(As a quick recap, last time I posted about undertaking a night hike to the top of Mt. Islip, over and above Son the Younger’s particular resistance to it.)
At first, we were completely confident. We passed the uppermost camp areas in Little Jimmy and a tall wooden contraption meant for monitoring snowpack. We curved around the flank of the mountain, enjoying the scent of the tiny white blossoms that bordered the trail. When we reached the southern face of the mountain, the pines gave way to snaggled cypresses, and the wind out of the LA basin began to pick up. We passed an older couple on their way down: they’d taken their supper up and eaten overlooking the dreamy, teeming valley. Half a mile more, they said.
Son the Younger dug in, and by digging in I mean crying ceaselessly. We hiked on, even though The Husband and I discussed turning back over the kids’ heads. But no, we were almost there: the peak was ghosting into view, along with the ramshackle, disused building the older couple had said graced the top. We had to make it now. We slowed down as the mountain fell away at our left more steeply and more rockily. In the trainlight beams of our headlamps, it was hard to see exactly what would happen if someone went cockeyed off the side of the trail.
And here things get complicated: I was taking the kids hiking as part of a programmatic practice of meditative awareness of our embodiment and emplacement, but my doing so was making Son the Younger miserable, in part because of fears he himself tries to control by sticking to the programs given to him. It was a war of the programs. And when I can open up my brain wide enough to be aware of it, I know I need to be careful about how I wield program-sticking in my parenting. Son the Younger has already got a little game going around it: if I need to correct him – show him how to play a phrase on the piano, tell him to stop playing soccer with a stuffed bear in the house – his response is to moan, “I’m a bad boy! I’m a bad boy!” and smack himself on the forehead. This happens so frequently that I have my own patterned and default response to it, which is to feel mild exasperation and tell him sternly, “No you are not a bad boy. Please stop saying that,” or even better, “The only time you’re a bad boy is when you say you’re a bad boy.” My non-default mind knows that this kind of mutually and mildly selfish and manipulative interaction is laying the grounds for problems as he turns into a teenager. I don’t quite know how to get out of this pattern with the little guy, but I know I need to stop reinforcing the dominance of the program for him.
But in any case there it was! A wrecked cabin filled with rubble, spray-painted swearwords, and waste. The sky was mostly dark, with a pool of mellow amber on the western horizon. Los Angeles’s sickly orange lights shimmered at our feet, brimming the ocean-wide valley. Once The Husband and I deemed that we had sat long enough to appreciate the impressive view, we headed back down.
Son the Younger didn’t stop crying the whole way down, although he did let up a bit when we curved around the side of the mountain and out of the wind. He finally stopped when we passed the snowpack monitor near the camp, both Medieval and futuristic in the bleachy light of our headlamps.
This anecdote brings up something explored in an earlier post, which is what we want for our children, or as I phrased it before, selfish parenting. I don’t know what I wanted Son the Younger to get from that experience. I suppose I reasoned to myself that I was teaching him courage or stamina or sharing with him my love of being in the mountains and out of the modern life’s unremitting squalor, its eerie screens and its internal combustion engines and its unending poison stream of unfulfilling stimulations. But I also wanted to do the hike, to tack 2.2 more miles onto a trip significantly less butch than the one I had originally planned. I dragged him up and down a windy rock pile in the dark against his will and past his rightful bedtime. I have no real excuse. If it was a war of the programs, then my program won. This time.