Of all the radical things Patricia Ellis Herr has done -- which includes hiking 4,000-foot mountains with 4- and 5-year-olds -- perhaps the most radical is a phrase she dared to put to paper.
"A child rarely needs to hear the phrase 'be careful,'" writes Herr, author of Up: A Mother and Daughter's Peakbagging Adventure.
"I remember very clearly being a child and being underestimated and, from a very young age, feeling really angry at that," Herr says. "There's a more respectful way to be safe but still let them try things and not hover."
Up recounts Herr's 15-month "peakbagging" journey up 48 of New Hampshire's White Mountains. (Peakbagging is a type of hiking in which the climbers aim to reach the summit of a set of mountains.)
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The journey is made notable, of course, by the presence of Herr's 5-year-old daughter, Alex, who braves thunderstorms, snow and meddling fellow hikers of the "Maybe your mama should take you home now" variety. (Alex, now 9, has a younger sister, Sage, 7, who started hiking the same 4,000-footers at age 4.)
In the course of conquering mountains, Herr and her daughter witnessed magnificent views, gained respect for wildlife and collected enough nuggets of wisdom to guide them through whatever life tosses their way. We spoke with Herr recently.
* Q: How do you gather the courage to let a child take on this challenge?
* A: It's just a general attitude I've always had. I've always been the mom who lets my kids go up the slide at the playground, as long as no one's waiting to come down. I think a lot of it comes from memories of not being allowed to do things as a kid and never being given a good reason why.
* Q: How different was your childhood from your daughters'?
* A: Night and day. I love my parents. They're good people. They're not hikers and aren't big outdoors people, so our life in the suburbs didn't offer much opportunity to go out and do much exploring. Hugh (Herr's husband) spent his childhood hiking and climbing and exploring. His parents would take him and his brothers and sisters away for three months each year to hike, so this isn't that far off from the way he was raised. That opportunity just wasn't there when I was a kid.
* Q: Are you surprised by people who don't think you should let your daughters hike so young?
* A: The vast majority of the feedback has been positive and supportive. We've been confronted by a few people, but I think it's just human nature to start doubting what you don't understand. I think the objections are more about people's own insecurities. Or they're just bored and need something to talk about.