Recently, my son Josh and I have been revisiting an adventure from six years ago. Together we hiked the southernmost 273 miles of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to North Carolina. Our trip down memory lane is inspired by a college essay prompt. The prompt reads: Discuss an accomplishment, event or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. As Josh works on his essay it is an opportunity for me to look at that experience through his eyes, and his memory, as well as to explore my own answer.
It was late fall of 2013 and I had been feeling generally uninspired and depressed when my therapist asked me to name something that I had always wanted to do. “Hike the AT,” I responded without really thinking about it. Her response turned my world around: “Do it,” she said. I had excuses: “But I have work, how would I afford it, I am a single parent, after all … I have Responsibilities.” To all of them, she simply gently said, “Figure it out.” Her advice, while initially overwhelming, led to an experience of personal growth, and one that gave me a new understanding of myself. Apparently for Joshua, too.
The following spring, Josh and I began our hike. As Josh explores the above prompt for his essay, he is remembering what he learned about fellow hikers, how he gained the dexterity of hanging our bags out of the reach of bears, and the joy of food when climbing mountains! The experience for him was an eye-opening look at a broader swath of humanity. He met people who were deeply hurting, and he walked with them. He met people who were pushing their own physical limits and he pushed with them. He climbed mountains and he fjorded streams. He scared away bears, and carried all that he needed on his back. We did all of those things together.
But we remember different moments, we learned different lessons. As he writes his essay, I am learning that the lessons he carries from that adventure are his. I gave him the opportunity to learn, but not the lessons themselves, those are his. And that is a growth moment for me as a parent. I have to bite my tongue sometimes to keep from pushing what I learned on him, but it is worth the biting to be able to truly hear what he learned for himself, what his lessons are.
As he explores this prompt, he is becoming aware of the ways in which that experience shaped him, gave him confidence and taught him skills. As I explore, I am reminded how valuable doing the things that seem impossible, or at least impractical, might just be. And doing hard things with our kids can have unexpected rewards both at the time, and, sometimes, years later. It has also been a reminder that I don’t need so much stuff, and that being in the woods makes me feel alive. Each of our lessons were, and are, valuable. And they belong to each of us. I am so grateful to have shared that experience with Josh, and I am equally grateful to revisit it now, through his eyes.
Jennifer Moore-Kerr is a mom, a free spirit and a barefoot dancer living in Spring Green where she can walk to the river and commune with friends. She can often be found welcoming locals and visitors alike to the Spring Green General Store where she tends the register most days.