“What’s the hardest hike in Acadia?” my daughter asked one day this spring.
“The Precipice,” I answered.
“Can I hike it with you?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “Absolutely not. Not yet.”
“Okay, what’s the second hardest hike in Acadia?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe the Beehive?”
“Can we hike that one?”
I thought for a minute, remembering the details of that trail: iron rungs, steep climbs, vertigo-inducing angles, the sign that tells you not to take small children up it. “Maybe,” I said slowly. “If you can show me what a good hiker you are this summer.”
So we waited. We could have hiked it as soon as she asked this spring, but I purposefully made her wait until late in the season. All those hikes we took in between gave me lots of opportunity to watch her hike, to see how strong she was, and to make sure she was willing to listen to my instructions. As we hiked this summer I kept mixing in opportunities to have her practice the skills she would need to make it up the Beehive. We tried trails with ladders and trails with steep sections. She learned how to keep her footing on a variety of terrain: smooth granite faces, gravel-covered rock, twisty roots.
She hardly ever complained, was always up for a challenge, and I saw her skills grow tremendously over a few months. Finally I had to admit that she was as ready as she was going to be. That’s why this past weekend saw the two of us heading up the Beehive. There was still a bit of apprehension on my part. We weren’t climbing Everest, don’t get me wrong, but this is a tricky trail. I’ve seen many adults struggle up here. Was I letting her get us into trouble?
Turns out, I wasn’t. She did great. She did better than great. And here’s what I learned from letting her push us.
You should have faith in your kid. She was passing adults, climbing with full confidence, and keeping her head in the game. What I was most worried about was that the height would get to her. The Beehive has several sections with steep drops and my biggest concern was that she would panic halfway up the mountain. I really wasn’t looking forward to trying to talk a seven-year-old out of a panic attack while she was hanging from an iron rung. She never flinched, blinked, or did anything other than say “Hey. Nice view.”
It’s good to let your kid fight it out. There were a couple of points that were very challenging for her, mostly because of height. When you are four-and-a-half feet tall, a foothold that’s three feet up is going to be tricky. Once or twice, she simply did not have enough height and strength combined to pull herself up the direct route. “Do you want a boost?” I’d ask, making a foothold out of my hands or getting ready to give her some heft from behind. “No,” she’d say, waving me off. “I’ll figure it out.” She did, each and every time.
She will gain confidence. She took on a hard challenge. She convinced me of why she should be allowed to try it. She kept her goal in mind all summer long. And when hike day arrived, she had an opportunity to work really, really hard and she took it, refusing my assistance. Turns out all those times I’d told her to “find the path that works for you” she’d been listening. Huh. She practically skipped her way down the (longer, less precarious) trail back to the parking lot. She was really proud of herself, and she should have been.
On our way down, we passed a young family headed up the less steep ascent option. Their young toddler was insisting on climbing the steps himself at a painfully slow pace while his father fought with him about holding hands. We paused while they worked their way past us. “I’m sorry,” the dad said to me.
“Oh, no problem,” I said back, remembering all the times I’d apologized for the very same thing. I wanted to tell him that it would get better. That some day, if he kept it up, he’d have the world’s best hiking partner, just like I do.
I wish I’d told him that.
I guess I learned that, too.