This guest column about rock climbing is written by Vera’s daughter, Shane.
I’ve been rock climbing since I was 14 years old. It forms part of my identity.
I am also a mother. My daughter, Mia, had never shown much interest in climbing until recently.
Being a dedicated climber while a mother is a rare combination. A lot of women are climbers, but even women who have attained a competitive skill level have difficulty carving out time for climbing after becoming a mother. I have noticed that, as a mother, if your kids don’t climb, you won’t climb consistently.
That had been my situation the past several years. I climbed a few times a year, but not like I used to.
I often took Mia when I went climbing, but she never showed much interest in the sport. Then she turned 14, and her interest perked up.
We climbed at Castle Rock State Park in California last winter, and since then, we have had multiple excursions in Joshua Tree National Park.
I credit my parents for exposing me and my siblings to sports and the outdoors at an early age. We were regulars on the ski slopes, along with going camping, water skiing and experiencing other outdoor activities. That early exposure to the outdoors probably factored into my gravitation to rock climbing. And I am biologically suited to be good at it, possessing strong hands and forearms.
A teacher introduced me to climbing when I was 14. Immediately, I thought: I love it. I started gathering books and information about climbing as I pursued my new interest. I bought my own gear at age 17, and I befriended any climber who was willing to show me new skills and techniques.
My interest never faded, even if I did have less opportunity to pursue climbing after I got older and started my family.
As parents, we must balance our desire to teach our children the activities that we enjoy, with allowing them to pursue interests of their own. But I think every parent feels a sense of excitement when our kids appreciate an activity that we like. You want them to feel the reward that you felt when you fell in love with that sport or hobby. You want to see their reactions and witness their happiness. I got to experience that during Mia’s breakthrough rock climb at Castle Rock.
In previous years, Mia had shown limited interest in climbing when she accompanied me. My encouragement for her to climb was met by a tepid response. But at Castle Rock, a switch flipped. She climbed because she wanted to climb.
I had prepared us for a bit of a weird climb that I figured would present a challenge. On past climbs, Mia had not ascended much beyond about 10 feet. If other people were around, she might climb a little bit higher to prove that she could, but she seldomly topped out. This time was different. She topped out twice. She showed great fluidity and movement – including maneuvering herself into a pretzel at one point – to tackle a difficult climb. I could tell she felt proud of what she accomplished.
My reward came from seeing Mia realize she could do this. When your kid feels accomplished, you feel accomplished.
The best part was spending quality time together. My daughter is a cool kid. She’s very funny, and I have fun hanging out with her. We have the most hilarious conversations.
When Mia was little, I devised games and fantasy scenarios to encourage her to participate in certain sports. This wasn’t necessary for camping – she appreciated camping on her own – but it was especially true with downhill skiing.
Mia didn’t mind skiing – as long as we didn’t make the experience about the skiing.
Instead, we pretended the ski slopes were an alien planet.
To venture into an alien planet, you must dress the part. Skiing gear became gravity boots, oxygen helmets and goggles that provided readouts to help identify aliens. Tree branches became alien arms trying to grab us. Pinecones were bombs we’d set to blow up alien nests. Skittles were health powerups. (Editor’s note: my parents did the same with Skittles! The candy was used as incentive to continue our hiking excursions.)
We also had our share of snowball fights, too.
All the while, it got Mia moving and taught her balance. She became lost in the story, which distracted her from the fact that she was skiing. She prided herself in knowing how to ski, but the story helped coax her onto the slopes.
I used to try this approach with rock climbing, too, although to lesser success. If you climb up a bit, I’d tell Mia, you can swing on a rope or perch on the rock and pretend to be a monkey.
Those days of pretend and fantasy worlds are behind us now. Mia is growing up.
Months back, Mia overtook me on an uphill slope while mountain biking, and I realized: As parents, we hope our children will become our companions as they grow up. You hope they will share some of your interests. Then they do, and they surpass you in a blink of an eye.
Perhaps that should be our goal as parents, to have our children surpass us, whether that be in sport, professionally, socially or as people.
I just hope that when I’m 70, I’ll still be able to rock climb if Mia wants to, and that it won’t be her having to coax me up the rockface.