That prams and art are not mutually exclusive.

On Cradle Mountain: the great wilderness of childhood

I have known this Boy since he was born. He grew in my belly. He is my dead spit – button nose, dark brown hair, shiny almond-shaped eyes. I have been there for every day of his life caring for him, reading to him, playing with him, suffering his many tantrums and meltdowns, and he suffering mine. And in one moment, he has revealed himself to his dad and I as we have never seen him. How could we spend so many days together, and me not see the person he is becoming?

“When I grow up, I want to be a mountain climber,” the Boy proclaims as he’s climbing the third or fourth set of steps. We can’t see the top of the track, which is meandering through the scrub. The path itself is clear and well maintained, but the climb is by no means easy. At times, it seems a never-ending staircase, made of rock and timber and mud. The treads are too numerous to count, and disappear into the distance. I breathe heavily as I help his younger brother make the climb, his every toddler step calculated and laboured, requiring him to swing his whole leg up and over each rise. I hold his hand for balance, or to catch him when he falls, which he does often.

Who is this Boy leading us through the bush? He maintains a confident, steady pace, always striding three or four metres ahead of the group. This can’t be the same boy that whines and ka-flumps himself around every time we make the seven minute walk to the village shops. This can’t be the same boy who won’t play outside unless someone ‘keeps him company’.

“Hey, look at this!” Boy 1 exclaims, darting off the track to point out a hole in a tree. “I wonder who lives here? It looks like a snake burrow” he wonders out loud, crouching and poking at the mossy trunk. His daddy and I catch up and look on, nodding and speculating who might call the tree home. Before reaching a conclusion, the Boy is off, again at a brisk pace, keeping a distance between himself and the rest of the family.

Along the track, I think about how I’ve often felt lost as a parent. Each new challenge emerges out of a fog, posing another unexpected fork in the road. I find myself temporarily paralysed and indecisive about which path is ‘the right one’.

I remember feeling relief after Boy 1’s first birthday. Have baby: Tick. Start family: Tick. Two big items ticked off Life’s Great To Do List. Babies are a lot of hard work – guess work – but toddlers: they’re easy, right? Now that they can move and they’re learning to talk? Standing on the summit of Baby Mountain, I didn’t see the mountain range stretching beyond it, with bigger mountains, sharper rocks, obscure paths and slippery surfaces meandering through the wilderness of childhood. Nobody said babies had personalities, that they needed to become socialised and learn boundaries. Didn’t that happen all it’s own? For me, the realisation that the parenting journey was for life was one of the biggest lessons I’ve grappled with as a mum. That 3kg newborn seemed so light and delicate, but the weight of being the parent of that newborn is infinite. It was harder to get my pen license in Grade Four than to become a mum.

Lately in our journey, we’ve been stuck in the same spot, unable to traverse that tricky pass of Boyhood: “Why won’t this child listen? Why won’t he do as he’s told? Why is he so grumpy?” Yet, here we find ourselves in the Tasmanian wilderness, and the Boy is showing us the way. The world is unfolding before him, and he is traversing it with confidence and natural curiosity, and we are mere passengers on his journey, following in his size 12 footsteps.

We went to Tasmania for a break from the hum of our domestic life. I never imagined we would get such a glimpse into our Boy, and such insight into our journey as his parents. I now understand why I’ve always felt so lost. I felt lost because I wasn’t the one leading the way: the Boy was. I thought I was holding the map, but really, I was just there as his backup crew, his pack mule. At first I carried him as a soft, warm, bundle: once he could walk, I held his hand. Once he could run, I carried his water and snacks, and now I just watch as he walks ahead, finding his own way. There is no map, only a marching beat inside his head. He follows it with his head and his heart. And to see him take on the world with such inquisitiveness and imagination, I am so clouded by pride and love that I can’t even see the path ahead.

32 Responses to “On Cradle Mountain: the great wilderness of childhood”

  1. Megan @ Writing Out Loud

    I love Tasmania, I love Cradle Mountain (have done some walks and hiking there too)… and I love the lessons your little boy is learning and teaching while you’re there. x

  2. A Farmer's Wife

    I think there are moments when you are a parent where everything seems to fall into place. (And moments when it all just seems to fall apart.)

    I love the fact that you have observed your son growing into himself. And written about it so beautifully.

    Take care.

  3. Sarah Bendeich

    Wow, Karen, a stunning, stunning post. Every word. You, traversing your ‘tricky pass of Boyhood’ sounds a bit like me, negotiating my own unfamiliar landscapes of motherhood with my first born. Sometimes it feels like I’m trying to do a jigsaw with a blindfold on. A holiday, mountain air, big landscapes… it’s amazing what a fix of wilderness can do for us.

  4. Lucy

    Ahhh. You echo so many of the scary but amazing sentiments I am having over my big girl currently.

    Gorgeous. The place, the discoveries, the words.


  5. stellaorbit

    This is fantastic. Lucky boys to have such a great family. Lucky mama to have such great boys. Fantastic photos too. Sounds like a completely breathtaking holiday.

  6. keepcatebusy (Cate)

    it’s amazing how a challenge brings out their true nature – a born adventurer and leader?? Sounds like it. Also sounds like the ‘keep me company while I play’ thing might just be code for ‘I love being with you mummy’!! 🙂

  7. Jac

    What an amazing piece of writing Karen. Your words made me get all teary as they express so beautifully what motherhood is all about to me. The fine balance between knowing when to hold tightly and when to let go so that they can take enough risks to find their own way and cultivate their own little personalities. Thank you x

  8. Deer Baby

    Loved this – so beautifully expressed and so insightful. Love the fact it’s called Cradle Mountain too – how apt for this. I took a train ride with my boy (11) recently – just the two of us, something I haven’t done for a while since his much younger sister came along. I saw him in a whole new light. He was my boy but different. Amazing.

  9. Michelle Higgins

    Beautiful post.
    My kids surprised me on a walk we did in the Blue Mountains – I think I was complaining more than any of them!

  10. marion

    Just love this post!

    My little one is my “dead spit” too. Yet as she gets older she show signs of not being like me, of “vearing off the path” and finding her own way. What I love about this post is the absolute joy I hear from you when you talk about the changes, the outlook of your wonderful son! The view you enjoyed on this trip will serve you well throughout both of your lives.

    Beautiful post, thank you for sharing with us!

  11. Frank - Cradle Mountain

    Really enjoyed reading this piece Karen, just a delightful story. Wilderness is a fantastic way to help your children develop and to see them grow.

    Really nice piece of writing, thanks for sharing!

    p.s. could you email me re reproducing some of this story on Appreciated.

  12. Ink Paper Pen

    a birthday must have passed by the sounds of the comments above? Happy Birthday, to you and your mum!

    I really love the way you write, you have a natural way with words and I find your writing is easy and enjoyable to read, so glad to have discovered you!

    Gill xo

  13. MultipleMum

    I don’t know where to begin! Firstly, so glad the Cradle Mountain exprience was so great for you (you look like you had superb weather too!) – I have the fondest memories of doing the Overland Track many years ago. A truly remarkable part of the world.

    As for your other ‘journey’ – well snap to that! The first time we took Nugget for a decent bushwalk we realised he was returning ‘home’. He found his connection with the world and has never looked back. Those same ‘humph’s are still around when we walk to the park, but get him in the trees and he will walk for hours – exploring, at top speed, without a care in the world.

    I feel that too when I am hiking but I loved watching him bond with nature more than any other parenting experience I have had to date x

  14. Amanda Kendle

    Truly beautiful (in multiple ways!). And extra good for me as I’m just booking our Tassie trip including some time at Cradle Mountain. My little one will be doing the big toddler swinging steps though rather than pounding ahead.
    Visiting from the Rewind.

  15. Melissa Walker Horn (@sugercoatit)

    A wonderful post. One that gives a real insight into the beauty of being a parent and watching what you have created become what he is meant to be {even if it is just for now}. Beautiful indeed.

    {visiting from the rewind}

  16. Aly @ The Mummy Hat

    While we are busy teaching our kids, they teach us some of the most valuable lessons.
    A very beautiful post, thanks for sharing.

    Rewinding with Multiple Mum

  17. If These Walls

    One of the great joys of parenthood, watching our little one’s discover their surroundings and showing us who they are. Thank you for sharing with us.

    Rewinding with Multiple Mum.

  18. MultipleMum

    I wondered which post you would choose if you indeed joined the Weekend Rewind… This is a great choice! Thanks for the opportunity to re-read. x

  19. Cath

    So you have one too! After reading this, I’m feeling I should let mine take the lead more often… Oh, and any excuse to visit the Tasmanian wilderness would be wonderful about now!

  20. jennifersmart

    Beautifully written, poignant and insightful. It really is quite something to watch your children’s personalities develop. When I was pregnant with my second child I was far more aware that I was creating another person, not just ‘having baby’. And the journey is ongoing, always challenging and always rewarding.

  21. Shelly

    First of all, this was a wonderful post. I enjoyed reading down to the last paragraph. Isn’t it funny how little boys can drag their feet when we ask them to walk anywhere, but put them on a mountainside and suddenly we can barely keep up?


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