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How I Scored An Epic Parenting Win Climbing Fake Rocks

Having kids means you have to spend money. And if I don’t want my three daughters to be screen-obsessed zombies on their days off of school, I sometimes have to spend money. We usually try to find a free activity when we go on an outing, but there are only so many free activities a 16-, 14-, and 8-year-old will enjoy.

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When the weather prohibits outside activities, and we’re tired of the same museums, I’ll spring for something like an indoor trampoline park. I’m happy to pay for them to jump, but I don’t feel inclined to pay to participate myself. (It could have something to do with the fact that my youngest once head-butted me on a trampoline and broke my nose. Ouch.)

During a recent school vacation day, my oldest daughter had plans, and the younger two and I desperately needed to get out of the house. None of the free activities sounded appealing. We had gone to the indoor trampoline park weeks before. We needed something new.

During our research of agreeable, reasonably priced activities, we stumbled upon discounted passes for an indoor rock climbing gym. It was uncharacteristic of me, but I decided to shell out the money and try climbing for the first time ever.

My First Time Rock Climbing

I’m not sure why I bought myself a pass. I guess I was craving adventure or needed some sanity-saving physical activity. Whatever it was, the urge overpowered my distaste for spending money as well as my fear of heights.

My daughters climbed first, and then I strapped on the requisite harnesses, connecting myself to a teen belayer responsible for my safety. A terrifying thought given I was absolutely old enough to be that boy’s mother.

I seriously considered bowing out not-so-gracefully, but I had already spent the money. And if there’s anything I dislike more than spending money, it’s wasting money.

So, with trepidation, I found the hand- and footholds positioned along the wall and started to climb. Before I knew it, I had ascended to the top of that relatively short beginner wall.

Time passed quickly because I was so focused on ascending. It was an almost meditative experience. I literally couldn’t think of anything other than where to put my hands and feet. And it was the kind of mindfulness I actually enjoyed—unlike meditations at the end of a yoga class, where I either fall asleep and wake up feeling really awkward or lie on the floor obsessing about all the things I could be doing if I weren’t lying on the floor focusing on my breathing.

Once I reached the top and looked down, I felt exhilarated but also mildly phobic. Before I had too much time to reflect on my discomfort, I kicked off the wall and sailed down to the ground. I disconnected from the belayer, relished the successful attempt, and enjoyed the pleasant tingle in my arms and legs, which honestly felt more well-worked in a few minutes than after some of the gym classes I do.

After a few more successful climbs, each a bit higher than the one before, our belayer encouraged me to try a more challenging climb. Because this seemed to be a day for saying yes, I acquiesced.

This was my chance to prove that I can still do fun, challenging things, even though my lined forehead, crow’s feet, and tendency to fall asleep during meditation might suggest otherwise.

The climb was difficult. The handholds were awkward and hard to grasp, and some of the footholds seemed no wider than a dime. I focused on trying to keep propelling my body upward, but my muscles were starting to shake uncomfortably.

When I was about three-quarters of the way up the climb, I signaled I was ready to descend what was now a really uncomfortable height. Our belayer encouraged me to keep going, but I was skeptical. How could I find the extra reserve of energy to keep propelling myself even higher than I ever wanted to go?

I would have insisted on descending if not for the voice of my 14-year-old.

“You’re so close, Mom! You can do it.”

For that singular moment, my teen daughter and I enjoyed a Freaky Friday experience. She became the one motivating me to work hard and achieve my best. I was so moved by her encouragement, I kept going. It turned out to be not all that hard to reach the top, and I felt so much better for having challenged myself to complete the climb.

After I made it back down to terra firma and disconnected myself from the belayer, my daughter showed me pictures she had taken during one of my climbs. She took pictures of me! She was so proud that she took pictures of me!**

My daughter’s pride in my accomplishments was a parenting win that filled me with enough parenting energy to carry me through until the next break from school. And that feeling made the $20 money well spent.

**Lest you be jealous of my teen’s positive attitude and selfless photographic impulses, I should disclose that she later told me she took photos out of boredom, not because of pride in my accomplishments. The motivating words seem to be genuine, though, so it’s all good. I’ll still call it a parenting win. 

Catherine Brown writes about parenting, the arts, eating disorders, and body image for local and national publications. She is co-editor of Hope for Recovery: Stories of Healing from Eating Disorders and co-host of the podcast Eating Disorders: Navigating Recovery. You can find her at, on Facebook and on Instagram (catbrown_writer).

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