Academic Leigh Speaking

A professor, four kids, and a crash course in work/life balance

Shenandoah National Park Hikes with Kids July 10, 2017

Well, we didn’t let too much grass grow under our feet!

We were home one day and it rained like crazy. I took Seamus and Gilbert bowling with a friend, went to the library, and met with a student on campus. Just all in a day’s work. On Friday, we packed up to go to Madison, VA for a couple of nights with our friends and their kids. On the way down, we stopped in Culpepper for lunch. The Frost Cafe got good reviews, so we made the stop. It was not crowded, but there were a lot single people taking up large booths. Lucky for us, a man got up from his booth and insisted we occupy it. He went to the lunch counter instead. Those small actions make a big difference to families! We would have had to wait 15-20 minutes with squirmy, hungry kids. The diner was a great choice–big portions, good veggies, and the best was the strawberry milkshake we all five split for dessert. Seamus had trouble with it because he was tired and cranky still and perceived his portion as less than the others. Porter on the other hand, tasted it, looked up and said, “MAMA! WHAT IS THIS?” in the most delighted voice I have ever heard. I couldn’t stop laughing. It was like he’d found nirvana. A Milkshake! I told him. “What? How?” as if you could just shake some milk and why wasn’t he aware of this earlier. He took my explanation of ice cream and milk into a blender like a smoothie and I heard him talking to himself about it a few days later!

Now, if you came here to hear about hiking: We did two shorter hikes with the seven children (ages 8,6,6,4,2,1,1). Three kids were in backpacks, but Porter walked most of the way down both hikes. We did White Oak Canyon Trail lower parking (which does fill up on summer weekends, so get there early; we arrived at 8:45 am and there was still some parking). The hike is about 1.5 miles up to the first set of falls. The falls were beautiful, but the hike was challenging. We passed 3 or 4 swimming holes on the way up. At the top, we picnicked on the rocks, but it was precarious with so many little ones. Some foolish (or brave!) folks were using the lower falls like a water slide. It looked hilarious, and I think Seamus wanted to try it (he didn’t ask to, but looked longingly), but no one was available to save him if he got in trouble. We settled for swimming in a swimming hole about halfway down.

The only one to get fully immersed in the water!

Porter put on his suit and slid down a rock near the swimming hole. He got pretty wet, and he was so pleased. He said, “Mother, I’m sliding down a riverbank on my shell!” This is part of the elaborate game he plays of being Franklin the Turtle. Harlan loved the swimming hole. He got stripped down to his water shoes, and he laughed like a loon the whole time. He splashed himself. He dug for rocks. He thought about full immersion, but it was cold!

All in all, the trail is good for kids, but a little difficult. The 8 year old had no trouble, and the kids in backpacks were fine. The 6 year olds were also fine, if a bit too interested in snacks. The 4 year old made it up and down, slowly, but of his own volition (which was awesome!). We took about 4 hours to do just the lower falls out and back, but we did stop for lunch and to play in the swimming hole. No real need for sunscreen, unless you plan to spend a long time in the swimming holes.

Our second hike was just our family on the Lower Hawksbill Trail. It was straight up for one mile, but it was beautiful at the top. Our younger kids again were in backpacks, with the two year old walking down, but not up. We had a snack and took in the view at the top. Lots of rocks and the trail is gravelly, so kind of slippery, but the 2 year old handled the downhill in flip flops. Harlan even walked a little at the end.

What a view!

The hike did wear them out, but they remained in good spirits, even asking me to take a picture of all of them at the end of the hike:

Adorable goofballs.

Patrick and I talked about how we’ve been prone to the narrative that it’s so hard to do anything, but now, the last few weeks have proven that we can do stuff that we want to do, like go hiking and kayaking, and to the beach or wherever. We just have to remember the pace and the mood.