Parenting at 17,000 feet

All six explorers triumphant at 17,000 feet

(Greg) Sometimes, as parents, it is hard to know when to push a kid out of his comfort zone and when to back off.  This trip throws comfort zone challenges at us almost everyday. Some are spectacular; like jumping into a gorge in Zimbabwe, watching predators violently rip apart prey, or walking into cold black water on a black sand beach as a territorial sea lion bull bellows warnings to stay out. Some challenges are more mundane: using the stinky ceramic hole-in-the floor, eating countless new foods, or just finding the discipline to write in journals every day.

Dana and I typically don’t push kids into the spectacular challenges. We sometimes gently cajole, but if a child is not ready to try something radical, it’s ok. There is almost always plenty of sibling pressure anyway. We do, however, consistently choose to fight battles over the more mundane. Writing everyday is non-negotiable although we have witnessed every negotiating tactic imaginable, and trying new foods, new toilets, simple words in new languages, or asking strange people for directions or information may be embarrassing and uncomfortable, but it is part of learning new cultures and discovering personal independence and, thus, mandatory.

So, spectacular challenges are voluntary, mundane challenges are mandatory. Until yesterday.

Yesterday, our final day trekking in the high Andes, challenged us with a morning ascent over a pass at 17,000 feet. This is very high. Steps are taken slowly or the head pounds immediately. Even the simplest exertion demands wind-sprint like respiration afterwards. We had all acclimated pretty well, spending the last three days over 14,000 feet. Dana had even body slammed an alpaca while trying to capture it for shearing, then suffered intense altitude sickness for her heroics (I have pictures and some video). Plus, we had two horses for anyone feeling uncomfortable.  The kids had used the horses judiciously, although more consistently as the altimeter rose.

The question was: who would get the horses for the climb over the pass? Or, put more poetically, who would overcome their own discomfort and climb victoriously over the pass in a memorable rite of passage into personal independence and self-confidence? Three kids suggested they might prefer the horses. Tough parenting call. Two kids rode the first few hundred vertical feet, then, as the horses stopped to exchange passengers, a parenting audible was called and this spectacular challenge was made mandatory. The horses went to the top with empty saddles and all six explorers traipsed slowly but triumphantly to the top.

Because of the parental push, the 17,000 foot Palomani Pass will be remembered as a great conquest and another big step towards maturity for all of them, rather than a great success by a few and a scenic pony ride for the rest. Maybe spectacular challenges should be made mandatory more often? Stay tuned for the video of all four kids eating duck embryo on the half shell in Viet Nam. Oh yeah!!

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7 Responses to “Parenting at 17,000 feet”

  1. Hi Dana, Greg, Alex, Emma, Andrew, Reis
    Sven-Olof Lindbland sent this quote to all of us. “In the end we will conserve only what we love. We love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” Baba Dioum, 1968
    I immediately thought of you.
    (by the way, what do you do with a year of mail?)
    Gail B

  2. Love reading all the updates, as an FYI…taylor is studying “explorers” in her world history portion of 5th grade social studies and we were running through flash cards, the question “who was the first to sail around the world?” came up this weekend, and William (3rd grade) jumped up raised his hand and with a straight face said THE WHITES!…… we all had a good laugh! everyone is learning around here too! best to you all the field family

  3. Another jumbo WOW moment by the White family! I have kept reading and following along with your incredible adventure and continue to be in awe. What a great bond you are all building. Good call on the audible as you no one would want to remember that final climb as “the pony ride”.

  4. OK so I’m all about parenting within certain comfort limits..setting examples…but body slamming an Alpacha? who does that? Was the wool worth it? Reis what did you think of your mom after that? Alexandra I’ll bet you’re not missing the middle school drama anymore. Emma I know you’re probably egging your siblings on all the time. Personally Al,Em,Andrew & R I always bring a tank to a knife fight Greg and Dana you’ll have to explain to the kids how that translates.

    A life changing and defining experience for all of you.

    Love Grimm

    PS Reis any cool flavors of Ice Cream? Like Duck?

  5. Such inspiration ! Guess I will get on with some of my more challenging chores ! I am sitting under a golden canopy on the Cape and am in awe of the life altering opportunities the children are experiencing… well… Greg and Dana as well. But the children will never shy away from a new experience or challenge without reflecting upon these months of Global Learning ! Great article in this weeks CC Times on a bok “Think Globally, Write Locally” … a “multi volume science series”… a pdf awaits if you would like to send me your email…. also a pic of the children atop Machu Picchu …

    All the best ! Theresa

  6. Hey whites hope your having fun on your trip !!!!!!

  7. HI Whites!
    All fo the stuff you posted is awesome! I hope you are having fun on your trip! We are going to video chat with you guys this friday! Emma will love middle school! It’s awesome!