Kelsey General and is a single mother to two young boys. Her days are filled with autism therapy and outdoor exploring in their new home in British Columbias Okanagan Valley . Check out her Instagram @littleadventurefamily.
We believe in turning little adventures into big memories.Before having kids I had never been an outside person. Although I was active by participating in organized sports, when I was growing up, it was extremely rare to spend our days outside and venturing on a hike.
My oldest son Brentley was 3 months old when I went on my first hike with a group of mamas. It also happened to be a complete downpour outside but it was one of those days where I desperately needed to get out of the house.
Being outdoors was peaceful, a stark difference from the secret abusive life we were living at home. The outdoors became our escape.
This hike connected me with not only other fun loving outdoor moms but it also made me realize how much both this little boy and I needed to be outside! Being outdoors was peaceful, a stark difference from the secret abusive life we were living at home. The outdoors became our escape. I put all my energy into organizing outdoor events, finding new trails and uncovering tips from much more experienced parents on how to enjoy our days outside. We enjoyed many adventures in those early days as Brentley would just fall blissfully asleep on my back. When I was outdoors with him nothing seemed hard.
I got pregnant with my second son when Brentley was 10 months old. During this time, I summited more mountains during pregnancy while hauling around a heavy toddler than I ever had in my life. I was motivated, feeling accomplished and loving our new outdoor life. Lincoln was born when Brentley was 18 months old, and nothing skipped a beat. I wrapped up my tiny newborn on my front, flipped the toddler onto my back hitting the trails before I was one week post partum.
As positive as our experiences outdoors were, I was still escaping my terrible home life. Every second I was home was an unending verbal beating. Every day we escaped into the outdoors and looked to our wonderful Alaskan mama community for support.
I had no idea what was happening and felt like I was torturing my son. I started asking myself “Why did everyone else’s kid seem to love this?”
Then my life got more complicated and challenging. I assumed that since Brentley was 18 months old he was ready to get out of the carrier and spend more time exploring. I decided to start hosting a large group called Toddle Tuesday. Every Tuesday a large group of local toddlers would waddle down the trail and end by playing at the playground. All the kids loved it, everyone except Brentley. He would throw himself down the second his feet hit the ground and would scream for the hour or two we were at Toddle Tuesday. I had no idea what was happening and felt like I was torturing my son. I started asking myself “Why did everyone else’s kid seem to love this?”
Brentley’s behavior never did change at Toddle Tuesday. It did not make sense. I had created this huge outdoor community, my tribe, but my son hated being outside. I began questioning my parenting and wondering whether I should continue to make outdoor adventuring a priority in our life.
In this situation, I think most people would start staying home or trying other activities. I didn’t have that choice. I feared staying home with my abusive husband and had no money of my own to participate in any community activities.
Just before Brentley turned 2 it was very obvious that he had autism. He was very disconnected from us and in his own world. Outdoor adventures often involved him screaming and refusing to walk. When I reverted to stroller walks he would just zone out. It was like he wasn’t there at all. I felt terrible and selfish every time we stepped out the door.
My son was disabled but he certainly wasn’t broken and neither was I. I felt stronger than before and was ready to stand up and take our lives back.
At the age of 2, Brentley was officially diagnosed with autism, which to be honest was a relief. It made life with Brentley click, like all our struggles made sense. His diagnosis gave me the strength and the courage to finally leave the domestic violence situation I was in for good. My son was disabled but he certainly wasn’t broken and neither was I. I felt stronger than before and was ready to stand up and take our lives back.
We moved back home to Canada and although I had been through a lot, the move was one of the hardest things I had ever done. I left behind all my friends, my huge tribe that had changed my life and saved it. My youngest, Lincoln, took it all in stride but the change was extremely hard on Brentley which is to be expected with kids that have autism.
At first I thought I didn’t need to go outdoors anymore since I no longer had to flee the abuse from my husband. However, the outdoors had become my healing place and I was determined for Brentley and Lincoln to reap the health-giving benefits of the outdoors. I started to realize that Brentley’s behaviour was no different outdoors than it was indoors. I decided that I needed to have a different approach to the outdoors than kids that do not have a disability and have two parents to share the load. I needed an approach that would work for a single mom with an infant and a 2 year that wants to run off cliffs, is unable to respond to his name and frequently refuses to walk.
While it has been challenging, I have learned to embrace a different style of hiking that fits our family even though that doesn’t always mean much hiking at all. Sometimes I put up the hammock and Brentley throws rocks in the water for an hour or he lays on a bridge 50 feet from the trailhead just watching the water flow. When we do get moving he wears a backpack with a leash so I do not have to yell at him to come back or listen while outside.
Brentley no longer screams and gets overwhelmed when we are outside. His body language and speaking has more than tripled since moving away from the abusive household and adopting this new approach to exploring the outdoors. Although we certainly have our days like all toddlers, his behavior is much calmer and less explosive. In the future I hope to plan an epic camping adventure but we are now enjoying getting outside every day at our own pace.
It has been a long journey that we are still embarking on, but I am empowered by my ability to take control of my life.
It has been a long journey that we are still embarking on, but I am empowered by my ability to take control of my life. The outdoors was once my safe place but has become a place of healing for me and my two children. Nature is my happy place and although it took us a while it has become the place where my children thrive. I have no doubt that both Brentley and Lincoln will begin to go further and someday summit the mountains I dream of climbing. However, today we will keep enjoying the simple outdoor pleasures like throwing rocks into a lake for as long as Brentley needs. Brentley was born with autism but he was also born to be adventurous.