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I thought I was going backcountry skiing today...but no.

If you are a parent, you know this feeling, intimately. As a adult with no children, most of the time when you set your plan for the day you come relatively close to accomplishing the tasks set forth in that plan, especially if you had a reasonable nights' sleep and were realistic about your expectations.

Now, let's do a little thought experiment...

Your expectation: You want to make a delicious and beautiful vanilla cake to share with your friend on their birthday.

You take out all the ingredients you need: flour, eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla, butter, salt, and baking powder. You also line up the tools you need, mixing bowl, measuring cups and spoons, beater, and cake pan. You preheat your oven. You take the time required to carefully measure out each ingredient and follow the directions to a T. You don't get interrupted, the cake goes into the oven, and you set the timer as directed. You quickly clean the 5 dishes you used. A bit later you remove the cake and let it cool. When frosting you work gently and quickly, pulling and smoothing the frosting, taking care to cover the whole cake evenly.

Actual outcome: A delicious and beautiful vanilla cake ready to be shared and the rest of the morning to relax.

NOW, just add a child...

Your expectation: You want to make a delicious and beautiful vanilla cake to share with your friend on their birthday.

You take out all the ingredients and tools you need, although you were interrupted 4 times. You conclude that inviting your child to help is better than listening to them yell "MY STOOL" repeatedly while tugging on your leg. So you take a breath and start again with a sues chef at your side. Patient at first, your child holds the measuring spoon steady while you add the salt, baking powder and vanilla and allow them to dump each into the bowl. While you turn to set down the spoon, your child grabs and egg and cracks it into the bowl. They squeal with delight. As you turn back you find the egg, shell and all in the bowl. You frown. You take another breath. You take out another bowl and have your child crack the remaining eggs into there as you work on removing the shells from your cake batter. It has already taken twice as long to mix the ingredients than in the first scenario. Eventually, all the ingredients have been added, egg shells have been removed and the cake is in the oven...although with all the distractions you forgot to preheat and had to wait another 10 min before you could actually add the cake. Now you move on to dishes. You think, you'll just clean them up quick and have the kitchen tidy by the time the cake is done, but your little one climbs off the stool and pushes it over next to you at the sink. You smile knowingly, because every toddler loves water play. You move the knives in the dish rack out of reach and turn the water to lukewarm, the seemingly preferred temperature of water for every child (at least in the under 6 age group). A sponge and soap are at the ready and your child gets to work. You go back to putting away ingredients and wiping counters, but as you turn around and take a step toward the sink you almost die as you slide in your treadless house shoes in a lake-sized puddle of water. You yell as you're slipping, because who wouldn't. Frustration has been building now that this relatively simple task has taken most of your morning. You point your child's attention to the water on the floor and help them off the stool to go find a towel to clean up the mess. Since they love water and practical life work, they are happy to help and you feel guilty for getting upset. The oven beeps and you remove the cake. You keep a keen eye on the oven door as your child and the dog (eating the floor crumbs) try to get a peek at the finished cake. As you set the cake aside your child looks at it longingly, wishing and asking for some. An older child may understand who the cake is for and that we are not eating it now, but will likely ask for a bite or "just a crumb" anyway, and a toddler may spiral into a complete meltdown as they realize their hard work is not for the immediate eating. Either way you are now thoroughly exhausted and the cake has not even been frosted. You look at the clock and realize that you do not in fact have enough time to let the cake fully cool and need to frost it now. You let your child help because at this point the whole experience has been nothing like you imagined anyway.

Actual Outcome: A delicious vanilla cake ready to be shared, with only some crumbs folded into the frosting. Not a moment to spare before your friend arrives. AND a very proud and happy child who got to spend the whole morning with you making a cake for a dear friend.

As you can see our overall outcomes were not actually that different between cake baking scenario 1 and 2, but the process differed significantly, and the main outcome that differed was the experience you gave your child. So, what does all this mean anyway?

First consider how scenario 2 would have been different if you had planned ahead to have a child helper in the kitchen. How could you have set up the baking situation differently? Perhaps you would have let your child know what the plan was ahead of time...We are going to bake a cake today for our friend, I need 10 min alone in the kitchen to prepare, I will set a timer and when you hear it you may get your apron and join me. Then you might have: taken out extra bowls, pre-measured some ingredients, kept the eggs in the fridge until the moment they were needed, started earlier, put away extra dishes, and simply prepared your mind to have a helper.

In fact, I often find the most essential part of doing anything with children is to prepare myself for the experience. Maria Montessori talked a lot about the spiritual preparation of the adult as an essential piece to implementing her teaching methods. For it is only when the adult themself is prepared that they can objectively observe and then provide what the child truly needs. This spiritual preparation means that we as the adult need to find the time to rest, recuperate, research and plan. This process of taking care of ourselves both our bodies and minds in preparation is more essential than the preparation of any space or materials that may be used by the child.

So back to skiing...skiing is a passion of mine and my husband's. So of course we want to share it with our children. Ironically however, this means that a lot of days where one of us might have gone skiing alone, or we could have found a babysitter so we could get out there together, have been spent moving down a trail at a painstakingly slow pace and arduously moving a child into and out of a backpack or pulk sled as they want to try to ski for themselves. There has been crying, there has been complaining, there has been occasional yelling, there has been cold hands and feet and faces. There has been 30min of dressing to be outside for 30min. There has been refusals to get oneself out of the snow and potty accidents. There have been days that have been cut short, and days where we packed the night before only to get up in the morning and not go. There has also been woohoos, giggles, hot chocolate, snuggle moments in a bothy bag, and peanut m&ms. There have been new friends, prideful moments of skills gained, epic stories and silly songs. We are a stronger family because we have taken the time to be with one another, to embrace the struggle and accept that things don't always go as planned. We have found that as long as you mentally prepare yourself for the majority of likely scenarios you are not so disappointed when they turn out quite differently than you originally hoped. In fact, in some cases you discover that the shorter day and slower pace allows you an experience you may have missed before. Consider: animal tracks, giant parking lot snow piles for sliding down, fresh bread at the lodge during lunch hour, rock throwing and watching the ice shatter in the stream. Don't forget you are playing the long game.

Final Outcome: Children/humans that love to ski not only for exercise, but for the enjoyment, the good company, and the experience of being in nature. Children who are resilient and feel valued, respected, part of something larger than themselves.

For her first time on skis we headed to the yard using an L.L. Bean boot ski. (January 2021, age 1y3mo)

First time headed uphill under his own power on telemark skis with skins (given to us by friends) at the local rope tow during off hours. (February 2021, age 5)

The song reference comes from the book: The Cross Country Cat, and yes for 1:49 minutes I was filming this video, we moved exactly 4 feet of distance. This is not unusual and highlights the importance of backyard skiing. (December 2021, age 2y1mo)

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