Our little critters go through so many firsts. I swore at every milestone, that I would remember that moment forever…Four years in and I am finding that my mommy brain does not work like that. Thank god for the millions of pictures that I am obsessively taking of Squishy. Otherwise his childhood would be one big blur to me. There are a couple firsts that stick out in my mind, though. There was the time he stole a wedge of watermelon out of my grasp with his pudgy little paws. That ended up being his first food. Then there was the first time he climbed a tree. All-By-Himself
I was not prepared for this Milestone to happen so soon. Although, looking back he had been on the verge for months. In true squishy fashion he went from being perfectly content exploring and foraging around the roots, to scaling the massive oak. He always goes 0-60 in life, I really don’t know why I was surprised. I was, though.
I left him digging and examining Rollie Pollies (also called pill bugs I’m told, though I am not sure that is relevant to my story). He was perfectly content, magnifier glass in one hand, shovel in the other. While the other kids at Adventure school were swinging above his head, he seemed at ease in the dirt. Besides, he insisted on holding my hand in any attempt to get to the higher branches. Why would I ever think that it would be different that day, as soon as I turned my back? I walked three feet away to pull out our snacks from the packs, only to turn quickly back around at the high pitch shrieks of delight.
I looked frantically to where I had last seen Squishy. I wasn’t so much surprised that he was not there, as exasperated. He never stays still for long. I looked around and then looked up. Right above my shoulder, one of the massive branches jutted out. Squishy sat triumphantly on top with the biggest grin I had ever seen on his grimy little face. He sat, dangling his feet, five feet above the ground.
This is a freak out moment for me. Yes, this was the reason we were involved in Adventure School , to learn these skills, to expand upon the gross motor development. Even though in my head I could spout off about all the benefits of kids climbing trees, this was still my baby. He wasn’t even three and a half here. So in my mind I am screaming, my palms are sweaty, and there is a slight quiver to my voice. Somehow I did remain calm on the outside, though. It is such a bizarre and unnerving feeling; to be completely paralyzed with terror at the same time your full of joy and pride. I think it is an emotion exclusive to parenting.
Squish spent the rest of the day perfecting his new skill. Up the tree, down the tree, branch to branch and limb to limb. It was as if he had been climbing trees for years, not hours. It’s that 0-60 personality of his. When he first learned to walk he decided walking was boring after his first step and went straight to running. He even ate his lunch up in that tree. Scraped palms and skinned knees didn’t phase him a bit, and I am sure his laughter was heard for miles.
I have become a lot more comfortable with him hanging out above the ground and climbing in trees since that day. I still hold on to a bit of mom nerves, but I am confident that Squishy is the best assessor of his limits. We have set a few guidelines, and talk about them every time we encounter a new tree. I am pretty sure Squishy just humors me, and it makes me feel better.
Some of the things we consider when climbing a new tree are:
- How old is the tree, and does it look in good health? An older tree is generally bigger and stronger. It will be better equipped to hold Squishy’s weight. If it is diseased, has a fungus, or under duress from drought, it can become brittle and prone to cracking.
- What kind of tree is it? Knowing if it is a soft or hard wood is a good indicator of its strength. We can’t always answer this question, and that is okay. It generally leads to some research when we get home.
- How big are the branches? We have a strict rule to never climb out onto branches that are smaller around than his thigh.
- Who does the tree belong to? Squishy has scampered into a stranger’s yard before I could catch him. Now he must ask permission from the owner first. His request has been met with surprise and amusement so far.
- Can you navigate down? I am constantly telling him to think ahead and plan his return route. “Do Not climb higher than you can climb down” I do not like going up the trees to retrieve him.
These are just guidelines, but they have helped to slow Squishy down. He observes a prospective tree a lot more closely. It puts him in a much better state of mind to decide if the tree is appropriate. Knowledge is really power when you are exploring your natural surroundings. I can only hope that I am giving him a solid foundation to be safe and aware in all new situations.
Now, if I could just get well-meaning strangers to understand that I “Let” my kid climb trees. It has happened often enough, that it has become a pet peeve of mine. I can be literally standing directly next to a tree that Squishy is scampering up, and a complete stranger will walk by and tell him to get down “It’s Dangerous!” Now I am sure you can understand Squishy’s confusion at this. He has observed the tree and it has met all the guidelines he needs it to. He feels completely comfortable with his choice. I really do not understand this need for the interruption either. This is a milestone that, once upon a time, was celebrated by kids everywhere.