We Are There!
December 17, 2012

By Melissa Macdonald

A Massachusetts mom and her 6-year-old twins ride out the rough patches of a first hike together and find the magic at trail’s end.

“Why do we have to do this?”

“Can we stop for a while?”

“How much furrrrrtherrrr?”

“Are we there yet?”

No...not a car trip. My first hike with my then-6-year-old twin boys, Owen and Will. In all fairness to Will, the complaining was approximately 95 percent Owen’s. Will was on board, and absorbing every detail of our trip to Arethusa Falls in Crawford Notch in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest.

But to Owen, who probably spent the first half hour of that morning playing on his Nintendo DS, the  hike was akin to punishment. He was being forced to plod along for an unknown number of hours over rough ground, with no glimpse ahead of what we were working toward. Plenty of adults would have been grumpy about that, never mind a heretofore indoorsy 6-year-old.

I chose this hike because it seemed relatively doable, with a payoff I knew the kids would have to appreciate: one of the highest waterfalls in New Hampshire (some say the highest). What kid isn't wowed by waterfalls? Besides that, I had been a longtime fan of the always-dramatic Crawford Notch area but hadn't yet done any on-the-ground exploring. So who better to dig in with than my boys?

I elected to undertake this with just Owen and Will, leaving my then-3-year-old, Teddy, in his dad’s care. Will, Teddy, and I had tried a short jaunt along the trail a day or two before and found that stepping over tree roots and rocks was a bit much for my youngest. And while I applaud those parents who go the sling or backpack route, managing myself and the two older boys was enough without adding back strain and balance issues from trying to pack the little guy along.

Within minutes of hitting the trail, the grousing began and kept on coming. But at the same time, both boys were noticing the bark of the trees we passed, or the cool, clean spruce smell as we walked through certain areas, or a particularly gnarly bit of fungus. And as always in New Hampshire, there was an abundance of irresistibly fascinating boulders to wonder at.

Also along the way, we saw a few small bridges and bits of brook or stream to keep things interesting. To ease some of the carping, I allowed a fair few rests and water breaks.

Eventually, we came to a signpost that indicated the destination was coming up. Before long, there were the falls, impressive even in a typically dry summer as they cascaded about 140 feet from the cliff above us. In the second I heard Owen’s and Will’s stereo “Awesome!” all the accumulated feelings of doubt and frustration at the complaints along the way melted entirely and were replaced with the warm glow of knowing I'd done something seriously right.

Both boys spent several minutes just staring, and then wanted to start exploring the rocks near the base of the falls. I had the usual Mommy trepidation about turning them loose, but decided a little risk was worth it to keep the experience positive.

It was the right call. Their joy in picking their way from rock to rock and finding perches for watching the falls gave them a sense of their own capabilities that tied right in to the feeling of accomplishment at having made the trek and reached our goal. Win, win, win!

Eventually, we started back, and not without incident: Will missed a step and went down on his hip kind of hard. But after some TLC, he was up again and moving, forgetting the pain the way 6-year-olds do. Bumps and grumps aside, they still remember that trip, today, almost four years later. Now, with the companionship of their Cub Scout friends, Owen and Will are on their way to becoming regular trail explorers. That first hike we took together was the beginning of what I hope will be a lifelong desire to push on to the end of the trail and see that the work is worth it.


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