Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Hiking in New Hampshire... or why we don't pay for physical therapy

Having H. home these past 5 months has made me much more aware of the activities which we do as a family. I don't think of us as an overly active family with different types of outdoor activities happening every weekend, but I guess I have to re-evaluate that opinion, because we do a heck of a lot more than H. is used to. And, if the opportunity to climb up mountains presents itself, we will take advantage of it. As we were climbing/hiking yet again, it did make me kind of tongue-in-cheek think to myself that this was our physical therapy program. (I don't mean to disparage physical therapy or physical therapists with that thought or my title, but living in an active family with normally developing children is really good for delayed ones. I haven't yet taken a picture of the '6-pack' that K. is rocking these days, but it is a lot of muscle, especially on a little guy who didn't even have enough muscle to hold his rib cage down four years ago. Clearly something is working well.)

Well, as I said, we are happy to take advantage of mountains when they come our way, and being in New Hampshire presents a lot of mountains. My brother- and sister-in-law have a great book about the best hikes for children in New Hampshire and they chose one out of there for all of us to try. (Can I just pause right here and say that I'm just a little jealous of the fact this book even exists, that it's really thick, and that they live where there can be such a book? Sometimes the prairie just doesn't measure up.) Anyway, we packed up some lunch, grabbed the hiking boots and set out. Of course, it being 'Curry time', a phenomenon which never fails to astonish my parents, it was lunch time when we reached the trail head, so we sat down and ate our lunch before beginning. 

H., L., J., and G.

It was a very picturesque trail head and the boys, D. and TM,  preferred to eat standing on the rocks.

K.

A whole lot of Currys

And then we set off. It wasn't a terribly difficult climb, but the abundance of tree roots which had to be navigated made it a little tricky. An added bonus was the small creek/waterfall/flumes we were hiking right next to.


D., up ahead on the trail


At a couple of points the trail crossed the creek and you had to step from rock to rock to get across. It was fun and definitely a plus for the more able-bodied among us, but it was tricky for H. and we had several adults stationed along the way to help her. It was also a bit tricky for the adults carrying baby backpacks because the weight is distributed so differently from what you're used to.

 Every so often we were rewarded with some really beautiful waterfalls.

Here are TM and his cousin climbing up the next section.

We never made it to the actual destination, but it was a lovely hike. At least it was a lovely hike for most of us; I'm pretty sure that H. is not on board the whole hiking bandwagon yet. On the plus side, her endurance is much, much better. There was very little whining about being hot and tired... a significant factor in our very flatland hike in June. The other plus is that when we stopped, she did enjoy the scenery around her. But the whole active-thing is still very much a struggle.

I like to analyze things and hiking for several hours gave me ample opportunity for thinking. Plus, I had the very interesting comparisons of watching G. and L. and their 4 year old cousin on the hike. Like so many things, I think moving around in a natural environment is a learned skill. Watching 3- and 4-year olds do this is interesting because they are really at the beginning of learning how to hike. Before this, they were often carried, and at least our little girls still were when they got too tired. They are learning at an early age how to look at the trail and judge which path is best, they learn how to get themselves up and down different elevations (looking for footholds and handholds), and they are at an age where they naturally want to do everything themselves. Our niece managed to do the several miles we hiked all on her own, and G. and L. did large portions themselves. None of them saw moving through their environment as something fearful, but an adventure to have with complete confidence that the adults in their lives would keep them safe.

This attitude was in stark contrast to H. Where the little girls saw adventure, she saw difficulty and could not figure out how to overcome it. She only saw wilderness where everyone else saw a clear path. She did not have enough bodily awareness to move herself through different terrains and elevations. She could not transpose her knowledge of how to walk and climb stairs in a domestic setting to the outdoors. It was as if, through lack of exposure with nature, she had missed a window of brain development.

Since I'm of the strong opinion that the brain is plastic, and even if you have missed the easiest window to learn something, with work you can still learn it, I have mentally enrolled H. in Hiking 101. So I played therapist. After watching her for a bit, I realized that she didn't move as she normally did around the house. When unsure, she would take a step, bring her other foot up to the first, and then take another step. (I can tell you that this method of hiking is neither fast nor efficient.) At some points, I would literally pick up her leg and show her how a more normal walking gait would work.... put your right foot here, now pick up your left foot and step over to the next space, moving her legs for her. After a couple of times of this, she caught on and verbally coached herself as she moved saying with each step, "Step over, step over, step over." At other places, I showed her where to place her hands to support herself through tricky bits and we would try it again. On flat bridges (where the drop off into very shallow water was all of six inches), she would inch along as if walking on top of a suspension bridge. J. and I showed her that you can walk normally on them without danger and we did it several times together. In other places were large stones placed as stairs. Even the little girls viewed them as stairs, but H. just couldn't see it. Once again, I moved her legs for her to teach her how to climb up and down. It was a slow journey, but every time she took a big step from stone to stone by herself, or climbed up and down the tree rooted path, she was so proud of herself. I have seen this with other things... things she is pretty convinced she cannot do, but I think she can. I often feel like the wicked mother during the process of getting her to try something because she is adamant that she cannot, but when she does accomplish it, it is worth it. And once again, I'm angry. Angry at all she has missed and angry at all she has intuited that she cannot do. Because my girl is able; it will just be a very, very long road to instill this idea within her.
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Part 1 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5

1 comment:

TJC said...

It was a difficult trail! As the Observing Uncle, I have to say that I was dang impressed with H's persistence AND your patience and care. That long road WILL pay off, with interest. Keep your hand to the plow and don't look back!

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