My son is a climber. He is happiest when he is up in a tree. I couldn't figure out why there were smudges on the wall in the stairwell, until one day I caught him going up the stairs without touching the steps. He spread out, a hand and foot on each side, and was shimmying up the staircase. After he finished washing the walls, I decided I needed to find a more appropriate way for him to work on his climbing skills. The children have discovered a love for the sport of rock climbing.
They have climbed rock walls at parties and events. Their favourite place to climb though, is a climbing gym about an hour from our home. It is an amazing place with forty ropes and over eighty climbs, as well as a bouldering area. The centrepiece of the gym is the chimney. At 100' it is the highest indoor climb in Canada.
When you first arrive at the gym you are given a mini-lesson on how to tie the knots and belay. Since this most recent trip was only our second time at the gym, it was good to have a refresher. My mother came along so that both children could climb at the same time. At one point my mother commented it was getting hard on her shoulders doing the ropes. I reminded her that you aren't pulling the kids up the wall. They do the work, you just keep the rope tight.
They hadn't been climbing long when they started asking to climb the chimney. I was trying to avoid it. The first time they climbed the chimney was absolutely terrifying--for me. My daughter made it to the top using the ladder, but I made my son come back down when he was only halfway up when I heard a clink, followed by "Uh-oh." I panicked. He was only six at the time. He never forgave me.
Here is the thing about the chimney--you can't go in there with the climber. The person holding the ropes sits in a chair in the crawlspace just outside the chimney. You have to keep the rope taut, so that if the climber slips they don't bang around in there like the clapper of a bell, and you have to do it all by feel. After a staff member came and did a safety check, my boy began to climb.
It seemed to take forever, and the rope just kept piling at my feet. One hundred feet is a long way up there. He wanted to climb using the holds instead of the ladder. He only needed to use the ladder for a few rungs when he wasn't quite tall enough to reach a hold. Finally he called down excitedly that he was at the top and that the view was amazing. I asked if he was ready to come down, but he wanted to stay up there and enjoy the view a little longer. When he was ready I let him down. I was so proud. My daughter went next, and although I was still a little shaky, I think it gets easier every time.
I guess it's kind of like life. I won't always have them in my sight, as they go off and explore the world, but I can be their safety support system. We have to trust each other, and trust that there will be others in their lives that have the skills and expertise to challenge them and help them grow. I can't do the climbing for them, but I can keep the connection tight. And one day they will be climbing mountains.