Mix in the bad with the good: teaching kids how to adventure

“Watch this. Watch how I do this. First I go down these big rocks like this. Then I jump over this big crack. Did you see how big it is? Then I go down these steps–are you watching?–and then I climb up and over again and TA DA! I’m done. I’m the best rock climber ever.”

Sounds like we’re having the perfect sunny day adventure on the coast of Maine, doesn’t it?

It didn’t start like that. It started like this:

I turned to the backseat of the car and said, “Hey, guys, since it’s such a nice day, I thought we’d go out to Thunder Hole so we can finish our Acadia Quest.”

“Noooo, I don’t want to.”

“I want to go home.”

“Yeah, we want to go home.”

“That sounds boring.”

“Yeah, that sounds boring.”


That last one was me, in one of my finer parenting moments. In my defense, it had been an exceptionally fussy day, with a lot of whining. I was worn down after hours of wrangling two crotchety kids who were displeased with every suggestion I made. It’s possible that by this point I was starting to take things personally. Also, we were two tasks shy of finishing our Acadia Quest, the deadline to finish was creeping up, and it was driving me crazy that we weren’t done. All we had to do was go look at the famous spot on Acadia’s Park Loop Road. That’s all we had to do!

I took a minute to calm down.

“Guys,” I said once I’d found my Nice Mom voice again, “I think it is a lovely day and I would like to go to Thunder Hole so we can finish up Acadia Quest before the deadline. It won’t take long. After that, if you would like, we can go home.”

Deep, irritated sighs came from the backseat. “Fine,” they both said.

That’s how we started off. By the time we got to the parking lot at Thunder Hole, moods had elevated a bit and they marched down the stairs to the viewing platform with, if not enthusiasm, at least interest. But it wasn’t until after we’d watched the tide slosh in and out for a bit (no thundering that day, alas), that my daughter turned to me and said, “Do we get to climb on the rocks now?” She sounded irritated, as if I’d been the only thing standing in between them and a good time.

They took off and went up and down and over. They peered in tide pools, they scaled boulders. They tested my nerves by free-climbing rock walls taller then them–and then my patience when they needed help getting down.

Thunder hole bouldering

On our way back to the car, my daughter suggested going “the adventurous way.” The adventurous way contained a sharp descent over a pile of boulders and then a climb back up a four-foot vertical wall of rock. She went for it. My son declined, so I found the two of us a less adventurous route that took us past a small rush of water as it headed to the ocean. He traced the stream back up the rocks to where it started: a mysterious-looking crack under a giant boulder. “It’s coming from the earth!” he yelled while peering in at it. “Do you see that? It’s coming out from the middle of the earth!”

I often tell my kids that you never know what you’ll get with adventure days. Sometimes everything is perfect: the sun’s out, the view is spectacular, you feel strong, and all the pieces fall into place. Sometimes everything is terrible: rain and wind kick up, you hurt yourself, the location turns out to be a bust, or you get blisters. Usually, like on this day, it’s a mix. And so often I find what turns a bad day into a good day is the process itself. If you just get out there and let the spirit of adventure take over, things will usually end up on the positive side.

So when my son turned and screamed toward the ocean. “This is the best adventure we’ve ever had!” I let him yell.

It was, after all, an improvement from where we started.

Cherie Galyean

About Cherie Galyean

In a perfect world, Cherie Galyean would spend hours every day chasing her kids up hiking trails, pretending to garden, and baking things. Instead, she works full-time in the non-profit sector and fits those other things in-between loads of laundry in her free time. A Maine native with multiple hometowns, she currently lives on Mount Desert Island with her husband, seven-year-old daughter, five-year-old son, and the best shelter mutt in the world.