So much happened over the course of the last 60 hours that it’s really hard for me to make sense of it all. And I’m not talking about what we actually did, I’m talking about what actually happened. Logistically, we hit 4 states and 5 destinations. Including California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. Visiting Calico Ghost Town, Seven Magic Mountains, The Hoover Dam, Zion National Park and Kanarra Falls. As far as how many actual miles on the road or literal vertical feet climbed, I don’t have a clue, but metaphorically, we moved mountains.
I didn’t do this trip for my kids. I did it for me. But I think it’s fair to say that there were takeaways for all of us. And most of that is internal. I wouldn’t say this was the most fun we’ve ever had together or the coolest thing we’ve ever done. But, I will say that even trying to figure out how to write about this makes me get a bit choked up.
The full rundown of the trip is totally worth a conversation and I’d be more than happy to share a table and a few drinks with anyone who wants to listen. Let’s just say I lost my kids in Zion. Or they lost me. Or we lost each other. It’s not everyday that I make the decision to leave my kids on a 1,488 foot gash of sandstone jutting out of a desert valley. But when I do, I make the most of it by hanging out at the bottom for 3 hours while they hang out at the top, just for added emphasis.
In all fairness, I suppose it wasn’t an actual decision as much as it was a miscommunication. There is a fine line, or should I say, an awkward foot-stepping-on-toes dance while my teens and I figure out the nuances of necessary independence and off leash activity. I realize, in hindsight, the top of a mountain 5,790 feet above sea level isn’t the best place to try this out. Needless to say, Mom and Toddler in backpack are determined to hike to the very tippy top edge of Angel’s Landing, managing a somewhat sketchy chained section; regardless of the number of people up there on a spring Saturday that make the passing slightly more dangerous; regardless of the number of people turning around telling you to turn back because it is too crowded and is taking triple the time it should take to reach the top; regardless of the number of people telling Mom and Toddler they shouldn’t go because it is bad mothering to do that with a baby on your back; regardless of Son insisting that they turn back; regardless of Daughter who has already turned back.
Something happened to me up there. All those voices have been there my entire life. And I have listened to them for the sake of keeping the peace; for the sake of not being the cause of an ‘inconvenience‘ for anyone and for the sake of putting others before myself.
And I listened this time, too. I said ok and started back down. And three steps later I stopped dead in my tracks. And as if no one else was on that mountain but my son, my toddler and me. I turned back around to him and said, “I didn’t come all this way to do something I’ve been dreaming of doing to make it ‘almost‘ all the way. I will be kicking myself in the shins for the rest of my life if I don’t do this right now.” And thus was the catalyst of the miscommunication.
“Fine. But I’m waiting here until you get back,” Son says. Other Daughter shows up surprisingly out of nowhere and says, “Mom, you’re going out there?! No, you’re not. Ok, you are, but there’s no way I’m going out there. I’m going back down.” “No, you’re not,” Son says to Daughter. “Mom, I’m keeping Norah. You go by yourself,” Son says to Mom. “No, you’re not,” Mom says to Son. Mom is walking up the mountain with Toddler on back and shouting over her shoulder, “You guys figure it out. If you decide to walk back down, don’t get on the shuttle.” And out of earshot Mom went.
Nearly 5 hours later, a lot of ‘mobile service unavailable’ messages and waiting on a park bench at the base of the hike while Toddler sleeps sweaty and fussy in my lap and shuttling back to the car in hopes that Son and Daughter are there and back to the park bench and waiting and talking with people who are completely unhelpful and cussing at the fact that there is no better security in a place like this and cussing at the fact that you made yet another stupid mom decision and being pissed at the lady sitting next to you telling you that a 13 year old died last week falling off of that ledge and deciding whether to hike back up or wait at the bottom or go back to the car again or finally break down because you have no clue where your kids are and it’s all your fault and...with some help from the US Park Rangers, we are all reunited at the base of the hike.
I played it cool the whole time and I knew they were going to blame me and be pissed that we wasted all that time just sitting in two different places waiting for each other. But what happened is nothing I could have contrived on my own in any other situation but what went down. In their fury, thinking I was just hanging out at the top enjoying the view, they both hiked the sketchy section looking for me. They bonded as brother and sister, they problem solved, they (most importantly, Maggie) did something she didn’t want to do and never thought she could do. And, regardless of all the voices telling me otherwise, I’m so glad we were all lost.
There is so much more to be learned from this trip. And it wasn’t all fun. In fact, I’m not really even sure anyone, but me, actually had fun. And maybe that’s completely beside the point. We didn’t really eat a full meal, we slept in our car, we went higher than we wanted to and farther than we wanted to. We went without naps and food and breaks and froze our feet off in the river to the point where you feel like you are stepping on needles when they thaw out; always to the point of wanting to turn back and always to the point of being urged to go just a little farther.
I could do this everyday. But for my kids, it’s a new experience, and one I wouldn’t trade for the world. There is something so valuable about reaching a breaking point and learning how to glue yourself back together enough to get yourself out; to finish what you started.
Life doesn’t magically lift us out of the narrows when it gets too hard and too cold and we are too deep and we are ‘oh, so, done with this’. But, something does. And I can only hope to leave a trace of whatever you want to call that, with them.