Why is it always such a tough sell to get the kids to go out in nature?!? I suppose the lure of Mario, Mac, On Demand, Nick, et al is all too great and powerful. It seems, though, that the few times that I have successfully coaxed the kids to set foot outside, inevitably something magical and unexpected occurs.

Today, a glorious sun shone bright and beckoned me to do something, anything, other than 2010 tax data entry for the business. So, what better excuse to procrastinate finishing, er, starting (who am I kidding?) tax preparation, than the prospect of a fun and invigorating hike through the rolling suburban hills of New Jersey?

Generally, uniform whining and groaning accompany the pre-hike preparation. Today, though, one of two kids jumped right on board, so there was only 50% unpleasantness to deal with whilst loading up the trail snacks and nagging them to put on the long johns, and layer, layer, layer, because “It’s much worse to be cold on the trail than hot, and you’ll be sorry if you’re freezing and wishing you had listened to me.”

In the car, finally, my boy asked if I’d brought along the pocket knife. I’d forgotten, or rather, he’d forgotten it on his floor in our mad rush to get out before the temperature dropped and the sun disappeared behind the clouds. “Why didn’t you remember to remind me to take it, Daddy?!?” he shouted as tears welled up. “Sorry, I forgot to remind you. We’re not going back for it, though, because we’re already more than half way there.” Luckily, just as he began to take the sobbing up a notch, we happened to roll past the cemetery, and his focus shifted to holding his breath to combat any body snatching ghosts and a bout with bad luck. Melt down averted. Phew!

At the trail head, we were greeted by a pair of hikers shaking their heads and complaining of icy, dog poop laden conditions, hardly an auspicious beginning. We persevered, nonetheless, and despite some early slipping, sliding, skidding and shimmying, we eventually eased into a nice hiking rhythm and paused soon thereafter to listen to the sounds of silence and airplanes and crackling ice under dog paws and water flowing downstream. Magical moment number one.

Once we reached the summit and perched before a dramatic view of the Manhattan skyline to the north and Newark and Jersey City to the south, I broke out the yogurt- and chocolate-covered pretzels, apples, water, and within seconds my daughter smiled and said, “Wow, Daddy, you brought a whole lunch! Can we come back here?” Magical moment number two.

To hell with Mario Galaxy on Wii! We had our walking sticks, delicious snacks, a gorgeous view, and the sun shining down on us. Bliss accomplished!…But, quickly interrupted by a group of young men apparently aiming to grab our remote spot to partake in some form of illicit activity.

At what point do you rupture the bubble of innocence surrounding your kids to explain to them that such a band of teenagers generally comes up here to drink, smoke dope, etc.? How do you tell your six-year old boy hunting for treasure that the tiny bits of multicolored glass he thinks might be gem stones are from broken beer bottles carelessly discarded by previous partyers?

In those moments, I find myself struggling between the desire to protect my kids forever and the need to teach them right from wrong. Despite the interruption, we packed up our belongings and resumed our hike back to the car, stopping to examine intricate ice formations on the edge of a rock. We marveled at an enormous, uprooted tree. Gingerly navigated a log bridge. And finally welcomed the warmth of the car heater on our toes as we leisurely drove back toward home.

Tonight at dinner, both kids said the best parts of their days were the hike. Magical moment number three.


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