Lazy Parenting

I want to preface this by saying I’m not the best dad. I’m not the worst dad, either (that honor belongs to this guy), and I feel that I do get it right occasionally, but I’m not looking to show off about what a great dad I am. In fact, I already messed up pretty bad today.

My wife took the Jeep in to get the oil changed (which ended up being a $500 trip for changing all the fluids and an engine tune-up…I’m sure glad they sent us that $24 oil change coupon). So, she’s asking for a loaner car from the dealership and she texts me, but I didn’t know that my 12-year old daughter was also in the group text, and it went something like this:

Wife: Got a loaner for the day…
Me: Sweet. I got a boner for the day…
12-year-old: that’s disgusting.
Me: Sorry. Didn’t know this was a group msg.
12-year-old: sigh
Wife: lolz

The main lesson here is don’t say or text any word that rhymes with “boner” around me.

Now that I think about it, that probably wasn’t even the worst parenting fail that I made this week. But, like I said, sometimes I get it right.

A couple of weeks ago, Saturday, my kids were going after each other, arguing, and snapping at each other, which happened as we were trying to figure out our plans for that Saturday. They quickly responded with movies, Legoland, and Disneyland. None of those sounded great to me, so they threw out some other options, mostly arguing, but some wrestling, too, and an inadvertent elbow was thrown followed by an extremely advertent punch. There’s this trail that I run on quite a bit. We call it Andy’s trail because Andy is the one that first gave us the tour of the single-track that runs along Escondido Creek, crossing it a couple of times, and through the welcome cover of trees. As I watched one of my kids throw a punch at the other, and the crying that followed, all I wanted to do was to get out of the house and head to that trail.

I’ve been wanting to take the kids down there since I first ran it a few years ago, but for some reason it hasn’t happened. That Saturday morning seemed like a perfect time, plus it would save me the hundreds of dollars that would be spent mingling with sweaty tourists in cramped spaces and buying overpriced food. Of course the kids thought this was the worst idea ever, and my oldest daughter announced she wasn’t going. I once read in some parenting blog or maybe it was a book written by a PhD that you should give your kids the freedom to offer a logical explanation for the reasons that they do things, so recalling this information I shouted, “put your damn shoes on and get in the Jeep in the next 10 minutes, or your phone is mine for the next week.” She may have rolled her eyes, but it worked. The Jeep was packed with kids, water and snacks and we were at the trail within 15 minutes.

As we took the first few steps on the trail, all the tension, the stress of the morning, the fighting, and the yelling disappeared. The kids walked, ran, climbed trees, crossed rivers, sometimes holding hands, helping each other over the steep and more technical areas, and within a few minutes of our hike, my oldest daughter exclaimed, “this is the most beautiful trail I have ever seen.”

My daughter and I walked hand in hand behind the rest of the family and we talked. It was about something important, but I don’t remember what it was. All I can remember is that we walked along the trail holding hands, and that hardly happens at all anymore as we navigate the awkward father daughter relationship as she grows into a woman, trying to find her place, and manage hormones, boys, mean girls, and friends, and we’re both new to this, so being out on the trail and talking while she held my hand was just exactly what we both needed.

I sometimes feel like a lazy parent, letting my kids play computer games or watch TV rather than pushing them to go outside and play. But man, there’s really something to be said for getting the kids out to nature. It’s the lazy parents dream. It’s hard getting all the camping shit together and setting up tents, but once you’re out there, it’s cake.

Last weekend, I captained an aid station for the San Diego 100. My wife was working medical for the race, so we decided to make it a family affair. I went up Friday morning and set up a nice site right on Lake Cuyamaca, I sipped a couple of beers and by the time the kids got there, I was content and relaxed. When my wife pulled up with the kids, they immediately ran to the lake and started gathering sticks and feathers. They hooked up with some other kids and played around the lake, out-of-sight, and it was all I could do to not check up on them. Anything can happen out there, but I’m learning to hold back and let nature teach them.

It doesn’t hurt that one of her responsibilities involved sponging off an Italian male model
They helped at the aid station. My oldest had the job of sponging off the hot, tired runners with ice cold water. She did the same thing last year, and she likes the work. It’s great to see the looks on the runners’ faces as the ice water rolls off the back of their necks and down their backs. My two younger kids helped fill up cups with water and coke, and then they helped keep track of the runners’ numbers as they ran into the checkpoint. The kids were out there in the heat for about six hours, and they didn’t complain. No iPads, no TVs, just helping out a lot of tired runners who had the goal of completing 100 miles by foot. These are the people that I want my kids to be around.

That night, as the runners were still out on the course, my wife took the girls to help set up the finish line bags and cots where runners would collapse after their work was done.

My son and I stayed at the campsite where I had promised to break out the fishing rod. I recently bought a Tenkara fly fishing rod, which is basically just a long bamboo stick with line tied to the top, and a fly at the end. It’s a very simple set-up, no reels, just a stick and a line, which works for me, because the fewer moving parts, the better. I taught him how to cast, and how to mimic a bug landing on the lake, hopping lightly on the surface. He caught on pretty quickly, and within an hour, he had pulled out 3 small bass. I showed him how to remove the hook, and we threw the fish back in the lake. By the time we threw the last fish back, it was dark, but he wanted to keep going. It was late, but he wanted to tell his mom about his first fish. I still remember the tug of the line at a small lake in Big Sky, Montana, fishing with my grandpa, my brother and my sister. I remember pulling it in, and the slippery skin. I was surprised that my mom knew how to clean the fish, and I remember the taste of fresh trout fried in butter.

I don’t set out to teach lessons or create these memories. I just love to be in the mountains or on the trails, and I love to share those things with my family, letting nature do the parenting, waking up to the sounds of hungry geese and going to sleep with dirt under their fingers, smelling of fish and fire, and eyes full of beauty and pride. Nature is a good parent.

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