Raising Driftless Kids

Nature and exploring new places are pretty important to our family. The pandemic, medical issues and home remodeling projects have kept us close to home this summer. I feel like I’ve used every trick in my parenting bag. My kids are over being together all the time. I referee several arguments per day. We’re learning new ways to work through our disagreements, but it’s hard when you’re with the same people all the time, having the same disagreements over and over again.  

Books and movies are our constant companions for mental adventures, but our hearts are longing for the ability to explore new places. Typically, we visit one or two national parks per summer. We’re now on our second summer without these adventures and my heart is longing for mountains, canyons, ocean — something different and new.

I am grateful for the magical Driftless. We are so lucky to have these hills, bluffs and canyons to explore. When my youngest was smaller I would strap him onto my back in his carrier and we would join my two older children on adventures exploring new trails, new towns, new parks, etc. Last summer, with the increased use of our state parks during the pandemic, we stayed close to home and didn’t take advantage of the parks and natural areas. However, this year we are venturing out more.

On the evening of my 40th birthday in July, we decided to test it out with a hike into the canyon at Stephens’ Falls in Governor Dodge State Park. We had the canyon to ourselves. My youngest wanted to run and jump. Everything was slick from recent rain. We told him he needed to walk slowly and carefully, or he would get hurt. You can guess what happened next. He’s almost 5. The lure of jumping off a rock was too much; and before I could grab him, he slipped and fell. Luckily, he fell forward onto a muddy path, only scraping his knee and elbow. However, he howled. He screamed. His sounds echoed in the canyon.  

This brought back memories of previous vacations in national parks. My middle child fell off of a rock and a fallen tree during a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. The howls echoed the same on that trail. Similar incidents happened at various parks — I even took one heck of a digger at Yellowstone National Park while taking a photo. Seriously, watch out for wet rocks.

Nature is the perfect playground. Accidents can happen regardless of whether your adventure is in your own neighborhood or far away. These are opportunities to discuss the importance of listening, following directions and being safe while exploring. The memories, even of injuries, sustain us, and the experiences help us develop our connection with the world around us. While we still have a month left in our summer break, we will make those connections with gratitude. We all deserve adventures — even if they are right in our own backyards.

Ainsley Rowe Anderson is a mom of three whose roots run deep in the Driftless Area mineral districts of Wisconsin and Illinois. She is a teacher who enjoys sharing her thoughts on raising children in the Driftless in this space on a rotating basis with other columnists focused on education and kids.