Have you ever felt like there’s something terribly lonely about parenting even though you’re almost never alone? Like you want to connect to this small person, but really have no interest in the games they like to play? This was my mental state when a parent friend offered to take both of our kids to the new indoor bouldering space in our neighborhood.
So, I replied, “Sure, but I want to come too!” And thus began an almost weekly tradition for the four of us, doing something we all really enjoy together.
There are two main spaces for adults and one area for kids. The walls are covered with
plastic formations made to imitate what it would be like to climb boulders. No need for
cords or harnesses, because the floors are covered with soft, squishy mats to soften the
landing if you lose your balance and jump from up high. You can choose between different paths to follow using color code indicating how easy or hard the path is. Some of the paths -called boulder problems - go horizontally, others vertically. The goal is to be able to place both hands on the last handhold. Trained staff regularly change the paths to continually provide new challenges.
What I have learned:
You don’t have to have big muscles to enjoy climbing.
Climbing kind of felt like going to therapy. The only thing holding me back is myself (or the easier colors anyway. Once you get to more complicated problems, you do need some hand and muscle strength). Most of the challenge is learning to trust yourself.
Climbing is both very social – people are warm, friendly and help one another – and very solitary. It’s just you and the wall and no one can complete the problem for you.
On that note, climbing culture is very non-judgmental and non-competitive. There’s space at the top for everyone.
Size doesn’t matter. Your body shape and height make some problems harder than others and its different for everyone. It’s all about getting to know your own strengths and how to creatively overcome your weaknesses.
Each new step you accomplish gives you an adrenaline rush and completing a problem makes you feel like a rockstar. You’re constantly achieving tiny goals and, even on off days, meeting one tiny goal can give you a boost.
Climbing is amazing for core strength and balance (and incidentally, it almost immediately took care of my chronic lower back pain).
My daughter and I often face the same challenges with climbing – lack of self-confidence, getting scared, and wanting to give up too quickly. When I’m helping her, I’m simultaneously giving myself a pep talk and having to own up to my own insecurities.
Having my daughter applaud me for completing a hard problem feels like a major parenting win in terms of positive female modeling.
Why climbing is not for the weak-stomached
Indoor climbing gyms smell like sweat. Sweat that has permanently soaked into the squishy floor and fresh sweat from all the bodies.
All the surfaces are rough (like rocks) to facilitate gripping with hands and feet. It’s easy to scrape yourself. You regularly see dried blood spots on the walls and my knees and elbows sometimes look like war zones.
Ladies, be prepared to keep your nails fairly short and get used to having calloused hands.
Actually, those last two points make me feel like a badass. In sum, let’s all stop making play
with our children a mind-numbing moment of self-sacrifice and keep our minds open to look
for things we can enjoy together. Andrea Field is a long-time Message member and writer. It is her cute daughter in the image above. Her favorite place to climb is Arkose Pont de Sèvres.