Taking kids outside is important. It fosters a sense of adventure and independence, helps develop a relationship with the outdoors, and insures that there will be future generations that give enough of a shit to take care of the wild places we love. I toss these ideas down as facts because I believe them to be so, but what I have realized is that taking kids out to experience the mountains is important for a different and somewhat more selfish reason: Kids know how to have fun, and if we pay attention we might be able to learn how to have fun too.
I recently had the chance to go skiing with a group of junior high age students at our local ski hill. Conditions that day were, perhaps not surprisingly, very windy and the snow was mostly icy hard-pack. The student that I was spending the day with informed the ski instructor that he was “intermediate” and that he had skied before. I found this highly unlikely as I spent the day watching him struggle to hold a snowplow, tip over while standing still, completely loose control on numerous occasions, and take a number spectacular, yard sale inducing diggers. Without a single trace of hyperbole I would say that during the first half of the day this kid spent just as much time flopped down in the snow or tumbling ass-over-teakettle as he did on his skis.
In short, the conditions were less than ideal and this dude was struggling. What was truly remarkable was that while I’m all but certain I would have quickly devolved into a foul mouthed and fouler tempered recreationalist if I were in his position, the kid picked himself up (with difficulty, and to be honest I usually had to help him), dusted himself off, and kept going with the same absurd grin as he started with. Despite the conditions on the mountain and his own complete lack of skill, he was having fun.
Riding back to town on the bus, I found myself thinking about how much fun this student had, in spite of sub optimal conditions and somewhat grim performance on the slopes. He salvaged a day that I could have easily lost to frustration or disappointment. Following this train of thought, I remembered a day I spent bouldering with my daughter the summer before. I didn’t have a climbing partner for the day and thought that we could head out together so that I could do an easy bouldering circuit and she could play in the dirt. It was a simple enough plan in conception. However, what I failed to take into consideration when making this plan is that I typically neither enjoy nor excel in any way at bouldering. I remembered this in short order, and after only a few poorly attempted boulder problems I was making excuses to myself for my lack-luster performance and becoming increasingly negative. At this point I apologized to my daughter for dragging her along on my misadventure and asked if she was bored and ready to go home. To my surprise she responded that she was having fun throwing pinecones and showed me “a very, very pretty flower!” While I was loosing myself in goals, ideas, and self-judgment — completely missing the point of spending a day outside, my five-year-old life coach was having a total blast just existing in nature.
I promptly bailed on my bouldering plans for the day, and we spent the rest of our time not even really hiking, but meandering around in the brush. We followed a deer for about fifteen minutes; something that she later told me was “sooooo fun,” and talked about it for days. Again, a kid’s outlook salvaged a day that would have all too easily been chalked up as failure by my adult point of view.
In the end I think the lesson that I took away from both these experiences is a simple one. Simple enough that it feels a little ridiculous to say it: don’t forget to have fun. Instead of getting wrapped up in performance and conditions, setting a new PR time on a loop, sending a project or mastering a tele-turn, relish in the simple fun of being outside. Pick flowers, jump off logs, be psyched that you are skiing, even if you’re no good. Watch kids play outside and try to be more like them, they know how to have fun.