Guest Post by Peter Beal:
When my wife and I decided to have a child, many friends and acquaintances said, “It’s going to change your life.” This was said in the tone reserved for other awkward and potentially threatening moments like when the boss says, “Do you have a minute?” In Boulder, adults take not having responsibilities seriously and children are all about having responsibilities. So it was goodbye to roadtrips, unplanned weekends, parties, restaurants, movies, and so on… Not to say you can’t be super climbing-parents and try to continue that lifestyle. My advice is don’t even try, at least not yet. You have more important things to take care of than planning a trip to the Valley.
Fortunately we never had much of a social life so the nightlife was never an issue to begin with. And roadtrips had started to lose their savor after gas crested $3 a gallon. So what has been the effect of having a child on being a serious climber? I can only speak from the male side of the equation but here a few points to consider…
The following factors are the most important in trying to stay somewhat on your game: time, energy, and mental focus. You will immediately notice a lot less of the first, an unpredictable amount of the second, and a very tenuous grasp on the third. Let me explain.
Caring for a person who depends upon you utterly requires a remarkable amount of time. Getting out the door with a baby is a 15-30 minute process that can be extended even further by factors beyond your control such as diaper changes, spitting up, changes in the weather, etc. Any excursions need to be coordinated with feeding and nap times and are limited by them as well, especially after roughly six months to a year when they begin to eat solid food and sleep less. Many couples cheat by hiring nannies or having grandparents around but if you can’t afford constant babysitting or don’t have cooperative relatives nearby, you are going to see whatever free time you had cut down drastically. This means you must make the most of whatever time you have.
This is awkward because thanks to the constant attention that babies require, whenever they don’t sleep (and if you are lucky you will have a good sleeper), you will not have a lot of energy to pour into that limited time available to you. Especially difficult to maintain is your own sleep pattern which, after several nights of midnight/early AM screamfests or feedings (typical for newborns) will be about as resilient as a stashed crashpad at Mount Evans in March. This makes it difficult to recover after hard gym sessions for example. A typical scenario might be an evening session (and if you are lucky, your baby will cooperate and come along) followed by baby waking at 2, staying up until 4—she could be screaming, she might just want to play—followed by your having to wake up at 7 to get to work. That makes it tough to get the requisite rest to ounce back and recover. It also makes it hard to get psyched for the physical demands that serious climbing makes on your body. Maybe it’s time to focus on technique and mental factors?
Well, you could except that now, given the lack of time and energy, it’s pretty hard to remember what day it is, let alone exactly where the left foot is supposed to go once you get the right hand undercling. Your mental and psychological state will oscillate wildly depending on many things but primarily upon how much sleep you have had, whether the baby is sick or not, or how you are getting along with your spouse as you both learn to cope with the previous two problems or a laundry list of others. Much of the time you will be on autopilot and soon will begin to forget what life was like pre-baby, a helpful amnesia that all parents must ultimately adopt or be crushed.
Yet there are compensations. Climbing has long trained me to cope with outrageous demands on mind and body and hence as a climber you can be in good shape for dealing with many of the crises that parenting involves. Parenting trains you to be patient, willing to adapt to circumstances, and appreciative of the good times and curiously forgetful of the bad. Reflexes get a good workout with exercises such as grabbing a toppling toddler you see just out of the corner of your eye. Steady lifting of a 20+ pound infant keeps the biceps active. Having a baby forces you to set your priorities and cut out extraneous aspects of your life that don’t contribute directly to living fully and better. You see through the nonsense of life much more acutely.
The truth is that there is nothing you will feel as intensely on a cliff or a boulder as you will feel for your children. This is something that will only grow over time and will remind you that rocks are ultimately just that, rocks. Rocks don’t grow, learn, laugh, cry and they will never, never hug you back, no matter how hard you hold onto them. Children put the very silly and arbitrary game of climbing into perspective, and a lot of other silly games besides. So it’s good news and bad news. The bad news is yes, having had children, your life will never be the same, but the good news is that your new life, which now includes this new supremely lovable human being, is here to stay.
Thanks again to Peter for his thoughts. You can read more from Peter at his blog Mountains and Water. You can see video of his latest sending spree at Flagstaff Mountain at his blog as well.
I know that this is an issue that many climber’s deal with. What does everyone else think about the decisions regarding starting a family vs. the desire to spend time climbing?