When my husband, Shawn, and I were still young, living in Alaska and wearing Carhartts and Gramicci, we talked about breeding an outdoor family. He was a raft guide. I worked as a backcountry ranger in Denali. The next year, we got married in a Colorado meadow. These days, Shawn's a cat-ski guide and I write. We live in Colorado on two wooded acres surrounded by a singletrack maze with our sons, Scout, 9, and Hatcher, 7. That's us, the perfect outdoor familyexcept Hatcher hates being outside.
Our thirst for adventure starts earlyand seems to be in steady decline. Want proof? Here's some (occasionally) frightening data from the Washington, D.C.based Outdoor Foundation's annual "Special Report on Youth."
Scout's first real expression was a scream of glee on a chairlift in Montana, and he learned to breastfeed in a front pack while I hiked in Colorado's Berthoud Pass backcountry. Hatcher had the added advantage of stowing away in my parka during snowstorms, but his first word wasn't powder; it was vacuum. As a three-year-old, his coat of choice was not a Patagonia puffy; it was a smart, black velvet tuxedo jacket from the Gap. His profession of choice? Actor. His dream destination? New York City. Shawn and I dealt with our son's indiscretions by shoving his feet into ski boots and letting him wear the tuxedo jacket under the puffy.
As he's grown older, Hatcher has continued resisting our lifestyle. The new mountain bike Santa brought him sits in the mudroom, dirt free. He can spin a dozen 360s off the couch but can't seem to muster the strength to hike the half-mile to the mailbox. And what Hatcher lacks in VO2 max, he makes up for in manipulation: Every weekend, we hit the nordic track at Eldora Mountain, but not ten minutes in he'll fall to the ground, complaining of piranhas eating his leg muscles.
In the summer, when we go hiking in the nearby Indian Peaks, Hatcher insists on bringing along three stuffed animals. I think it's because he knows they'll leave no room in his pack for layers, a sleeping bag, or even water. Shawn deals with him by barking like a drill sergeant and rewarding his efforts with a constant stream of ZBars.
I take a different approach. I think of the sitcom Family Ties and ask myself if the Keatons ever asked young Alex to abandon his dreams of becoming a Republican. Knowing the answer, I take my son's pack and load it on top of mine. If he keeps complaining about piranhas, I pick him up and carry him. I can handle piranhas.