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Grand Canyon: Where beauty easily could become disaster

Sometimes I feel like a real nag as a parent.

I keep reminding myself that our son Steven is 6 years old, and 6-year-olds are curious: What happens if I do this? What’s in here? How does this work? Most days, I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s all part of growing up. Exploring new things, learning by doing.

Still, there are some times a parent has to step in before that exploration goes TOO far.

Our most recent family vacation reminded me of that once again.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. Eventually, Steven would just roll his eyes whenever he heard it, and I would roll my eyes whenever I said it.

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But I kept saying it.

"Steven, step back from there or you’re going to fall into the Grand Canyon."

Literally.

I’d been to the Grand Canyon once before, and the memories of that first trip are still vivid, long after more recent memories have faded.. It’s the most inspiring and spiritual place I’ve ever seen, and it was something Carla and I wanted to share with Steven.

So a break from school the week before Easter meant a week off work and a family vacation to Nevada and Arizona, with a day trip to the Grand Canyon.

And my second look at the canyon proved as inspiring as the first, with one difference: The first time, I didn’t have a 6-year-old with me.

What happens if I do this? What’s in here? How does this work?

One thing I didn’t remember from that first trip to the canyon was that there are very few places where there are fences or barricades to hold back the tourists. It just wasn’t an issue on that first trip.

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On the second trip, my heart skipped a beat more than once.

So within seconds of sighting the Colorado River at the bottom of the gorge a mile below, we had established our first parental rule: "No leaving the trail."

Steven immediately challenged that rule by asking "How come OTHER people don’t have to stay on the trail?"

At the risk of offending anyone who overheard me, I explained that "I don’t CARE about those other people. I care about YOU."

It sounds callous, but you know what I mean.

There some rules you just have to have as a parent: Don’t let them play with matches. Don’t let them run with scissors. Don’t let them fall into the Grand Canyon. Parenting isn’t rocket science.

Eventually, Steven and I got frustrated with each other and reached a compromise by default: I got tired of telling him to stay on the path, and he got tired of hearing it. He stopped testing me, and I gave him some leeway. At least in those areas where falling into the Grand Canyon would have taken some real effort.

We both agreed that we had seen a place where god outdid himself.

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And I came to the conclusion that visiting the Grand Canyon with a 6-year-old is a metaphor for life itself: Every curve and every passing moment brings something new and unexpected. There’s beauty all around us, if we just open our eyes to see it. And sometimes it can give you a headache that even Excedrin can’t cure.

And I’d do it all again. In a heartbeat.

Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson, and their son.

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