There is Tremendous Perspective From the Top of a 40-foot Climbing Wall

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Part II of a three-part series about me walking into the “wilderness” with my 7-year-old niece and walking out with a completely different perspective on being a father. (Read intro post here)
– – –

Saturday morning was the “official” start of my niece’s father-daughter campout, which was a little confusing to me. After being there 12 hours and experiencing a miserable night of sleep, I was baffled by the term “official” on our itinerary. (Trying to sleep in the before-mentioned prison beds made things pretty “official” in my book.)

I guess Friday night wasn’t “official,” because we ate dinner at a local restaurant – complete with prime rib and an adult beverage.
I can understand that.
But I would have thought smores by the campfire and letting the kids run around like someone accidently left their cages open would definitely constitute “official.” I was wrong.

It didn’t matter…I was ready to “officially” get things started and tackle any adventure that came our way.

But before we jump into canoeing and candle making, my “wake-up call” on Saturday morning is worth mentioning. It definitely helped lay the foundation for the day ahead. (Reminder: Herding cats.)

The eight girls in our cabin were specifically instructed to stay asleep – or at least confined to their bunks – until 7 o’clock on Saturday morning. I guess that’s like telling a kid to NOT push that big red button, because the whispers and giggles started at 6:15. (They just couldn’t hold out for 45 more minutes.)
“Is anyone awake?” one of my 7-year-old roommates whispered
into the darkness.
“I am,” came a tiny voice from across the room.
Then there was the not-so-quite: “I’m still trying to sleep!”
I think a couple of the dads wanted to scream: “Me too!”
After a couple more back-and-forth whispers, little footsteps were added to the morning mix of noises – some were headed to the bathroom, while others were off to another bunk.
At 6:45 the “Glow Stick Incident” occurred, and there was NO WAY we were going to make it our 7 a.m. goal.
One of my 7-year-old roommates accidently busted open the glow stick that she received the night before. (Rumor has it that she chewed off the end of the glow stick, but I cannot confirm and/or deny that.) Regardless of how the plastic rod was penetrated, she felt inclined to draw on the cabin floor with the illuminated liquid.
It was a glowing mess – one that quickly became a hot topic of conversation in the cabin.
I was still lying in my bunk, aware of the glowing art project, but not that concerned. My niece was still in her bunk – being the model Wildflower – so I didn’t feel inclined to get involved.
Then I got my “wake-up call.”
With a hint of pride in her voice, my niece exclaimed: “My glow stick busted, too.” Then her pride was quickly replaced with confused concern: “Oh, no….it’s on my sleeping bag….AND my arm.”
“GIVE ME THE GLOW STICK,” I firmly said from the bunk below. (No one was asleep after my dad/coach voice rattled the walls.) Her little hand reached over the edge of the bunk bed and handed me the plastic stick.
As I demanded that she get down and wash off “the glow,” possible headlines filled my head: “Camper poisoned by toxic glow stick” and “DFW 7-year-old stained for life with glow stick goop.”
Everyone laughed at the glowing slime on her arm, hands, and PJs as she climbed down the ladder. She wore it like a badge of honor.
They begged her not to wash it off, and she probably wouldn’t have without another firm directive from me.
The cats were officially on the loose and the herding had begun.
– – –

When we finally got dressed and attacked the brisk morning, we didn’t stop until we laid back down on our prison beds that night.
• We played miniature golf
• We paddled a canoe
• We went on a treasure hunt
• We shot BB guns
• We went to the archery range
• We made candles
• We memorized scripture

• We participated in relay races.


Just trying to recall all the activities for this blog post made me tired – imagine actually doing this over the course of one day. WOW!
The really tiring part was all the walking between activities. (My niece asked how far I thought we walked on Saturday. I guessed 6 miles.) Do you have any idea how difficult it is to keep a “tribe” of 7-year-olds focused on a specific destination and moving in the same direction? Trying doing it for 6 miles.
Walking…walking…walking….“Squirrel!” (And now we’re running in a totally different direction.)

And then there was the barrage of rhetorical questions throughout the day:
“Are we almost there?” – I thought this phrase was only applicable in the car on long road trips. I was wrong.
“Can we go?” – If they were giving out a badge for patience this weekend, our girls would have missed out.
“Can I have another glow stick?” – No response, just tired glares.
– – –


My niece’s favorite part of the day was climbing the 40-foot rock wall. I was convinced that she would give a valiant effort, but I was skeptical that she’d make it to the top. I guess you could say that I had guarded realism.
She surprised the heck out of me AND provided me a welcomed slap across the face.
It was at the base of that rock wall – watching all the kids try to conquer the 40-foot climb – when my life started flashing before my eyes. (Specifically my life as a father.) While I started making excuses for Mary Grace before she even put on the harness, other parents refused to let their child quit before they reached the top.
“Settle down, Dad – it’s just a rock wall,” I thought to myself with a judgmental smirk. I made a silent promise to myself that I would never be that guy.
But when Mary Grace started to throw in the towel – about 25 feet up the wall – success was the only option. It’s like I knew there was a boost of confidence that waited for her at the top.
I didn’t scream: “Keep going!” or “You will NOT quit!”
I just encouraged. (Thanks to the before-mentioned dad.)
As she got closer to the top, I started to feel guilty for not giving her a chance out of the gate. She was going to make it and I was going to have roasted crow with a side of eggs for my afternoon snack.“Almost there…a little more…YEAH, MARY GRACE!”

After she rappelled down the wall – and her feet were safely on the ground – I hugged her neck and told her how proud I was of her. But I was also subconsciously making a promise to my son.
“I will always encourage him to go a little farther,” I thought. “I will never protect him with excuses – especially before he even tries.”
Probably the two biggest parenting lessons I learned from my 7-year-old niece that day:
• If you want something bad enough – you WILL succeed
• A little bit of confidence can go a long way
That’s what I loved most about Mary Grace’s accomplishment –the intense shot of confidence it provided. I’m convinced that climbing that wall was her favorite part of the weekend because she tasted success.
It was my favorite part of the weekend because it started to open my eyes.

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One Comment on “There is Tremendous Perspective From the Top of a 40-foot Climbing Wall”

  1. Eric Barclay
    February 3, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    Great post, Drew! Great meeting you and it was wonderful having MG as part of the mix.

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