“Waterfalls wouldn’t sound so melodious if there were no rocks in the way.” -Rishabh Gautam
My kids and I created a 2021 Summer Uber list consisting of all the (reasonable) things we want to do during our summer vacation. The list is only 10 items long. I decided not to add “pee on a bear,” despite their begging. In a week’s span we checked off 4. This past Tuesday we biked a trail to a bakery, but instead of driving to the trails’ start, we left from my house and I didn’t realize how many more miles that would add to the total. We ended up biking between 18 and 20 miles that day, and it was hot and humid. Then the next day we met up with Maria for a hike. Their uber list included “hike a trail with a waterfall.” There are closer trails with smaller waterfalls, but they wanted to go back to Catoctin Mountain and hike the Cunningham Falls. It was another very hot, very humid day. We only went 4 miles, with a 758 foot elevation gain, but it was physically taxing due to the elements. The drive was almost 2 hours there and back. Between the heat, the bike ride the previous day and not sleeping well, I was worried about falling asleep on the drive home. At three in the afternoon I was drinking an iced Americano just to make sure I didn’t fall asleep at the wheel. Maria and I did talk about her trip to Utah, my trip to Connecticut, but mostly this was the kids’ hike. Our word of the hike was fart. We imagined what it would be like to have a language that incorporates farts, like the African dialects that include clicking in the language.
Maria spots literally everything. It’s almost as if we are in the same pointillism painting and she can see the world all in little dots, and I only see the overall picture and miss out on all the minute details. She pulled a purple pacifier out from under a rock and mentioned that she finds them all the time. Maria sees this as the universe’s way of reminding her to rediscover her inner child; the innocence, playfulness in the present moment, light, giggly and happy. My kids, James and Charlie, said that they have no expectations of hikes before we set out. They are happy that we are going and they have a good time when we are out in the woods. I asked them when they find me to be fun and child-like and they said when I’m working out at CrossFit, but not out there in the woods. Charlie announced to the group at one point that “we are not lazy hikers, we are real hikers.” None of us could identify what a real hiker is, other than someone who likes cats, farts and poops. The idea of defining anyone as a genuine anything has been on my mind. I wonder if all this hiking/planning to backpack isn’t just some kind of imposter syndrome. Am I a real hiker? Is there a mileage or elevation gain requirement? Can a lazy hiker be a real hiker? My uncle once told me that I cannot call myself a writer because I have a teaching job, so I don’t devote myself to writing and therefore I am not a real writer. Ouch. It is important to let go of being controlled by others, or even those lingering critical voices in your head. Allowing yourself to just be totally free from labels allows for an intoxicating freedom that I will never cash-in, ever again.
The Mexican film director Maria Navarro said, “Identity is who we are, who we think we are and who we feel we are.” I am someone who bites off more than they can chew. Whenever I talk about section hiking the Appalachian Trail I often tell people about how I need to “learn how to shit in the woods.” It gets a laugh out of them, and most people assure me that is not something I actually need to learn, I’ll be just fine. But it’s my way of telling them that I am in way over my head. I am not an outdoorsy person. I love nature and being outside, but I am not a camper, survivalist and I can’t read maps that well. However I feel like these are all things that I not only can be, but should be. Breaking apart myself bit by bit post “divorce” (very bitter right now, that I am not actually divorced because someone won’t sign a piece of paper) it fully resonates that there is a self who I am to others, there is the self who I think I am and there is a third self of who I feel I am. As I continue journaling, meditating, self-reflection and therapy, the gap between who I think I am and who I feel I am lessens. There are times though where I push at this, and I try to force the recovery, and the disingenuity of it is palatable. It’s a fine balance between making up your life as you go along to regain a mastery of it, versus imagining a better future that takes you out of the present moment and likely will never exist.
“Throw roses into the abyss to thank the monsters who didn’t succeed in swallowing you alive.” – from the app Costar
Sadness is a monster capable of swallowing someone alive, James told me. He will be ten in a few weeks. We talked about sadness, and he told me that he gets sad that his dad and I don’t live together anymore, and that I get sad about the fact that he’s getting older. I think the Portugese word “saudade” better expresses these particular monsters of sadness. I am now obsessed with words that have no direct English translation. “The concept has many definitions, including a melancholy nostalgia for something that perhaps has not even happened. It often carries an assurance that this thing you feel nostalgic for will never happen again.” (source). It is a joyful heartbreak to be a mom. Kids are resilient, I am reminded all the time of this as a parent and a teacher. The sadness/saudade that was so much a part of our lives is at bay more and more as time heals us by allowing it to happen. We went off the trail and hiked the rocks alongside the waterfall this week. My kids didn’t ask if we could, they just began to climb. They wanted to get to the top and look down. At the top they pounded their chests and I told them to make the Tarzan cry. Reading the above quote today, I want to think that it was their way of showing the monsters below that they rose above.
I was so excited that we were checking things off our summer uber list so fast that I rushed something. I drove very impulsively to Target yesterday and bought a 6 person tent, a self inflating pad, and a sleeping bag for myself. I was determined- we were going to camp in the backyard. I have been thinking about doing this to test out things like whether or not I can put up a tent (I can), if I can take down a tent (I can, but have yet to fold it back into the bag) and if my kids will sleep outside (yes and they love it). I was so convinced that sleeping outside again, for the first time in years, would be this transformative, spiritual event and I would wake up metaphysically transformed. None of these things happened. I woke up feeling like I normally feel, only with an achier back. I rushed this experience and what’s worse is that I went in with expectations, rather than a joy to be outside with my kids doing something new to us and letting whatever would happen unfold. I did not throw roses to thank the saudade monster, I tried to force feed it, which only brought it back up to the surface. I realized this morning that so much of this backyard camping adventure was done just to make another check on our list. My inner child would have had a love/hate relationship with to-do lists. I’m looking at a Halloween picture from 1990. My mom is dressed up as a witch, I am dressed up as a business professional. But in all seriousness the imaginary Liz was a well-organized successful entrepreneur, the real Liz was much more spontaneous and fun.
This coming week I will slow down. This is not “All Summer in a Day.” Being present, child-like and joyful comes from letting go of any expectations from a certain event, or even people. This hike and backyard camping have been good reminders that I can only hold expectations of myself, and I should not try to force fun as a means to keep the sadness at bay. By letting life happen rather than forcing it, I can find joy in the ability to move forward and create a life consciously and enthusiastically. When I find myself in moments of joy that come so naturally to three kids on summer break (yep, I just called myself a kid), that’s then it’s time to throw roses in gratitude to the monsters that did not swallow me whole.