Our first child was very mellow. She listened and obeyed most things that we told her. When we told her not to touch the lamp, she did not touch the lamp. When we told her not to climb on the cafe chairs, she did not climb on the cafe chairs. I was always proud of how well she listened. And she is still a wonderful listener. When baby number two came, she was different from the start, as they all usually are. She began to climb months before she walked. When we told her not to touch the lamp, she touched the lamp and pulled it over so many times that we had to get rid of the lamp. When we told her not to stand on the cafe chairs, she climbed up there and stood on them so many times that we had to move them to the attic until it was safe for her to be up on the chairs. And it wasn’t that she was defiant. She has always just functioned differently. She is not satisfied with the ordinary. She is an explorer. An adventurer. She is a Climber.
Climbers, and if you have one, then you know what I’m talking about, are a different breed. They think differently. They discover things differently. Their approach on many things will be different. And as my Climber approaches her 7th birthday, I am compelled to dive into what I know and love about her. At first the climbing was a lot to handle. I mean this in the most literal sense when I tell you that every day my main concern was to keep her alive and safe. Not that I wouldn’t do that for the others, but with my Climber it was different. I had to make it a main focus of our daily rhythm. I began praying every day when she was a toddler that God would allow me to always be one step ahead of her in the way she thinks and in her actions. And for the most part, He has!
If you do not have a climber, I will tell you a little about mine. As if without thinking, she would make her way to the pantry, open the door and begin climbing the shelves (at 18 months). On numerous occasions (at 16 months), I found her on the cafe height counter and after getting her down and turning my back I would find her there again not 20 seconds later. At 17 months, I found her swinging from a chandelier. She has super amazing climbing skills. Almost Spiderman-like. What might take the average toddler 5 minutes and some added furniture dragged over to achieve, would take her the previously mentioned 20 seconds, with no outside assistance. I count this as one of her skills.
As the mother of a Climber, I have on numerous occasions heard the gasp of shear horror from other adults as they motion quickly and run to the aid of my Climber as she scaled something the non-Climbers would find challenging and probably scary. Things my first, third, and probably fourth child wouldn’t attempt, because they don’t have the Climber gene. And, probably to the extreme dissatisfaction of these horrified parents, I have only on a few occasions ran to her side as she climbed something exciting and new. No, I am sure, as I’ve watched her grow that she needs to climb. Have I spotted my Climber on occasion? Absolutely. But it is very rare that I will stand in her way. I also think that part of the excitement of exploring and achieving a new goal that she did it unassisted and without me yelling, “No!” or, “Be careful!” or, “Get down from there!” as she adventures on her own. I do, however, pray. Because what would I achieve as she is climbing the outside of the tube slide, ten feet from the ground, if I ran over and tried to get her to climb down. She’s gotten that far, right? She didn’t climb the lamp post by the road. She is learning to maneuver her way up the outside of a tube slide on a playground. She has set a goal. She is planning her course. She is independently achieving what she has set out to do. And I know what she is accomplishing with each little stretch of her arm, with each calculation that she makes of how far she needs to reach, even with each extension up onto her toes as she balances herself and gets ready for her next move. She is developing more than we can imagine in those moments.
Can you imagine all those fantastic connections being made in the brain of a Climber as they approach a “climbing expedition,” evaluate their moves, and put them into action? When babies learn to roll, sit, crawl, stand, and walk they are making significant neurological growth and development. The same goes for Climbers. Climbers are mastering all kinds of developmental milestones from coordination to mental focus!
And how about physical focus? Climbing helps children become tuned in to their bodies, and to develop knowledge and understanding about their own muscular strength and endurance. It teaches kids how to have control. They have to learn to wait and build up their strength as they climb from one place to the next. Their flexibility is also enhanced when climbing.
From excitement to fear, from defeat to victory, children experience multiple platforms of emotions while climbing. Do you remember standing at the end of the monkey bars–the really high ones that seemed to be 20 feel long? And you would get filled with this excited/scared/ambitious feeling as your hands moistened with sweat because you were nervous. You’d have to stop and dry them on your shorts as your courage mounted. And then in the middle of the bars, when you had this feeling like you couldn’t go on anymore, you suddenly had this burst of adrenaline flowing through your body that gave you the last boost of strength you needed to get through until the end. And then when you made it and you looked back at what you had accomplished, a wave of pride rushed over you. All of those are extremely important emotional victories for a child. Even more important, however, is the feeling of failing a couple times, only to laugh in the face of Failure when you finally conquer your challenge and swing free, victorious! And what comes from that victory? Confidence, pride, and self-respect!
And for those of you who, like me, find open-ended play and organic exploration one of the key ingredients in the healthy and well-rounded development of a child, Climbing has it! Do you hear them playing? Do you hear them pretending? As they climb they are most-likely envisioning something far different than we are seeing at that moment of supervision. What we see as a tube slide is probably a mountain. And at the top of the mountain is a dragon who they are going to visit (or in the case of my own kids, they are the dragons). They do not need our interjections stunting their mental and physical creative process. They need a wide open, organic experience that allows them to play and discover and adventure. There is plenty of time for adult interjection. But for now, and of course, remembering that there is an appropriate time and place for climbing, take them to climb rocks and trees. Let them get dirty. Let them climb up the slide instead of teaching them that down is the only way. In fact, tie a rope at the top so they can pull themselves up as they climb.
So, the next time you see a mother on a bench in the park, with her eyes pinned without a break on her adventurous Climber as he makes his way up the outside of the playhouse, just know that although a special piece of her heart has taken on a seemingly dangerous feat, each motion of his arms and legs are working toward developing him into a strong, confident man. And his mother knows it.