Have you ever hiked with small children?
You wouldn’t believe how painful it is to walk two-and-a-half kilometres at a roughly 30-minute-per-kilometre pace. Not physical pain, mind you. I’m talking mental pain.
Did you know it takes at least 500 metres and four to five options before a four-year-old finds a suitable walking stick? (Multiply that by four because every member of the family must have one.)
Did you know that it’s impossible for a five-year-old to walk beside you? They must run ahead and then almost knock you over when they come barrelling back only to take off again and repeat the cycle. Lord help us if we pass a hiker with a dog. That’s even more of a production.
Anyway, you can’t just go for a quick walk or hike with small children. Even so, my husband and I try to all the time.
The other day we broke out of our COVID-19 home isolation and went to Chemainus Lake for a wander. You wouldn’t believe how much you need to pack for that 45-minute endeavour.
Before we left, I packed the kids’ water bottles into my daughter’s tiny backpack. I added a pack of fruit snacks for each child and then a Stasher bag of trail mix and pretzels just to be safe.
That ought to do it, I thought to myself. After all, we weren’t even going to be walking for an hour.
Before I finished zipping up the backpack, I grabbed a half-eaten bag of jelly beans out of the cupboard, tossed it in with the other snacks.
Just in case, I thought. Just in case.
“Just in case” happened roughly halfway around the lake.
The fruit snacks had been consumed and one of their tiny empty packages was now stuffed into my pocket because mom’s pocket is where garbage lives when you’re a child. The other package had become home to a half-dozen tiny pine cones that would later spill out and cause tears because apparently there are no other pine cones in the forest quite like those pine cones.
So, with a kilometre or so left, (it doesn’t sound like much but I’ll loan you my kids and you’ll change your mind) I felt forced to pull out the jelly beans.
“OK,” I said. “Here are four jelly beans each. The next time we pass a bench, I’ll give you each four more.”
I had unwittingly just created the Jelly Bench Game.
Suddenly their little legs moved faster. It could have been the burst of sugar from the first four beans apiece, or it could have been the anticipation of the next bench and four more beans. Either way, my game was working.
From what I’d recalled, after the picnic table we’d passed early on in the hike, there was only one bench on the far west side of the lake. I figured I had plenty of beans to make it the rest of the way.
We climbed a bit of a hill and lo and behold, a bench that I don’t remember being there the last time we hiked Chemainus Lake was there. You’ve never seen such excited children.
“It’s a jelly bench!” they cried. “Can we have our beans now!?”
After dolling out four beans a kid, a handful to dad and a couple of my favourite black ones for me, we carried on.
I kid you not, not five minutes later we came upon another bench.
After doling out four beans a kid, a handful to dad and a couple of my favourite black ones for me, we carried on.
The kids ran ahead because now this wasn’t a family hike, it was a jelly bean sprint. My husband wondered aloud if I was going to run out of jelly beans.
“I’m not sure,” I admitted. “I don’t remember there being this many benches. Just in case, no more beans for us.”
After a time, we came upon the one bench that I did remember being there.
After doling out four beans a kid, we carried on.
We were near the end of the hike so I absentmindedly popped the black jellybean I had in my pocket into my mouth as we walked.
Naturally, there was one more bench.
I opened the backpack and pulled out the bag. There was just one bean left in the bag and two kids looking up at me with anticipation. Why did I eat that black one!?
Anyway, I’ll spare you the details on how that story ended but I will advise you of this, from one hiker to another.
If you play the Jelly Bench Game, always make sure you have waaaaay more beans than benches.