Tonight our wee ones will get inundated with candy. Good luck prying it from their closed fists. It’s not that I’m a sweets Grinch, the opposite really, I’m a candy feign and it’s one bad habit I’d rather not pass on to my son.
I stumbled on something that works for us this time of year when the candy to burning-it-off ratio is terribly skewed, and that’s hiking with candy treats.
My son hated hiking. Ever since I stopped carrying him, his protests began as soon as we got to the trailhead. “My legs can’t carry me.” “I’m exhausted.” He’d even say that he needed to take a nap, which goes to show the extreme extents he’d go to avoid hiking. He considers sleep a weakness, naps something he outgrew along with diapers.
This past summer the sailing captain who helped me earn my skipper’s certification, and his daughter, escaped the heat of Charleston to visit us in the mountains. We all hiked.
At some point he said, “This isn’t what I would have expected from Mountain Mama’s kiddo.”
Shame, red and hot, crept up my face. I wondered what I was doing wrong. Why was my kid whining and refusing to walk? He rolled around in mud puddles and then demanded to be carried. The worst part was, after exhausting all the ninja parenting skills I’d seen others use and trying to reason with my son, inevitably I caved.
I searched blogs to find out how other parents got their kids to hike. I tried it all – calling it other names, making a game out of hiking, picking berries or finding treasures along the way.
Then I read about a family who hiked the Appalachian Trail with their five-year old. Their secret turned out to be bribing him with mini-sized Snickers.
On the eve of the full moon, I couldn’t resist a last minute backpacking trip to Black Balsam, less than a mile from the parking lot to our campsite. I packed my camelback for Tobin and then pretended he was the engine and needed coal to carry his load up the mountain. The coal was a piece of hard candy that kept him occupied all the way to the top, and then he stopped.
I was worried I’d have to give him more, but instead he pointed to the clouds parting, unveiling a mountaintop and said, “Look at that pretty view.”
He helped me pitch our tent and make a cozy nest and the next day hiked down without any prompting.
He turned to me, “I love backpacking, and I didn’t even whine.”
I was grateful that a little sweet treat was enough to get him to stop resisting hiking long enough to try it. Now he even walks to my neighbor’s house. We live halfway up a mountain and she lives on the top, a twenty percent grade between us and 15 curves. He walked all the way unassisted by me, no candy, no bribes.
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