny in Southern California, spending weekdays by the ocean at Cardiff by the Sea and spending weekends doing anything and everything outdoors, so I knew being outside was something I wanted for my son and I. Not everyone who loves the outdoor life starts out this way, though. I have friends that are not naturally drawn to the outdoors and others who found it later in life, but I grew up with parents who would have fit into today’s “outdoor mold” perfectly. We grew up in canoes and kayaks on the Shenandoah River, and in our family van traveling on the weekends to camp or go to the beach. My dad had us packing our backpacks before I stopped carrying a teddy bear and calculating water needs for a weekend trip for math exercises.
A month into my son’s life, our understanding of a lot of things changed. I was a single mom with a new baby, and a lot of physical recovery was needed. My son was born, August 11th, 2001. On his one-month birthday, as with everyone in the United States, I found myself standing in my living room watching the world change while holding a tiny new life. It caused a strange reaction in me. I took action. Education was always important to my family and a heavy emphasis was put on graduating college, which was something I had not yet accomplished. I am privileged to have had a mom that fully supported my new motivation and goals, and I quickly found myself, having realized how unpredictable and short life can be after the tragedy of 9-11, a full-time college student and single mom… who still loved the outdoors!
Luckily my mom lived in a townhouse neighborhood that sat within walking distance to a county park lake. Walking down and around the lake daily, however briefly, helped quell my obsession with being near the water and outside and helped give me brain breaks for trying to do it all as a new mom. Slowly but surely, my daily walks with my son to the end of the block transitioned to walks down to the lake, and then into laps around the lake. I quickly realized my everyday “city” stroller was not cutting it on the dirt trail riddled with tree roots and the occasional set of stairs. I upgraded to an off-road stroller with fat wheels like a mountain bike and a padded harness type strap for my little one to be securely fastened into while I went for my daily brain break of hiking, kid in tow, around our little lake.
When I wasn’t in class, my son was along for the ride. Childcare is expensive and complicated and it varied over time what that looked like, from my grandmother watching him during each individual hour of class and me returning between each class to check in and nurse my little one while he was an infant to him slowly turning into an active toddler in full time daycare while I finished up that last bit of school, you can guarantee any time I wasn’t in need of required childcare, you found him, most days, literally strapped onto me along for the ride. When he wasn’t in the stroller on daily walks fit in between classes, homework, grocery shopping, or chores he was
strapped into a front carrier then quickly switched to a hiking pack. My first born was not small! By a few months old he was nearly twenty pounds. Luckily for this hiking mom, being a do it all single parent meant he was always on a hip, in a front pack, or in a backpack.
As he grew, so did I, learning more about parenting and hiking with babies, and growing in my strength and ability physically going from near total bedrest to mile long hikes with kid in tow. I think the hardest things about those days became the greatest. Being the sole caregiver meant I grew along with him. Not having the choice to “handoff” to someone else, or trade who carried him meant every trip out the door I discovered new ways to “make it work” and new muscles I didn’t know I had! I learned that I could stick a few diapers and snacks and a bottle or cup in the zipper pouch of a backpack, or in
the pouch of the stroller and my son was pretty happy to be outside and on the go. By the time my son was mobile, he was running ahead of me on the trails and scrambling rocks alongside me on trails in our local parks all the way up to trails like Little Stoney Man in Shenandoah National Park at three years old.
Tune in next week for the second blog in this three part series!