For our first snowshoe of the season, our two-year old Max (aka “Boonie”) rode in the Ergo backpack carrier, as he has done on so many walks in the woods since he was just a few months old. He has always enjoyed seeing the world from up there, and he’s had a lot of experiences he would not otherwise have had. But things are beginning to change. It’s not just that he’s getting heavy, though he is about 40 pounds and will soon be maxing out the capacity of the carrier . . . if not my back! But he has also begun to realize that he’s missing out on some stuff by being up on Mama’s back. He’s an experimenter, as I guess all kids are, and I try not to curtail his experiments, unless of course they are unsafe. Lately he’s taken to tasting trees. He’ll just walk up to a beech and chomp down on the end of a twig and chew thoughtfully on the bud for a while, as though assessing the vintage. You can’t do these sorts of things when you are strapped to Mama. But although he didn’t seem as intimidated by the first snow this year as he was last year, it did take some getting used to, and then it just kept coming and coming so that while it was a heck of a lot of fun, his short little legs just couldn’t cope. A grownup in this situation who wants to walk in the woods gets herself a pair of snowshoes. But a two-year old?
Max has taught me to be a firm believer in getting “real” stuff. Not only has he made it clear that toy versions of grownup things are not cool, but I’ve realized what a waste of money they are. They are usually barely functional, uncomfortable, and break easily. So when I started investigating snowshoes online, I was at first dismayed at what I found. There are choices, to be sure, but the ones that looked like real snowshoes, i.e. like Mama and Daddy’s, did not look like they’d fit his feet. I guess most folks don’t expect a two-year old to be out snowshoeing on his own two feet.
So we put buying snowshoes on the back burner for a while. Then we went snowshoeing again. Our snowshoes were in the yard already, and while I went in to get the Ergo, Doug stayed outside with Max. I came out to find that not only had Doug put his snowshoes on, but Max had stuffed his feet into MINE and was shuffling around the plowed part of the yard. Hmmm…I decided that perhaps further investigations were in order. Especially after asking, “Max, do you want your OWN snowshoes?” and receiving an emphatic nod of the head and a happy, “Mm-hm!”
Doug’s Mom was due to come up for a visit and looking forward to doing some snowshoeing with us. Doug works at Eastern Mountain Sports and he knew they had a pair of rental snowshoes for kids, so we thought we’d see how they worked for Max. We were still concerned about the bindings fitting his boots. But he’s big for a two-year old, and his feet are bigger still, so I thought they just might work.
The night Doug came home with the snowshoes Max nearly climbed up the front of him to get at them. First he tried to put them on barefoot. Trying to forestall Max until morning, Doug said, “Max, you need BOOTS on to wear snowshoes.” Wrong tactic, Daddy. Max went and got his boots, put them on, and again began stuffing his feet into the bindings. What the heck, I figured. So I got down on my hands and knees and helped him get his boots in place and snugged up the bindings to see if they would fit. Often manufacturers claim they’ve improved bindings by making them easier to put on, especially when they are making something for kids. I figure it’s going to be a few years now before he’s putting his own snowshoes on and I’m not so old I can’t get down on my hands and knees to help. Easier is not always better.
While the bindings did seem to bunch just a tiny bit, they snugged up well enough that his feet didn’t wobble in them. When he started to try walking in them, I threw his jacket on and stuffed some gloves on his hands and we went out into the pitch black. He walked around, pleased as punch, looking up at the stars and the dark silhouettes of the trees against the sky. I don’t know if he could see much after being blinded by the flash of the camera, since proud-Mama had to take pictures, of course. It was cold and neither of us was dressed properly, so we were only out for a few minutes, but we all knew this was the start of something big.
The next day Max and I went traipsing around in the yard. Then we hopped on the snowmobile trail that cuts across our back field. He was doing great…unfortunately our romp was cut short by a visit from the poop fairy. (We’re in the middle of potty training, still workin’ on it…) Our only real concern with the snowshoes for Max, beyond fit, had been whether he would be thrown off by the need to keep his feet in a wider stance. He really didn’t seem to notice. He even pretty much worked it out by himself when he’d occasionally stand on one shoe with the other. He’d try to move his right foot, realize it was stuck, and move his left instead. Perhaps this flexibility of mind and body is precisely because he is still relatively new at the walking thing. I mean, it really wasn’t all that long ago he was making the same mistakes with just his feet. He took to running in the snowshoes as though it was the most natural thing.
By the time Nona (Doug’s Mom) arrived for her visit, Max was an old hand with the snowshoes. He could walk easily on packed snow in the yard, snowmobile trails, and in powder. We were careful to keep in mind that his stamina is not necessarily what ours is. It’s usually not his body that causes the dragging. Sometimes a two-year old just wants to be carried, whether his legs are tired or not. So when we had an agenda and a goal in mind, we brought the Ergo along. Doug had a daypack with a few extra clothes and when Max said he wanted to ride we took his snowshoes off and strapped them to the pack and strapped Max to my back. Perhaps this is another advantage to starting young. I couldn’t do that with a tired six-year old. (Keep in mind that a kid sitting and riding isn’t going to be producing the same body heat as one romping on snowshoes, so bring an extra layer.)
Max and I had a wonderful walk in the woods the other day. Since we had returned the snowshoes, we were mostly confined to the snowmobile trail where we wouldn’t wallow in the deep snow. We found a mysterious hole, two of them actually, about three inches in diameter. It’s hard to express the joy of watching my little boy lie in the snow, peering down a hole while we wonder what wild thing was here. Then he finds some other amazing, mysterious thing, like a parchment-thin beech leaf stuck in the snow and he points and nods thoughtfully. I look out into the woods and wonder what we might find away from the beaten path.
I miss those snowshoes as much as Max does..
My general advice when looking for gear for your kids, whether it’s snowshoes or hiking gear, or anything for that matter, is to buy the most “real” thing you can find. If you’re not sure they are going to like it, consider renting, or buying used (or do that anyway). Buying toy gear is going to be frustrating for them if they are really interested, and if they are only a little bit interested, equipment that doesn’t really work is certainly not going to help. Unfortunately Tubbs changed the bindings on the Storm snowshoe for kids. I know what we want now, but I’m going to have to search to find a used pair…
Tonight at bedtime Max was restless. His teeth are bugging him, but life is so fun, he just doesn’t want to go down. He thrashes and gets himself all wound up. So I lie in bed with him and hold him so tightly he can barely move and keep him calm by talking him through an imaginary walk in the woods. I whisper, “Imagine yourself walking down a path. We’re going to see the frogs’ eggs down the big hill on Eric’s land. Listen…there’s a red squirrel scolding us! ‘Hey you silly thing. We’re only passing through.’ Let’s leave him in peace. Our feet slip in the mud on the hill, and there are new leaves coming out. Do you think there are frogs’ eggs yet? I hear a chickadee, do you? Is that a ruffed grouse drumming? Do you remember the one we saw last year?” I can hear his breathing change as he relaxes and falls asleep. Goodnight, Boonie…