“…but I don’t want to color inside the lines!” my 3-year-old self sobbed. My mother gathered me in her arms and assured me I didn’t have to, but I was skeptical and my tiny body heaved with a sudden burst of sadness. It was the early ’80s and my mom had been called down from her jazzercise class at the YMCA because the arts and crafts class she had put me in for the hour had left me inconsolable.
My mom had always been active, going for long walks through our neighborhood, attending classes at the Y (all the way through her pregnancy with me) and “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” with Richard Simmons in our living room. There was no reason to think that her neon-pink-latex-clad lifestyle had to change now that she had kids. So, into the coloring class I went. The problem was I was more like my mom than either of us knew at that point. (It was more apparent later on but of course my teenage self hated admitting it!)
After the arts-and-crafts incident, my mom decided instead to enroll me in tumbling to see if I might like that better and, as she likes to say, “…you were off and running!”
I was diagnosed with ADD around the age of 9, which really put the arts and crafts class into perspective, and put on medication for it. It only took a few months for my mom to take me off the medication completely. She declared that is was turning me into a zombie and decided to buy me a bike instead. Well, that’s a bit of an oversimplification, but that’s the gist and I was soon enrolled in so many after-school and league sports that the schedules overlapped!
My mom was a trooper driving me from one thing to another, never wavering in her decision to help me develop my own coping skills rather than to medicate them. (I’m guessing my new calm demeanor and ability to focus probably had something to do with it!)
Connecting the outdoors and joy
Eventually, traditional sports just weren’t enough to hold all my energy. I needed a bigger canvas to explore … more room to run. After college, I moved out to the West Coast and fell in love with hiking, snowboarding and rock climbing. Climbing, especially, was an easy and obvious transition, because it gets me outside, encourages exploration of new areas and is physically and mentally challenging.
To my knowledge, my mom had never done any of these things, but she did come to visit me while I was living in Northern California learning to white water raft guide (a class that put my 5’ 4” frame in the back of an inflatable 5-person raft in order to steer it safely down a river course and away from any dangerous rocks, trees or drops).
My mom came back again the following year as I excitedly showed her my favorite peaks to hike and neighborhood boulders to climb. And once I moved to South Korea to teach English and climb, she listened patiently as stories of weekly adventures spilled out of me and into the phone.
I saw it in the dirt-encrusted smile on her face after a day of gardening and as she radiated with calm and satisfaction after a brisk evening walk. She had made the connection between outdoor physical activity and joy for me. She allowed me to find my own path, never suggesting I stay close to home or choose a less dangerous hobby. This potent combination is what propelled me to travel and climb the world and it’s what also compelled me, 20 years later, to move back home to raise my son. I wanted to surround him with as many positive influences as I could. I came home so my mom could help me give him the same powerful foundation of self-confidence, satisfaction and calm that she gave me through the outdoors.
Do you have someone special who has made an impact on your life and inspired you to get out in nature? We’d love to hear your story, so please share with us in the comments below!