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Chatterbox: Photo memory


In the hovel that is my office, sits a wonderful, huge poster of my older son. Though exhausted, he is standing strong, through mixed emotions, wearing a huge wilderness back pack. One projected leg levels him out against the steep incline of an ash trail in the volcanic crater of Haleakala on Maui.

This was a monumental trip my family took many years ago. Our oldest, the boy in the poster, was 13. Our two girls were 9 and 6. Who takes three little kids camping 10 days out of 21 on three islands of Hawaii? No wonder everyone thought we were crazy; I’m not sure we weren’t, but we didn’t think so then. Such opportunity comes once in a lifetime, if ever. Youth, optimism, exuberance, and yes, maybe even just a pinch of insanity, wrapped in wonder, often leads many of us to experiences we wouldn’t have if we were thinking clearly.

As for Hawaii, we were prepared to the teeth for any situation. In the crater we even had a signal mirror to alert the occasional tourist helicopter for help, should that be necessary. It was also great timing; our children were each at a perfect age for adventure. I was surprised by a pregnancy, but plans and permits were too complex and concrete for us to cancel so, happily, we couldn’t abandon this unique opportunity. Besides, I had been training, as had we all, and we would continue training until departure. We were ready – we were also lucky and maybe nuts, but, nonetheless, ready.

We camped in places nearly no one ever even sees, including two days backpacking in the crater where there is nothing but ash cones, silver-swords, and sky, and you have only what you bring. It was like being on the moon … with atmosphere. Stunning, but nothing to fool with, it was far harder than we ever anticipated, and anyone planning such an expedition should be wary. Again, perhaps luckily, we didn’t know that at the time.

It was fun and wild, and to call it a unique experience doesn’t even begin to say it, but my son’s photo reminds me of the blind faith kids have in their parents. Our children trusted that we would return them to running water and civilization, each in one safe and healthy piece; it was our assignment to do so. Standing strong and totally focused, his image reminds me how fragile, yet steely, young kids are. We made it. I was doubtful at times and had a momentary breakdown, but we met the challenge and enjoyed it too, albeit somewhat more in retrospect than in the moment. Even the 6-year-old made it. Uncomplaining, with her tiny legs pacing out short steps along the switchbacks and around giant ash cones, only to find, well, more ash cones, her innocent remarks provided welcomed and essential comic relief.

This trip, especially the crater, became the high water mark of all our family’s camping, hiking, and vacationing. For our younger son, in utero at 6 months gestated, it’s not a memory, but we’re glad he was with us just the same, as that moment in time became the hinge-pin of many fabulous memories and great strengths.

My mother said often, “Kids are like stew; what you put in is what you find.” She was right about many things; that was one of them. Hiking the woods, canned stew heated over a fire, a persistent and chilling rain five days out of seven, a leaky tent, lunch with a seagull who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, craters, beaches, thorns … all logged and treasured. Time together teaches us many things, but it teaches our kids the most.

Our older daughter left a birthday message for my husband once. In it, she thanked him for those days in the crater among other camping and family vacations. She and her siblings give those same kinds of experiences to their kids now.

The poster of that one youngster on the brink of manhood, so proud of what he’s accomplishing, keeps me grounded. Kids are mighty … if we let them be. That doesn’t mean letting them overrule us or wave us off with a flick of their wrist. It means showing them what inner strength and self-discipline can bring them, and instilling in them the knowledge that they can be daring without being foolhardy, and strong even when some momentary derailment doesn’t appear consequential.

Kids really are like a stew; so, we gotta use the good stuff.