Doesn’t this photo look as though climbing as a mom or working out as a mom is a piece of cake? I am here to tell you what this photo failed to capture was a morning filled with tears from a 2 year old young daughter (who I adore named Kaitlin) who did not want to hike into the bouldering area. That was followed by the fact that we weren’t even sure how to fit everything into our crash pads. We looked like two gumbies with overstuffed burritos on our backs and two toddlers who were not happy about our adventures. The bonus part is that you will clear out an area in no time and have the place to yourself.
I was honored when Vera wanted me to write a piece for her blog. This writing will capture what it is like to work out with a family and find our own time to train as climbers. Prior to having kids, my husband Tom and I lived in Phoenix and climbed almost every single weekend. We made great friends and had so many awesome memories. Neither one of us have ever been afraid to explore or take risks, until we became parents. When our son Ryan was born I was so tired and overwhelmed that I had no idea how to work out or take a child outdoors into our climbing world. My husband wanted to take a road trip with Ryan but I was too full of hormones to see the value of this trip (which I still regret not taking.) I am not afraid to admit that when I take a peek into the past, I was so nervous about being a new parent that the only thing I could think about was making it to the next day. Everything went out the door the first few months including working out and climbing. I am always impressed with the articles about the young mothers who have newborns at the crag. I’ll be honest and say I wish I could have been as carefree and confident as they were when my son was that age.
Climbing and working out is not a hobby for Tom and me - it's a lifestyle. If too many days pass without working out or climbing we both get very grumpy.
Fast forward about three years and we found our groove. Tom’s job relocated us back to the midwest. Because we had two toddlers, making it into the gym was not going to happen easily so we turned our basement into a climbing wall. This was a pretty easy project as we had a huge climbing wall in our home in Phoenix. We actually looked at homes based upon space for our wall. That’s what climbers do and real estate agents look at you like you’re crazy. We had a 15 foot wall in Phoenix in our front living room because we had 23 foot ceilings. Tom is an expert at building them and he has a great vision for spaces. We are both into bouldering and love steep climbing so we went to work building the wall of our dreams. I was in charge of the math and Tom was in charge of the actual building. I strongly suggest if you have the space and you’re a climber...build it.
We train all the time. Once at Shady Grove in the Red, Tom just finished onsighting a 12b and another climber asked him how he trained for it. His reply “I just climb in my basement all winter. ” The other climber was shocked and said “that must be one hell of a basement.”
When Ryan was about three and Kaitlin two, we decided that we were going to get back into our normal lives and take these little guys on the adventure of a lifetime...hanging out while we climb. We started with little trips to Hoot Bluff in Iowa and graduated to the Red River Gorge and one of our favorite places in the whole world (where we had our first date), Jackson Falls, Illinois.
This little photo is of Kaitlin ( age 2) topping out at Torrent Falls in Kentucky. It was not easy to tote two toddlers, but I figured out some tricks. I always went to the dollar store and put little presents in their backpacks that they could open when we got to the crag. This was a motivation to hike. We also bribed them with “treats” from the gas station to motivate them during the hike back. This is especially important if you’re in Muir Valley. Once Tom had to put 2-year old Kaitlin (who refused to hike) in the sling and carry her up from Muir Valley with a 50 lb climbing pack on his back.
I will also tell you that projecting a route can be impossible. I don’t know how they do it but they know when mom is on the rock and that’s when they decide to start WWIII over some lunchable. This is why I get upset when I read a climbing mag about some woman who has 10 kids, works 80 hours a week and climbs 5.13 like it is a walk in the park. My husband always teases me when he reads these articles.
What they don’t tell you is that she has a nanny, took a sabbatical from work and trains like a dog on the rock. She also has a crag in her backyard as well and never takes her kids with her when she is on a project. Honestly, these kinds of stories do not motivate mothers, they make us feel like incompetent women. A little voice inside my head would say “What the hell is wrong with you? You stay at home and only have two kids so why aren’t you cruising 5.15d?” In my defense I did finally redpoint Gravity Amp (12a) in Iowa over a three year span, fell at the anchors of Golden Shower (12b) the climb right next to it about a million times (currently still working on that one.), ran a PR in a marathon and won a few tennis tournaments which seems to pale in comparison to this superwoman.
While I am not even close to climbing a 5.13, I was acclimating our kids to travel, adventure and climbing. They became the best car travelers at only 4 years old and could easily manager a 9-12 hour car ride to the nearest crag. I became an expert at giving out little presents every few hours into the ride or renting the right movies. Travel was a lot slower than when Tom and I used to drive together but we didn’t care. Honestly, we both peed in bottles to save time from stopping.
We flew with them to Bishop to boulder and just watching their expressions as they saw the desert for the first time was awesome. These kids didn’t need electronics to have fun. They would spend hours in the desert, the forest or the boulders of southern Illinois making their own fun. To show just how tough any kid can be, a few Thanksgivings ago, we camped at Jackson Falls for our annual Thanksgiving tradition. The low at night was 22 degrees. To warm them up in the morning we sent them out for firewood. They had a blast carrying back big trees together and we got a kick out of watching them. This year was our first year staying home for Thanksgiving and Kaitlin commented “but camping is our tradition and I miss camping.” Music to my ears.
A few years ago we did take an unforgettable road trip. As a family we camped for two weeks and traveled out west. The kids still talk about how awesome that trip was and about how much they learned. There were hiccups with older children too as it was 100 degrees on our first 5 travel days and everyone was grumpy. I believe we all hated Mount Rushmore because we hiked around it in 105 degrees and we had just gotten out of the car after 20 hours of family time. Eventually we all acclimated to the weather and had one of the best trips of our lives. We shared so many laughs at the Cody rodeo and were anticipating Yellowstone. Their favorite part was whitewater rafting down the Snake River in Jackson Hole. At the time my boss (who claimed to be this big outdoorsman) asked how the camping went wondering how many times we had to abandon our plans and hit a hotel. I replied it was so awesome, we never had to stay in a hotel. He was shocked as he tried taking his three young girls camping and lasted two hours. I told him not to give up and that there will be more challenging nights initially but they will learn to love it.
For us, working out as a family is something we have always done and will continue to do. I won’t lie to you, there were plenty of tears and meltdowns at the crag or on a hike. There were times we even thought to ourselves “Why in the world are we doing this?” If you expect many hiccups or delays then you will never be disappointed. As a teacher I’m ready when organized chaos presents itself.
Now that the kids are 12 and 10 they are into their own sports. That has thrown us another curve ball for working out and planning. It's hard to fit in climbing workouts when we are running around every day of the week. It took us two years to figure out that “you pick a day for working out and you stick to it.” Too many times we were guilty of rescheduling at the last minute which ended with missing workouts. Any workout is better than no workout. I live by that and often have to remind myself of that when I’m trying to climb but all I can think about is the pile of laundry and the AP chemistry test I forgot to write.
Right now we aren’t able to get outside climbing as easily because our weekends are full, but we’ve adapted by using our holiday breaks as travel times to different crags all over the country. During the hot summer months we wakeboard and waterski up north. During the winter months we hit the slopes together. To my own surprise my own kids got me into a new sport when I signed them up for ski club. Now we ski and snowboard almost every winter weekend. It is so much fun when your kids are cheering you on.
Don’t ever be afraid to start working out with your kids no matter what your age. If you’re afraid to take your kids out with you, don’t be. There will be people like me somewhere in the area to cheer you on.
Jamie is fortunate to belong to a very active family which includes an awesome husband/workout partner/belayer named Tom and two adventurous kids, Ryan and Kaitlin. All have taught her the value of staying young and trying new things. Tom and Jamie both grew up in Illinois, and have also lived in Chicago and Phoenix. They are currently residing in Hartford, Wisconsin. During the day, Jamie has the honor of teaching 160 students all different levels of chemistry. She likes to blow things up (all are invited to come see her Halloween show.) A student once asked her if she had any normal hobbies as all of her hobbies seemed extreme. Having never really thought about it that way, she went through the list in her head and got her student's point! List in head: rock climbing, water skiing, snow skiing, trail running and tennis. Tennis seems to be the only normal one in the bunch. Every year after the AP Chem exam she shows a rock climbing video for the remainder of the testing week. It’s one way of showing them a glimpse into her world.