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Mariann Saether Jul 19th, 2019

Small Children, Great Adventures

I heard them whispering at times, my friends, as I moved around heavy and slowly in my last month of pregnancy. Do not get me wrong – it was the nice kind of whispering. At the same time there was certainly an expectation of me slowing down, to get more grounded, to re-focus my entire being. Mothers do not kayak class five, right? And they certainly do not travel around the world, searching for flooded rivers with a little one, all by themselves. Nor do they still try to compete at a World Championships, 6 weeks after giving birth. Well, some mothers do, and do so happily.

I am blessed with a partner who sees who I am very clearly. It was a joint decision to take our 3-week-old son on a road trip from Norway to Italy, with a stop in the Alps to bike and for my part, compete at the Adidas Sickline (Extreme kayaking) World Championships in 2016. I narrowly missed finals and placed 9th. I was happy with that. After a week of mountain biking in Finale Ligure in Italy, we flew to Chile, where we spent five months with our boy in our cabin on the shores of the world famous Futaleufu river. No electricity, no cell phone signals, but endless campfire nights, lots of amazing moments as our son became more and more aware of his surroundings and of course – world class kayaking on the door step.

The past three years have been an adventure in itself – on my first ever travel away from my son (then two-and-a-half-years-old) I enjoyed 10 days of slalom training in Prague. On my second travel ever away from my son, this past June, I flew to Boise, Idaho for a week, and won the World Championships in Extreme Kayaking on the North Fork of the Payette river.

Although these accomplishments are great, I strongly feel that the more important victories have been those with my son. Like when my son first rolled over on his belly, gazing at the lofty view from our Patagonia cabin, or when we snuggled into our RV the first night in Canada, a year ago, and I realized that we would be OK. We were travelling just the two of us, and he was then only one-and-a-half-years-old.

My desire to surf giant waves on flooded rivers overcome my worries doing so while travelling alone with the little one – my partner had to stay back in Norway due to work obligations. So, I booked us a plane ticket, an RV and teamed up with Natalie Kramer Anderson and her family. Together we travelled around eastern Canada hunting rivers and big waves in true stake-out fashion.

I have always thought that diversity is a cause for celebration. However, living an active lifestyle while pregnant often became a cause for controversy. Most people will tell you that you can live your life exactly like you want to; that it’s up to the pregnant woman to decide what is the best for her and her unborn child, and this of course extends into motherhood. But when I continued kayaking into my eighth month of pregnancy, or when I flew us both to Canada to go on a road trip for 3 weeks, then reactions started flooding in. Words like “irresponsible” and “unsafe” have been repeated, along with “selfish” and “not right”.

Why do we need to pick on what is different? Why do we feel the need to talk down what is unnatural for us, but natural for somebody else?

I have not found an answer, but if there is one thing I am certain of, it is that becoming a mother and creating a family is the most beautiful experience in my life. We believe that our son benefits from our small campfire adventures, as well as our bigger travels and escapades around the world. In Norway we have a saying, which is a bit tricky to translate. It’s called the “Doorstep-mile”, or Dørstokkmila in Norwegian, referring to how large your front doorstep can feel, thus making it impossible to get out as much as one would like.

It does not matter whether it is a picnic in the garden, or a visit to the local beach with the little one. What is important, is to get up and step over that doorstep. It doesn’t have to be a plane ticket to Canada – I believe that no adventure is too small.

The biophilia hypothesis is the idea that we all have an innate tendency to seek nature. To be in the outdoors is as natural for humans as eating and sleeping. I have to agree with that. I see my son happily playing with sticks and rocks, and from when he was an infant I was not shy to let him crawl around in the dirt, exploring his surroundings. There were often times I would receive an odd look from others as I let him get dirty in the local park, crouching down and looking at the world from his perspective. I could not care less. Nothing could fascinate him more than gazing at the current of the river or lying under a tree looking up at the moving branches, mesmerized by the wind. And that seems only natural to me.

Do not get me wrong – I also put on cartoons for my son so I can manage to make dinner once in a while, and I have certainly also given him my iPad to play on while I try to manage heavy traffic on our way somewhere. And I think that is OK too. My mother always said that “a little bit over everything, but a lot of what is important” is the way to live a life. I tend to agree with her. And to us as a family, and me as a mother, the outdoors is the most important thing.

 

I want to teach my son the freedom of gazing into a setting sun and appreciate making a fire to cook dinner. I want my son to get cold and wet in a rain storm, to appreciate better the sunshine when it appears. I want him to be filled with happiness and tranquility which often occurs when going out on adventures in the outdoors. Take my word for it. And do not listen to whispers.

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