After stalling at the trailhead with our out-of-town visitors, I finally walked back to the parking lot to find my dawdling 8-year-old. He was sitting on the bumper of our minivan, arms folded in defiance. “I don’t want to hike today!” he insisted. We’d promised our guests a perfect afternoon outing at Picchetti Ranch Open Space Preserve, and now the weather was co-operating but my son wasn’t. He’s too big to carry, too old to be bribed, and too young to be left alone to wait at the car. Mentally filing through my parenting toolbox, I grasped at the first likely solution. “We need you to be our official photographer,” I improvised. “Here’s the camera. Find some cool shots as we hike.” To my relief, he agreed, and although my photography assignment had initially been just a way to get him moving, it turned out that he captured many worthwhile pictures of our hike, including peacocks, deer, the quarry, and several enormous eucalyptus trees.
About a hundred yards into our hike, my 3-year-old announced that he was too tired to hike anymore. Feeling confident from my freshly won victory with his older brother, I looked around for something to keep him going. He’s just learning to identify letters, and I could see a sign up ahead on the trail. “We need you to find all the signs on the trail and read us the letters,” I told him. He took his responsibility seriously and zoomed ahead to the next trail marker, yelling, “Sign, ho!” He continued to scout out signs for the rest of our hike, magically becoming untired.
As if on cue, at the next sign, my 6-year-old began to whine. She’s a sucker for stories, so I promised to tell a story as long as she kept hiking. She hiked through my entire description of the Wizard of Oz, and I didn’t even have to engage any creativity. By the end of the story she had forgotten her complaints and struck up a conversation with one of our hiking companions to keep her going for the rest of the journey.
Towards the end of the hike, my baby started to complain. I was already carrying him on my back, he can’t work a camera, and he has yet to say his first word, let alone identify letters or understand stories. He’d eaten all the snacks, drunk all the water, and was already holding his pacifier. I couldn’t think of a single trick to induce happy compliance. Fortunately, I could almost see the parking lot, so I resolved to tolerate the crying for the last 5 minutes of our hike. Three out of four isn’t bad.