There are times as a parent when you wonder if all of the things you’ve said and all of the influences you’ve given have ever really gotten through the thick skulls of your children. You wonder if the bargaining you’ve done and the words you’ve yelled repeatedly and the slight hinting towards liking things that are good and decent actually got absorbed.
Sometimes, you fully doubt yourself.
But then there are those moments, those sweet parenting moments, when they catch you totally off guard and all you can do is smile.
I’m pretty sure the majority of readers don’t care about what we did on a Sunday afternoon in mid-Summer, but I would be remiss if I didn’t file this memory deep in my soul to pull out on one-of-those-days.
With a husband swinging around a golf course, I chose to take our kids to one of my favorite places in the world. Virginia Kendall Ledges, located in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, is an outstanding bit of Earth. Even in the heat of summer, the cool air coming from cracks in huge sandstone cliffs makes life just grand. The trail is well marked, travels around cliffs and past the infamous Ice Box Cave. Depending on how you take the loop, in the middle of the hike is an overlook that will knock off your socks, even if you’ve chosen to just wear sandals to hike in that day.
I spent many hours on that overlook as a child and teenager, hiking with family and friends, and have a library of memories from those woods. And call me crazy, but I really want my kids to have the same fond memories from that place, no matter what it takes. So naturally I drag them around that same loop trail whenever I get the opportunity.
This particular Sunday, though, I made them walk the entire loop, without the option of cutting out early. (There was an ice cream reward at the end; I’m not that mean, you know.) Of course I chose the hottest time of the year to make them hike a full three miles, not including the extra mileage we tack on by scrambling up and around the boulders, through the cavernous splits in the rocks, and slipping off trail to watch a wood thrush.
You might think they complained or whined, especially since a large portion of their friends were probably floating in a pool or in the comfort of the air-conditioning conquering levels of some video game. But they didn’t. They walked, they stopped, and when we saw the most amazing spider web caught in the sunlight, we actually dropped backpacks and looked at it for a span of a few minutes, which equates to years in kid-time.
But the greatest of parenting moment for me came when my youngest child, a curly-haired three year old said she needed a snack. We stepped off trail in an average part of the park and found a large smooth rock, cool from shade and forest dampness. The four of us stretched out on that rock in a row as if we were sunbathing in the shade. Water bottles were passed out as well as peanut butter crackers, and for a minute the only sounds I heard were the quiet crunching of snacks and the occasional slurp of water.
Finally, they started to talk.
“These trees are so cool.”
“I can’t believe how neat these rocks are.”
“I love this place.”
“Some of our friends never get to see anything so neat because they don’t want to go into the woods or get muddy or get bitten by bugs.”
“Thanks for bringing us here, mom.”
And then, finally, I heard, “it just doesn’t get any better than this.”
I couldn’t have agreed more.
Photo was taken at "the stage," a seemingly perfect place for any sort of rock concert. I've since retired as a rock star, passing the air guitar on to my talented kids.