Psychological Experiments on Small Children
It is a well-known condition of the progress of life that when children arrive they disrupt one's own ability to pursue the shit you want to do.From Ellis' arrival in the world I decided, as ruthlessly as I could, that his existence would not stand in the way of the outdoor life I wanted to lead. Ha! fat fucking chance. This bundle, with 50% of my DNA, has not only its own needs and its own will, but also its own weapons: principle of which is its mighty crying voice.
I will have to plan, experiment and improvise in order to achieve the correct psychological balance between my needs and its. The game is on!
The portable phaseThe early phase of fatherhood starts of well, as the child is relatively portable. While only two weeks old In put on a maternity sling and tuck the boy inside. I look like a pregnant woman swathed in grey fabric.
Off I head to the woods. The boy, comforted by my smell and warmth, is asleep within two minutes and stays that way. I come across some forestry workers chainsawing off tree stumps and stop for a chat. I natter away to the foreman, we know people in common, and The Boy does not even stir, clearly approving of the forester's choice of Husqvarna chainsaws rather than Stihl.
The Boy stirs when I am talking and the forester says 'Oh! Its a baby! I WAS wondering why you were that shape.'
Tanya and I invest in a Macpac baby carrier, and it is great. It is basically a 70 litre frame rucksack, but with a fabric seat and all sorts of straps to comfortably restarin your small child with. We take him everywhere, although he misses out on his first Monroe at the age of seven months as it is raining and Tanya can't be fucked.
WheelsHe learns to totter around the place and this is generally too slow for me. Someone gifts me a bike seat, and off we fly. He often falls asleep when he is strapped in the bike-seat. I usually realise this when his little forehead comes to a gentle rest on my spine or kidney.
Pavlov's childOne of the key pieces of behavioural psychology was carried out by a scientist named Pavlov. In a now classic experiment, he rang a bell, then served his dogs food. After a while of doing this he would ring the bell, but not offer food. The dogs would salivate anyway, clearly now associating the stimulus (the bell) with the reward (the food).
I decide there is no point knowing about this if you aren't going to use it. Cleverly I buy a packet of boiled sweets every time we go up to the woods on a bike ride, or round the lake or wherever. The Boy will therefore learn to associate trips to the woods or round the lake or wherever with pleasure, and will be tricked into 'wanting' to come out with me.
The plan massively backfires. As soon as I suggest we go for a bike ride, he demands sweets. His teeth are seriously decayed by the time he is five.
ClimbingThe Boy is pretty keen to come climbing with me by the time he is four-ish. So I bring him along to Highball, and Leah, Thomas, Dan and Jim levitate him up the wall on the ropes. When he acts up, Leah simply leaves him hanging half way up the wall. She has a head start on parenting: I thoroughly approve.
The Boy enjoys it well enough, but he doesn't actually like climbing as much as he thinks. He likes the fact that I like it. What he really loves is swimming, he doesn't want to leave the water. In fact, it requires food bribes to get him to stop swimming so my skin can de-wrinkle. He will honestly spend three or four hours in the water at the swimming baths.
He gradually learns what is expected behaviour at the wall. He
1. can ask for cake and it will be granted, but not more than once
2. is allowed to swing on the ropes as long as I can be bothered to belay him for
3. he can occupy himself as much as he likes: Daddy is s fuck of a lot less grumpy if he gets a chance to climb some problems himself.
He thrives on the social aspect of the wall. Nick Smith, arguably the least child-orientated member of the club becomes the most fascinating person in the world to The Boy, much in the same way that cats go to people who don't like them. I warn The Boy that is he keeps hitting Nick, he may get tasered, and he will deserve it.
Climbing Outdoors: sort of.One trip to the Lakes ends in massive frustration: I am desperate to get The Boy up to Haystacks. Its not too high and there are some nice scrambles for a six year old at the top. He doesn't want to go and ditches me for a trip to Go Ape with his Granny, who buys him cake.
Every time I go on a climbing trip he asks if he can come. He nearly never can, which disappoints him. 'When you are older. And when you have come up a hill like Haystacks with me.'
He looks at me, absolutely furious.
'I WANTED to. But there were other things I HAD to do,' he says. Yes. Eat cake at Go Ape.
BreakthroughA parcel arrives through the post. His Granny has found a pair of walking trousers, cheap (well, half-price at twenty quid) in The Boy's size. They are a better pair of trousers than I have ever owned, which would not be hard, and he loves them.
They have flourescent zip tags, and 'Never Stop Exploring' written on the arse pocket. His eyes are shining. He runs upstairs and gets his gree fleece on and wears both of them all day.
Of course. The key all along is dressing up: which I believe carries on into adulthood. If we, as outdoor types didn't like dressing up, would the gear industry exist? Would it fuck.
We book a trip to the Peaks, The Boy wears his trousers and his fleece, and I make an alpine coil for him to wear over his shoulder. He parades through the campsite with it across his shoulder, dying for the other kids to notice him. The alpine coil doesn't last five minutes before I am carrying it myself, surprise, surprise.
However, The Boy's enthusiasm carries him up a grade 1 scramble up Crowden Clough, and up onto the tops. He cannot be stopped. He has started to love it for its own sake. It is like swimming for him.