The Healthy Balance of a Modern First-World Outdoorsy Family

A Family who [eats, plays, travels] together lives happily together…

Sounds familiar, right?!

Sounds true?!

Of course.

Lately, I have been reflecting on what makes our family life fulfilling, rich, balanced and enjoyable and have come to the realization that in our case, family balance stands on five pillars.

1. HER

In the first place, there’s THE child. When our child is well and healthy ( and by healthy I mean free of extremely annoying but insignificant cold, flu, ear infection or any of the zillion ailments children catch in a year) and when her needs are fulfilled life seems easy and peaceful. Tuning into her own schedule, listening to her needs and making our decisions with her well-being in mind, always…well, almost.

Spending time with and for ‘Her’ is our main duty as parents and for the most part we do it with abundant pleasure. ‘Her’ still being a toddler, most of our awake time is spent fulfilling her physiological and emotional needs. My husband and I share that duty; sometimes we take turns and sometimes we do it as a team.

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Meet the little earthquake who shook our lives like never we would have thought it would!

 

 

Which brings us to:

2. US

Us as in “us 3”. Papa, maman, baby girl. The nuclear family. The time we spend together is split between the time doing nothing special but prepping meals, eating, driving places, getting dressed, etc. As well there is all that time we purposefully spend together playing outside, going to the pool, the library, camping, visiting friends, traveling. This certainly comes high on our list as what makes us feel happy and satisfied with our lives and also high in the level of priorities when trying to fit everything into our modern days schedules.famille-wasa

We firmly believe that exposing our child to the outdoors and to the things we are passionate about and making her part of (some) of our adventures has more benefits than detriments.

 

However, I sometimes find that the quality of this ‘us’ time and the satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) it provides depends a lot on the quality of the ‘him’ time…and also, to a certain extent, to the ‘I’ time.

 

 

3. HIM

My husband and I made a deal. He never wanted to have children whereas I really did. It was always very clear between us and even imprinted in my wedding vows that I would never stop him from doing what he loves. Since I have known him, what has been so critical to his realization and happiness is spending time in the mountains and I doubt this will ever change. This part of who he is made me attracted to him in the first place and I need to remind myself that I cannot nor do not want to change that.

“He” is the kindest, most thoughtful and caring father to his family and I feel so grateful for that. However, being mountain-deprived suddenly turns him into an impatient, grumpy person, which makes everyone miserable, including our daughter and myself.

That is why a healthy dose of adventure for him is essential to a healthy, happy family life for all of us.

Now that I can no longer be his main partner in crime, “he” had to build his network and find people he likes to share time with. Having one or several motivated and available friends to share adventures is certainly the key to keep doing things for yourself when you have children too young to belay you or be your rope gun or break trail.

Fortunately, we each have a few friends to do that, thank goodness! Most of our loyal adventure partners also have families and some don’t. Scheduling and planning can sometimes be challenging but it usually all work out.
4. “I”

Because historically  moms often will only allow themselves  time and attention after everybody else has been cared for (ha!), in #4. comes the “I”.

Again, I largely benefit here from having a husband who understands how important it is to have some alone time to train, go outside to climb, ski, run, bike or even just have coffee with a friend and clear the brain from every day stress and the responsibility of the family.

From the moment our daughter was born, he was always very supportive of me taking time for myself and do what I love. Moreover, he has always been the one pushing me to do so when fatigue is peaking and motivation is at its lowest.

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So thankful to have a few loyals friends to share adventures. Here with Shenoa, my main partner in crime and mom friend

“I” time is something I make a point to take once or more per week, even if it’s just for an hour. Because when I return, I feel calmer, more patient, energized and happier and I see the positive impact it has on my family….and on my relationship with my husband.

Which brings me to the first and last component of our family: “US”

 

 

5. “US”

Us as in “him & I”. The family core. Where it all started. That desire of two human beings to merge their lives and found a family.

For ten years, it had been just him and I doing everything together; partners in the everyday just as in the boldest adventures. From multi-day ski traverses, to epic 24 hours alpine climbs, from academic achievements to oversea and transcontinental moves, from dirtbag living to granite countertops and retirement savings.

The birth of our daughter has obviously shaken our lives more than we could ever have imagined it would and brought a different dimension to our team.

Without any family around and with all the attention a new-born requires, it took us a while to start doing things as a couple again.

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One of our first full day in the mountains together after baby. Hervé took me to a route he had just recently first-ascended in the Rockies

It’s only quite recently that we’ve started planning evening dates and day trips in the mountains together more regularly again, thanks to great babysitters and generous friends. The key here has been the good old kids swap with friends who also have kids and also like the concept of ditching them once in a while to spark the romantic fire again while getting some vertical in.

In conclusion, all I can say is we do our best to keep those 5 “pillars” described above as strong as possible and that like every family, we do our best to keep each of us content, happy, loved and cared for.

All of this depends on our success in organizing the other aspects of our life ( aka earning an income, doing chores) so that we maximize the time together and the time to ourselves.

It’s not always easy to keep every member of a family absolutely content and family life perfectly balanced, but with a good dose of communication and lots of love, everything is possible.

 

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For my husband, plain old hiking is “no, thank you” but family adventuring “yes, please”…but is it okay if I go climbing tomorrow?
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Vamos a Chulilla! Climbing in Spain with Kids

Hola, Espanol!” says my daughter, giggling, as she runs out of the Panaderia. In her hand,  she holds a small pastry generously offered by the owner. Then, she runs across the narrow street to the village Plaza and sits on a bench to savour her sweet chocolate-filled mini croissant with a delicious honey-nuts topping.

It’s 11 am on beautiful Thursday in November and the Plaza is bathed in the sun and bustling with life. Today is market day. The locals are shopping for fresh produce, leather purses or pajamas and socks. Nearby, at the Caffè, a few climbers are sipping café con leche and catching up on emails, eyes glued to their laptops.

The temperature is cooler at this time of year and therefore no one rushes to the crags before noon, especially the shady ones; the mythical ones.

 

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A village nestled between the cliffs. Photo by Shenoa Runge

No one rushes to the crags but us. On a ten-day vacation with young children, we want to maximize every hour of daylight to explore and enjoy this huge climbing playground. Time is limited and family vacation also means we are here to spend quality family time.

 

We’re wondering how we possibly are going to fit everything into ten days…
Although a tiny little village, Chulilla is an enorme climbing destination. After timid developments in the 90’s, local route setters have been very prolific in the last few years, with increased community support towards this major tourism draw. The spot now counts over 800 routes dispersed across a dozen different areas, some located at walking distance from the village and some a little further away in the valley.

The quaint, white-washed village is perched on a bluff and surrounded by countless kilometres of bright limestone walls, perfectly vertical or slightly overhanging.


The climbs are known to be long and tenuous. It isn’t uncommon to link beautiful technical moves for 40 metres and even 50 metres in one single climb. Climbers must come prepared: strong forearms, eighty-metre ropes and lots of quickdraws are required to make the most out of a stay in Chulilla.
While the area offers climbs that range from 6a to 8b, Chulilla is an absolute paradise for 7b climbers, grade in which many of the most iconic climbs can be found. This is a little unfortunate for us, who happen to be modest climbers in comparison to many visitors to this destination.
The information we hold prior to our arrival is that routes in the 6th and low 7th grades can be found but can prove a little runout or polished. Nonetheless, the place still looks appealing to my dear husband, our loyal climbing partners Marc and Shenoa and myself, and we feel confident about finding nice climbs to play on.

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Marc and Hervé eager to get on the rock

In such a large destination with all the many different sites, the local climbing guidebook Chulilla: Guia de Escalada is absolutely essential, but requires some studying.
Fortunately, after day 2, we realize that there is some excellent climbing in our grade with plenty of newer climbs on excellent rock and very well equipped. Sectors like Fantasia, Cherales and la Peneta is were we end up spending a lot of time, in the warm autumn sunshine. These areas never seem crowded although very easily accessed. Most of those sites however, are not very toddler-friendly.

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Moms get on the rock while children play nearby, sheltered by the overhang. Photo by Marc Trudeau

The sites that we find fit and welcoming to families are La Nevera that is of easy access and has fun caves for the little cavemen. Competicion is the best area we found to set up a small top rope for the kids and is also an easy end-of-day crag on our way to the bar. Finally, we also enjoyed another small crag in the canyon between the bridges for the great hike it provides, the river and the fine sand.

Finn, never taking the easy road
Because the little ones like cragging too
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Eva and Finn exploring the narrow streets

We find however that the best way to maximize our time on climbing days is to split up our group into two teams; one team to look after the children for the half-day while the other team climbs.

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The Turia valley, a real oasis in the desert

There are plenty of fun things to do with the kids around the village between exploring the narrow cobbled streets, playing princess & knight in the Castillo, paying a visit the white fluffy goats, hiking the river valley or simply enjoying the local delicacies and running around on the Plaza. Chulilla also has two decent playgrounds, of which one is located by the local watering hole, wifi hotspot and tapas and climbing beta provider; Goscanos.

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Eva, Finn and Shenoa hiking Los Calderones trail
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Meet the Knight and the Princess of the Castillo

 

 

Fortunately , we also have opted for a comfortable and spacious four-bedrooms vacation rental, la Casa Nispero, which is located on a large gated property and the end of a quiet street where the little ones are free to roam. The location and amenities of the house really contribute to making our stay enjoyable, from the ability to cook healthy meals at home to the cozy evenings by the wood fireplace, pool-side lunches and naps in the sun…as well as the two bathrooms.

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Our Casa for ten days

There are also many other vacation rentals right in the village to suit every budget and group size as well as cozy inns and hostels, the main one being El Altico, owned by one of the prolific local route setters. Many climbers also stay in camper vans around town or on the main public parking lots, with access to water and wifi at the nearby climber’s bar.

The village hosts several small mercados or carnecerias where one can find most of the staples to survive: cheese, bread, wine, meat and charcuterie, oranges and mandarines in season, local and absolutely divine. For more diversified foods, the nearby city of Lliria or Valencia are the best options we found to please our little and big eaters.

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Breakfast in the warm morning sunshine

In Chulilla, the spirit between locals and climbers from all around the world is truly positive, especially when the climbers happen to have ninos,  who are the best conversation starter and get a very special attention from every store or restaurant staff.  Even with a limited proficiency in Spanish, it is very easy to communicate with residents who are so friendly and welcoming and never seem on a rush.

Eva chatting with a local abuela at the market

In the small climbing shop, visitors can buy all the staples including the guidebook. The store also carries t-shirts and hoodies with Chulilla’s tagline: Climb. Eat. Sleep. F**k. The sight of it makes me think that it’s probably what defines a stay in Chulilla for most climbers, single, young and beautiful, although we definitely noticed an imbalanced male vs female ratio.

Obviously, going on a rock climbing trip with toddlers changes your experience … a lot. I think it’d be more accurate to summarize our experience in Chulilla this way: Sleep. Climb. Eat. Play. Nap. Snack…and wipe bums.

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our crew – Photo by Shenoa Runge