One of the BIG messages that we aim to send through Tales of a Mountain Mama is that the outdoors and adventuring is for everyone. We believe that it makes for happier kids, happier families, and happier lives.
However, when it comes right down to it, some of us certainly have more challenges than others. I am so very honored to have Lauren on the blog today with some incredible inspiration about how her family gets outside despite the challenges of adoption and a special-needs child. Please, please leave her some love in the comments and do check out her blog – its amazing (see bio at the end of her post.)
Nearly 13 years ago, I embarked on a hike that would change my entire life. It was a warm summer hike in the mountains of Tennessee where I happened to meet my future husband. I had been cooling off in the famed crystal clear blue holes of the area and my soon to be better-half had been whitewater kayaking nearby.
We just happened to end up on the same trail in a wonderful, outdoor twist of fate. It seems that our initial meeting was to set the stage for the wild and wonderful journey that awaited us.
The first seven years of our marriage were filled with hiking and backpacking trips, camping excursions, whitewater kayaking trips, off road adventures, caving sprees and SCUBA diving trips to the Caribbean. We spent virtually all of our free time outdoors and were always planning our next great adventure.
On our seventh wedding anniversary, however, we embarked on an all new type of journey: parenthood. We spent that anniversary aboard an old wooden boat on the Mekong River in southern Vietnam, holding our newly adopted 11 month old son.
It seemed to many that our days of outdoor adventuring would be over. As it turns out, that couldn’t have been further from the truth. We whisked our son away with us on all of our outdoor adventures. Sure we had to modify or scale back on some of our trips, but we certainly didn’t slow down. Over time, our son grew to love the outdoors as much as we did.
And then in 2011, our lives again were changed. This time we found ourselves in China, adopting a 4 year old little boy with significant special needs. Everyone thought we were crazy. “How would we maintain our outdoor lifestyle as a special needs family?” they would ask.
We were left a bit baffled and confused by all the questions. I continually found myself thinking, but isn’t the outdoors for everyone? I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t have a few moments of panic during our long wait for our son. I would sometimes wonder if maybe we were laying to rest our days of outdoor adventure.
I continually found myself thinking, but isn’t the outdoors for everyone?Lauren
When our new son finally came home in early 2011, we wasted no time in introducing him to the outdoors–something he’d never known behind orphanage walls. It took time to even build up to a nature walk in the park.
I’m not sure how else to describe his initial reaction to nature, however, other than to say it was truly magical. With a diagnosis of autism and significant cognitive delay, and the fact that he had much trauma to overcome from his previous life, daily life could be a huge struggle.
He hoarded food. He exploded into a mess of violence over the smallest of matters. Riding in the car made him sick and dizzy. He sobbed and moaned throughout each night out of fear and grieving.
But outdoors, everything was different. In fact, everything became much better for all of us.
The quietness of nature calmed our son’s sensory system. The rich sensory environment provided just the right amount of input for him. The freedom to explore ignited his sense of wonder. Outdoors, it seemed as if he could conquer the world.
In the beginning, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. Our first real family hike didn’t go so well, probably due to poor planning on our part. Back then, we were more of a flying by the seats of our pants kind of family.
Now, however, we must take time for careful planning to insure our special needs son will have a joyful and stress-free time. And over time, our son with special needs has followed in his brother’s footsteps and has fallen in love with the outdoors.
Today, 1.5 years after arriving home, you will find our son with special needs asking to go camping, hiking, canoeing and off-roading. His latest passion is rock climbing (we’ve only taken him climbing indoors for now.)
People are continually shocked when they see what our son has accomplished. I don’t really see it that way. To me, we are just doing what we love.
We make adaptations for our special needs son so that he can enjoy the outdoors. His motor skills are delayed and he needs assistance with many tasks. Safety is also a big concern and we make sure to take every precaution imaginable to keep him safe.
It can be exhausting, but to me, it is certainly worth the extra effort. So far, our five year old son with special needs enjoys hiking (for now he is carried in a backpack but can hike the non-treacherous areas for a short time), canoeing, caving, horseback riding and indoor rock climbing.
We are brainstorming new ideas about how to keep him safe as he grows older. I am constantly finding that my son is capable of much more than I give him credit for. Just a few weekends ago I ran the Columbia Mini Muddy Buddy race with my two sons.
My son with special needs completed the run with my assistance. As we crossed the finish line hand-in-hand, I couldn’t help but shed a few tears for my son who has overcome so much in his short life.
Dear reader, I do not know what your story may be. But what I do know is that no matter the obstacles that may be present in your life, adventure truly is within your grasp. The outdoors belong to us all.
No excuses–get outside and find your own adventure!
Lauren (aka Hiking Mama) is a lover of nature, avid hiker, outdoor junkie, former biochemist and a mama to two boys adopted from across the globe–one who happens to have autism. She fiercely believes that adventure is for all.
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