There is constant tension, in my head, between the ambitions I have to take on long runs, big hikes, new rides, and the conviction that I need to bring my family along for some portion of the fun. This sets up a number of compromises, all of which I think are probably good, though difficult in the moment.
First, the kids don’t really want to go. Left to their own devices, they’d literally spend the entire day on their own devices, phones, TV, XBox. It makes me insanely angry, but I also completely get it. The entertainment they have is exponentially more compelling than watching me disappear up a steep trail or slowing down just to point out a particularly interesting mushroom.
It’s not that they object to coming along, or even that they don’t like the woods. It’s just that given a choice, they’d pass.
Second, my wife seldom wants to take on as much work as I do, just in raw miles or in elevation gain. She loves to hike. She loves waterfalls. She likes a good view, so summits are definitely on the menu, but she’s not trying to do epic shit, just to do it.
Third, there’s me. I’m dreaming of outdoor shit even now, as I’m sitting here typing. It’s July, and I’m thinking about skiing. I’m plotting a variety of projects with a variety of people, the Massachusetts Midstate Trail that runs 99 miles from the New Hampshire border to Rhode Island., the Bay Circuit Trail that covers 200 miles of interconnected green spaces circumnavigating Boston from North Shore to South, a trail half marathon and a half from Fairhaven Bay, Concord, where Thoreau went fishing with friends, back to my home in Arlington, MA. I’m also thinking of running the Boston Marathon route. There’s no race this year, and I’m not that interested in participating in the chaos of the actual event, but as a Bostonian I’d like to feel the course under my feet, to know what every iconic step is really like.
It’s all too much, and even more so when you try to incorporate wife and kids into each project. Today, for example, I took the family up to the New Hampshire line to knock off the first segment of the Midstate. I wanted to run it, and I wanted to cover more ground, but it seemed more important to have family time. For the Fairhaven half marathon and a half, I’ve taken my wife along on scouting runs, trying to understand the route, make connections between all the sections of woods. The kids can fish there, too, where Thoreau did, so that’s something. But I’m always impatient to do more and go faster. I understand how obnoxious that is.
I find myself straining at the leash with the family along, but it’s necessary and important, and there are days when I’m off on my own of course, flailing away down some trail somewhere. My compromise is really small, slowing down occasionally to include the people I love the most.
So what are we accomplishing with #familytrailshit?
We’re doing things together. We’re getting outside of our regular environment where how we act cans sometimes seem predetermined, all the roles defined. We’re exercising. We’re exploring. We’re unplugging from digital media. We’re learning things. And we’re compromising.
The wife and I have stopped expecting the kids to express enthusiasm for these adventures. It’s tempting to cajole, to demand some sort of admission that it’s more fun than they thought it would be, but that just turns into emotional blackmail. They will or won’t see the light we’re shining in their faces. We think, one day, probably when they’re out on their own as adults, they’ll come back to the woods with their friends, and they’ll remember all this #familytrailshit for what it was, some of the best times we had together as a family.