Meet Amanda – one of the many reasons why I will always be grateful that my life journey included in a stint in speech-language pathology. I met Amanda in 2001 on a student practicum; on that practicum we shared an office, we shared clients and we shared many adventures. Since then we have shared just about everything else in our lives. And here today, on Let ME Out!!, Amanda will take you for a journey into her world of the outdoors, spiritual connection and family.
Please welcome Amanda!
Taslim often talks about how important it is to engage in the things that you are passionate about – the things that make you jump out of bed in the morning, eager to start the new day. For me, one of those passions is my love of the outdoors. It was a mutual love of outdoor activities (such as cross-country skiing, biking, hiking and canoeing) that initially attracted me to my husband, and when we think about our lives, both present and future, the pursuit of outdoor adventures figures largely into our dreams/plans/aspirations. Our first date (and countless since) was a day of cross-country skiing. A year or so later, I didn’t get an engagement ring – I got an engagement road bike, and couldn’t have been happier. The times in my life that I have felt the most alive, the most connected, the most me – they’ve been out in nature. Going out for a day is great, but adding a tent and going for days on end is even better.
I wasn’t consciously aware of this until recently, but engaging in these outdoor activities encompasses a number of things for me. What I get out of these experiences seems to nurture my body, mind and soul. Certainly, I like the physical exercise that they entail, as well as the opportunity to see and experience more natural surroundings. I like getting to places that you can’t get to unless you’re willing to put in a little (or a lot) of physical exertion. Though there may be some discomfort along the way, it is often part of the pleasure too. I also find time in nature to be spiritual – the moments that I have felt most connected to a higher power have largely been spent outdoors. Outside, I am able to find a sense of solitude and peace that I find difficult to obtain with the hum of electricity and traffic noise. I love the feeling of accomplishment when you reach the top of a mountain or a lovely campsite after a long day of hiking/biking/paddling. I love how it matters that the clothing I wear outside is functional more than fashionable. I love how my time spent outdoors seems to increase my gratitude in life – I come home appreciating things like hot running water, for example, which I would otherwise take for granted numerous times a day. I love how simple pleasures like wool socks and a hot mug of tea can feel so amazing. I love knowing that I have everything I need on my back – it seems like the easiest way to put the real priorities in order: Food, check. Shelter, check. Loved ones along for the ride, check. Nothing else really matters.
Also, whether intended or not, you get closer to the people you are with on outdoor trips. Doing nothing but hiking all day generally results in some fabulous conversations, as well as some wonderful time to do nothing but ponder your own inner workings.
Okay, so you probably get the picture now – I like being outside. And for our first few years together, I feel that my husband and I were doing a really good job of finding a balance in our lives that included our passion for outdoor activities. It was just part of our lifestyle, and one that we dreamed about continuing as we started a family.
So, fast-forward to today, and our little family of 2 has doubled in size. We now have a daughter who will be 3 next month, and another daughter who is 13 months old. And here’s where I’m supposed to write how we still do all of these activities, right? How nothing has changed? Well, obviously, things have changed – kids change your life in many wonderful ways, and in some ways that are difficult to anticipate. When I got pregnant we got ourselves a fabulous backpacking child-carrier, as we were hoping to still do overnight backpacking trips and continue on with life as before as much as possible. We forgot to consider a few things though: for one, although some degree of discomfort might be part of the journey for us, we certainly didn’t feel the same way about our daughter. Thus, when she was done being in the backpack after an hour or so, that was that – it’s no fun to hike with a miserable child. So, no, we haven’t been doing week-long backpacking trips with our toddler and baby. And that’s not to say it’s impossible, and kudos to all those people out there who have succeeded in that – but for us, it’s not feasible at this particular moment in our lives. But that doesn’t mean we have hung up our hiking boots entirely. Instead, we have found ways to share our love of the outdoors with our children, and still engage in those experiences that we find so necessary for our own physical and mental health. It has taken a bit of trial-and-error (and continues to) but I guess our answer to finding balance has been to adjust our expectations. I did not say lowered our expectations on purpose, as I think there is a difference in attitude there, and it took us a bit of time to realize that ourselves.
In adjusting expectations, we have reduced our distances and come to appreciate that sometimes success isn’t reaching the top of a mountain, but may be in getting outside at all. For example, when our eldest daughter was 9 months old we did a 6-week road trip between Vancouver and San Francisco, with a mix of camping, yurt-stays and hotels along the way. We had anticipated that we’d do a greater amount of camping than we did, and more long-distance hiking. But we adjusted to life with a 9-month old pretty quick, and realized that some days our “hiking” might be a walk around the campground interpretive trail. We found that no matter how lovely Mount Rainier might be, it’s not as lovely when it’s cold, rainy and foggy and your daughter is not sleeping – but after packing up our camp in the cold early morning hours and feeling a little like we had failed, we ended up having a lovely picnic breakfast as the rain lifted, at a roadside turnout overlooking a gorgeous valley. The trip was challenging at times, but it probably gave us a good indication as to what we did and did not like doing with a baby in tow. And overall, we realized that our goal with our kids is to help instil a love of the outdoors. During our first summer as parents, we spent a number of nights in a tent, and even managed to do a canoe trip. The trick here, again, was to adjust expectations. We went for an hour-long canoe only, and stayed on the same island campsite for 2 nights – did I mention that we were with my parents? The 4-to-1 adult-to-baby ratio definitely helped! We still went skiing and biking, pulling our daughter in a trailer behind us – but we went for shorter distances, timed our outings around nap periods, and were pickier about weather conditions. Now that we’ve added a second child to the mix, it’s a bit trickier – we had planned to try a canoe camping trip this summer, but ended up abandoning that idea to do some car-camping trips instead. Again, we’ve adjusted our expectations – because underlyingly, the important thing for us is to get outside, and to raise our children in an outdoor lifestyle, so that when they are a bit older, we’ll be able to realize our dream of backpacking as a foursome or doing some bike touring as a family. If we go for a hike and that involves a lot of playing in the woods but very little distance covered, then so be it – because at the end of the day, the kids only know that they were outside, they got dirty and they had fun, and that’s awesome.
Now, remember how earlier I talked about what outdoor activities mean to me? Well, our new version of outdoor activities with the kids doesn’t actually achieve all of those things which I need, in particular, the exercise. This has also been an adjustment, as my husband and I used to always exercise together, and now we can’t because someone has to be home with the kids. Thus, we now take turns getting out for a run or a bike, and I try to do daily yoga, even if I can only fit in a single pose. Finding time to exercise has certainly been a challenge for us, which I could write an entire blog entry about by itself, but basically, we’ve realized the importance of exercise for our well-being both mentally and physically, and so it really is a high priority.
Our advice to ourselves has been to embrace the changes that come with having kids, dream big about what adventures might be in store for our family, but be flexible with these dreams along the way and adjust our expectations as necessary. In doing so, we’ve also had to examine what we individually need to bring balance to our lives (whether that be biking for my husband, or yoga for me) and remind each other of the importance of engaging in those activities. I’m sure that it will be an ongoing challenge for us, but one that I’m pretty excited about having the opportunity to explore.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Amanda Sullivan lives with her husband and 2 children in Ottawa, where she is a part-time speech-language pathologist and a part-time stay-at-home mom.