What I Learned Hiking With a Three Year-Old


I won’t keep you in suspense. It’s how many times this kid fell, and hard.

He wants to lead the way and we let him. The trails are easy–we chose them with a three and a half year-old in mind–but there are brambles, rocks and roots. We call, Don’t run!, but this kid runs like a wind-up toy as soon as he gets out of bed in the morning. He has to motor. His toe catches a big root and down he goes. He gets up and goes on. The trail slides downhill and, scooting headlong, he loses his footing and face plants. This time tears. A little cut. First-Aid hugs. Wound-healing kisses.

On he goes.

It wasn’t until the third tumble that it registered with me: this kid is not afraid to fall. He’s not unusually strong or brave, he’s just a normal child who wants adventure more than safety, who gets up every morning slightly restless with where he is, determined to grow into a bigger version of himself.

When exactly does that surging spirit leave us? Understandably, the elderly harbor a fear of falling, but that pell mell spirit leaves us long before the coming of the cane and the walker. It happens whenever fear outweighs our hope and we shrink from the next developmental challenge. It happens, very subtly, to people in their twenties and thirties. The gate to the next big thing is a little threatening and we decide to double back, maybe come at this gate in a year or two. It happens to everybody in their forties and fifties. Mother dies, a disc slips, HR walks you to the door, your husband walks out the door. Somehow the whole thing sags and collapses.

What we know instinctively as children is that each decline is actually taking us forward. The price of growth is–falling. But somewhere along the way we lose faith. Then all we can do after a pratfall is pretend it never happened, try to put everything back in place and look “normal” again. The tears, the cuts, the hugs, the healing kisses–that’s a little too embarrassing for a so-called big person.

O felix culpa, sang St. Augustine. “O happy fault!”, seeing the gravest collapse, in Eden, the one plunge we capitalize, The Fall, as the necessary prelude to salvation.

O happy fault,
O necessary sin of Adam

which gained for us
so great a Redeemer!

No fall, no rising again to new and larger life.

Once we see the happiness, the blessedness of the great Fall, we start seeing the same upward push in every little fall along life’s way.

That is what I learned from a three and a half year-old on a hiking trail in Maine.

3 Responses to What I Learned Hiking With a Three Year-Old
  1. claark s johnson
    September 7, 2018 | 10:07 am

    David, What a blessing in so many ways. May all the falls be minor!

  2. Roger Stikeleather
    September 7, 2018 | 11:16 am

    He looks like great fun! Grands are such an inspiration and as you note, re-teach us the things we had forgotten. Thanks for sharing him.

  3. Michael
    September 7, 2018 | 1:13 pm

    Thanks, David. What a great story. And though the fear of falling is deeply embedded, the lust for life, for exploration and discovery is even stronger—pulling us down the rocky path. Way to go, little guy!

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