Bravery Takes Practice

I took my 10-year-old daughter to the Hollywood sign last week.  On clear days, we can see it from our house, and we’ve always talked about hiking up.  There is an easy route, heavy with tourist traffic, paved and well marked.  There is also a difficult one.  Two miles of rocky terrain and a thousand-foot elevation change.  That was the path we took.  At one point, the rocky trail traversed a ridge with a 300-foot drop on one side.  I made sure to keep Katie close to me for that part.

We’ve gotten better at these sorts of adventures.  I have become more patient.  Katie seldom cries anymore.   And though she is bold by nature, bravery still takes practice.  So, every few weeks, we plan an outing, and we test ourselves.  This time, it was the tough trail to the Hollywood sign. On other occasions, we have hiked the Grand Canyon, canoed white-water rapids, and snorkeled with leopard sharks (that one could have gone better).DadvMom.com_WhyWePracticeBeingBrave_SeaLions

Watching a movie, or playing video games together, would be easier.  And safer too.  Unless, that is, one weighs the risks of a childhood without adventure, of entering adulthood without having learned to navigate real challenges.  Sure, bad things might happen.  But such is the case with most things worth doing.  It’s the case with life itself. For my kids, the best way to learn the difference between risks worth taking, and ones better left alone, is to practice.

After our hike, Katie showed pictures to her friends.  A few were wide-eyed at the sight of the cliff.  She said, “Adventures are worth the mishaps.”  It’s clearly a borrowed phrase, and I am not sure Katie entirely grasps what it means.  But I like that her brain is starting to work that way.  She is beginning to understand the kinds of rewards that such endeavors can bring.  In time, she will appreciate the depth of character they can build.  And although our weekend exploits are mostly about the physical, they do feed another kind of bravery.

Only some of the challenges Katie is sure to face in life will require brawn.  The greatest tests will be moral ones.  I want her to be prepared, bold not only in the face of physical dangers, but brave in the way she treats others.  As proud as I am when she scales a cliff or surfs a big wave, nothing compares to what I feel when she draws on bravery to be kind.  As a ten-year-old, that may be as simple as inviting the new kid to sit with her at lunch – which she has done.  As a grown-up, standing up for others will involve far greater risks.

I can hope against hope that Katie will never be tested that way, never find herself staring down a mob or defending innocent lives in a warzone.  If I had my way, her greatest moral challenges would involve writing op-eds for the local paper or getting the school library to stock good books (you know, the ones with dangerous ideas). But I know my kid.  She is moved by the suffering of others, and will help those in need wherever that may lead.

That is why we practice being brave.  Some day, Katie will have to draw from the well we have filled together.  In that moment, she will learn how deep it goes.  And maybe, if I have done my job right, she will remember my hand on her shoulder, guiding her past the cliffs towards the big white sign over the next ridge.


A version of this story appeared on on Nov. 2, 2015.

Health & Fitness & Oreos

Where the Sidewalk Ends

The greatest thing about having a child is putting yourself second in your own life.

— Louis C.K.

Ken works occasionally in San Francisco, and since this is one of my favorite cities in the universe, the kids and I occasionally tag along. This past weekend, we stayed opposite the water in lovely Pacifica. But after a shabby night’s sleep in a stuffy hotel room, I decided I needed a walk. I meandered a trail beside the ocean, and it was glorious – blue-green water, salty sea air, breathtaking vistas. I breathed deeply and felt lucky. We have neither wealth nor fame nor power, but we have good love, good adventures, and good kids.

It was warmer than I anticipated so before heading up the steepest trail, I zipped back to the car for sunscreen and a hat. In the hotel parking lot, I felt selfish for keeping such a scenic sojourn all to myself. I ventured upstairs to see if anyone wanted to join in.

My three precious yahoos were sitting in the Jacuzzi tub eating mini-muffins, drinking apple cider, and watching the Disney Channel. Ken was asleep.




“I found an awesome trail!” I announced. “Who is up for a cool hike?”

No one acknowledged me. I stepped in front of the television and asked again.

“Hey, guys. Anyone want to come hiking?”

“Mom, I can’t see the TV.”



Ken muttered that he would like to come with, but then rolled over and went back to sleep.

That should have been my cue. They were on vacation. They had muffins. And crap TV. They were happy.

Instead, I muted the program to clarify my suggestion – the blue-green water, that crisp sea air. Again, they declined. It turns out that children do not care about these things. And again, I failed to make my exit. Instead, I cajoled, complained, and insisted. Had we really driven six hours to watch television? Didn’t family walks always make us happy? Wouldn’t it be great to discover some hole-in-the-wall seafood shack for lunch?

After you live with folks for a while, you learn their particular kind of crazy. When Ken and the kids realized I was not going to drop this, they begrudgingly acquiesced.

It took nearly ninety minutes, but eventually, everyone was washed, dried, and dressed for the wonderful family outing I had declared. We set off up, up, up the hill.


It was strange to be ascending with people so obviously downtrodden.

It was hotter than it had been when I originally set out. My formerly energetic pace was quickly slackened by grumbles, quarrels, and literal foot-dragging.

“I’m hot.”

“Walking is dumb.”

“I can’t believe we’re missing ‘A.N.T. Farm’ for this.”

I should have left them at the hotel. What kind of idiot drags kids out of a hot tub to go hiking? If and when we ever finished this dirty ramble, they were just going to need another bath. I had desperately wanted to share this outing with them, and as soon as we began sharing the outing, I desperately wanted them to go away.


That’s the funny thing about doing anything with children. It does not matter what you do or where you go – Disney World, a restaurant, ice skating, the bathroom, the library, the airport, the mall — the very presence of the children makes doing that thing more difficult and usually less enjoyable. I often wonder why we bring our children anywhere at all.

They made me cranky and I made them cranky, and various threats were lobbed regarding the abandonment of the entire business, but we kept going anyway – me, because I refused to return to the hotel yet again without first climbing this damn hill, and them, because … well, they are kids, and kids are prone to follow trails and sidewalks until they end. Shel Silverstein taught us that.


And here’s the thing: it’s actually really hard to stay angry when you are A. exercising, and B. face to face with beauty. It just is. And C. It’s hard to stay mad at your children when they have stopped being mad at you.

So, what began as a swift, splendid hike by myself turned into a slow, terrible hike with the kids. And then, for about eleven minutes, that same slog turned kind of awesome again. We caught a lizard. We reached the summit. We followed a secret trail to a hidden cove. We ate wild fennel on the beach. We even made it halfway back to the car before everyone started arguing again.


That trek was different with our children there. It was so much worse, but also a little better.

And yet another reminder that we have neither wealth nor fame nor power, but we have good love, good adventures, and good kids. Mostly.