Our climbing guide, Dustin, drove us to Ice Cream Parlor, an area of rock in the Bureau of Land Mines near Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Another guide, Evan, soon arrived, and he and Dustin set up six ropes across the rockface we would climb.
While we waited, we heard loud voices from the road below and were soon joined by another guide, Mia, leading her group of two women, eight kids under the age of 12, and two men from Switzerland. I had hoped it would be just our family and had to adjust my attitude to include this large, energetic, noisy group.
Mia started training us and selected me as the demonstration belayer. Our older son jumped at the chance to be the demo climber. As we worked together, he climbed easily to the top. When we finished our demonstration, everyone divided themselves across the six ropes, with the Swiss men at the far end, away from all the kid commotion.
Our younger son, who we generally think of as the more athletic of the two, stepped up for me to belay him while he climbed. He made it about one-third of the way up.
“I’m done,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone.
That’s fine. I’m not as goal-oriented anymore and if that was how he enjoyed the climb, fine. But when he got down, he was clearly disappointed in himself. Maybe he assumed it was easy because his brother did it on the first try, or perhaps he just didn’t reach his personal goal. That’s okay – he could try again.
I continued to belay while other kids cycled through to take a turn on “my” rope. I noticed that kids have different ways of saying they are stuck. Some literally say they are stuck, some say they can’t do it, some ask for help for where to go next. Some face the logistical challenge of where to put their hand or foot while others are battling a mental or emotional barrier. With each child, I tried to read whether they were really done or simply needed encouragement. Since I wasn’t a mom they were used to, they were more open to my coaching (as if I know what I am doing) and most made it to the top or close enough.
My husband and I each tried climbing. He made it to the top several times, and I made it to the top on my climb.
Soon, our younger son was ready to try again, and again, he made it about one-third of the way up. Encouragement from me (“Just one more step”) moved him only a few inches and not beyond whatever barrier he faced.
“Let’s try another rope,” I suggested.
So we moved to another rope. Again, he made it one-third way. And again, my encouragement moved him only a few inches before he came back down.
As I kept belaying the next child in line, Xander, a six-year-old boy who was undaunted by the climbs, casually announced that he would do all six climbs and make it to the top of each one. And off he went.
Eventually, my son tried again. Having watched so many of the kids climb, and having done one climb myself, I knew that he was physically able to make it to the top. I also knew that he would be disappointed if he didn’t. But my encouragement wasn’t quite what he needed, and I didn’t know how to support him.
He was clinging to the rock, telling me he was done. I was getting tired of this dance, even though it wasn’t about me.
Luckily, our guide Mia appeared, and her chipper demeanor was a breath of fresh air.
“One more step. There is a perfect place for your right foot. Right there. Yes! Okay, now what will you do with your right hand?” she called out cheerfully.
Slowly, he worked through the spot where he was stuck until he got to another point where he got stuck and again, he said he was done.
This time, Xander appeared. He sat his tiny frame casually on a rock next to my feet, draping his arms over his knees, and yelled up at my son.
“You can do this. I did it. You can totally do it.”
My son climbed a couple more inches while Xander turned to me and said, in a matter-of-fact voice, “He can totally do this.”
Xander continued to sit and watch while my son yelled down, “I’m done.”
I knew reaching the top would make him feel better about himself and the day. I also knew that this one success would inspire him to try the other climbs and even help him through the hard parts on his own. So I yelled up, “If you make it to the top, you can have ice cream.”
He countered with, “And s’mores too?”
Xander looked up at me, incredulous. “Really? You will let him have ice cream AND s’mores?” Like it was so much THE absolute best treat in the world that I had to be lying about it.
I loved this kid.
“YOU CAN DO THIS!” Xander hollered up the rock. “Ice cream AND s’mores. Do it!”
Inspired, our son proudly made it to the top. When he did, Xander told no one in particular, without a hint of jealousy, “Someone’s getting some good ice cream and s’mores. Awesome.”
The right support and encouragement can do wonders, even if I was initially resistant to the person being there. Everyone brings their own wonderful surprises, and they can make a day and a beautiful memory.
Thank you for encouraging me when I think that I can go no further, for believing that I can get past any barrier, and for being happy for the rewards that come afterwards.