Wednesday, August 17, 2011

When the Honeymoon’s Over

Written by Renee

Several years ago my husband and I made the decision to do a family activity outdoors every week. Something more substantial than an evening walk and something we could all do together. We settled on a weekend hike as our activity, much like some families choose soccer or baseball.

Back then we had never heard of Unplugged Sunday and it wasn’t about being unplugged as much as it was about just being outdoors, together. Of course, because we were in the woods and weren’t big cell phone users to begin with (oh, how times have changed!) we were, by default, unplugged for that time.

Unplugging wasn’t difficult. And at first hiking wasn’t all that difficult either. 

The kids were young (3, 5 & 7) and so we stayed fairly close to home exploring easy urban and near-urban trails. That first summer our outings were a couple hours long and when it rained, we stayed home. In spite of hiking experience as young adults we were new to the outdoors with children and weren’t what I would call a hard core outdoors family. 

I liked our times together outdoors. I loved them in fact. I have always loved nature and as a gardener I especially appreciated discovering and identifying new plants, adding to my herbal knowledge whenever possible.

Our time spent outdoors was refreshing and revitalizing. It felt like we were doing something good for our kids, good for our relationships, and good for the environment. It was just a good feeling all around.

The kids grew (funny how they do that) and our legs and spirits sought longer hikes. A couple hours was not so satisfying and what started as a family outdoor activity every week evolved into one whole day a week outdoors. 

We made this change to account for our growing children and our collective need for more time and more exercise. And to account for the reality that finding longer hikes in interesting terrain required longer drives from home. 

We needed a whole day just to ensure we could get to the destination, have several hours to hike and then time to drive back before bed. 

At first this was good. 

The hikes were longer and the kids needed more encouragement but they hit their stride and loved that time outdoors. I loved the new scenery and regularly being in the mountains - the air, the sky, the trees, the water, the views - my spirit soared. 

Then summer hit in earnest and the hikes made me sweaty. Our drive to the mountains would take me past farmhouses with folks working in their gardens (I love gardening). We started to miss out on certain gatherings and other events because we had made this commitment to our health and to our family.

And that’s when the honeymoon was over. 

What started largely as a walk in the park had become a commitment, a discipline, a practice. One with great rewards to be sure (just like a good marriage) but one that required work nonetheless. 

I hit a wall that summer. I’m pretty sure it was that hike in the torrential downpour that pushed me over the edge. The hike that soaked me through and through and left me feeling discouraged, forlorn and full of self-pity.

I didn’t want to be spending one day each week (that’s almost 15% of my week, oh yes, I did the math) hiking. I wanted to write. I wanted to garden. I wanted to sit at home on my duff and drink tea all day. 

Or so I thought.

Thankfully, that summer I not only hit the wall but I turned the corner. Through the course of the summer, through good hikes and bad ones, with lots of time on the trail for thinking, I evaluated this commitment we had made. 

In the end, I came out the other side more determined and passionate about continuing this practice as a family. This wasn’t a forgone conclusion by the way, it’s just where I ended up after evaluating all my options and thinking creatively about how we spend our time. 

How did I find the “romance” again in our one day a week practice? How did I turn the corner from reluctant hiker to the happy hiker I once was? 

I think it was a combination of the following four things:

1. Taking a Break

Back when Damien was working a regular 9-5 job the weekends were reserved for together activities - hiking, hospitality, working on the house. 

That fateful summer, on a sunny Saturday in August, I took a break from all this togetherness and spent a day to myself in my garden while the family hiked. It was one of their most memorable hikes to date (not sure what that says) and I felt restored and revived in a way I hadn’t experienced on the trail for a while.

We had discussed and were prepared for me to take more regular breaks like this but it turns out I only needed that one. I loved being in my garden but I also missed the trail. Weekend hiking had become a part of who I was and I really did enjoy it. 

Taking a break showed me that. 

It also gave me time to consider the next point.

2. Evaluate your Practice

When I hit this point of discouragement and wondering if our weekly time hiking together was really worth it Damien and I had to ask and answer some hard questions. One of the questions we asked was does this practice serve us or do we serve it? 

In other words, are we doing this because we really believe in the benefits, it fits who we are and it’s something we value? Or are we doing it because we think we should, even though it no longer benefits us? 

Another part of this questioning period was comparing side by side the pros and cons. 

Most of this, to be honest, was done in my head. I was the one after all who hit the wall. In the end, the pros of continuing with our one day a week practice outweighed the cons. And I realized that this regular routine served our purposes and helped us meet our goals.

Coming to these conclusions though depended on some creative thinking. 

3. Be Creative

When I first hit the wall I thought it was physical. I just couldn’t hike that far. But when my six year old didn’t have the same problem (I’m a “normal”, healthy, thirties something woman) I realized it wasn’t my body that was sabotaging me. It was my mind.

It was my resentment about not gardening on those beautiful days, my doubts about the point of all this hiking, the feeling that my needs were not being met that slowed me down. It was mental, not physical.

Taking a break helped, so did honest evaluation of our goals but equally important was being creative with our time management during the week to make this weekend activity a priority. 

I scaled back my expectations for our backyard garden, scheduled my gardening for the weekdays, and discovered as much joy in our farm share and farmers markets as I did harvesting the small amount of produce from our tiny backyard garden. I still dream of large scale gardening but decided this was not that season in my life. 

We’re a homeschooling family and I realized that we could have a Monday recovery day - sleeping in, time for mama to read and drink tea, the whole works. We had that freedom I just needed to re-orient my thinking a bit. 

4. Surrender

I took a break. I asked hard questions. I creatively re-worked my commitments and my schedule and in the end I also surrendered. 

We don’t always like this word in our culture. To some people, it sounds like defeat. 

In my case it wasn’t defeat, it was letting go of some my expectations (for what weekends “should” look like) and embracing the joy and opportunity that was right in front of my face. 

It meant waking up to how good I had it. Learning to accept I have a husband who wants to be outdoors with his family every week for a whole day and he’s willing to do most of the work to make that happen. Not only that, but this was an activity my children loved doing with their father and it was healthy for us and brought us together as a family. Why exactly was I complaining about this? 

I can’t say it was the summer of my discontent but it was definitely a turning point for me. 

I realized it was ok to take breaks and ask honest questions about why we were doing what we were doing. I learned how to re-structure our weeks and adapt my previous habits to accommodate our family goals. 

And in the end I surrendered to the beauty of it all. To the beauty of our family outdoors together. The beauty of a regular time in nature, unplugged. And the beauty of sharing with my husband this activity he loves. 

I honestly haven’t looked back since. 

Now my husband’s talking about family thru hiking a long trail (yikes!). I’m thinking I may need to re-visit these lessons. 

Have you gone through a similar experience with either a family or individual practice? 
How did you turn the corner after hitting the wall?

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