I’m sitting on a couch, blanket on my lap, watching snow falling outside and skiers winding their way down uncrowded slopes. Yep. We’re in Steamboat again. Steamboat Springs is our home away from home because, well, we have a vacation place here. We share it with family (so it’s not technically solely ours, per se), but it’s definitely a luxury and it’s definitely home. I can’t explain it, but somehow I am more relaxed in this townhouse than I am nearly anywhere else, including our home in Denver. So, sitting here, enjoying the stillness of the scenery, I am struck by how my need to move and go and do dissipates when I am here. I could sit here and enjoy the view and just relax all day and not “do” anything. And that is huge for a non-stop squirrel like me.
At home in Denver, there are always things I think I should be doing. “Should” is such a dirty word, and it’s difficult to escape. Laundry, dishes, and cleaning greet me at every turn. Obligations to school, neighborhood, family, and social events constantly murmur for my attention. I spend hours a day in my car, negotiating traffic and attempting to get as much done as possible during my short time for solid accomplishment while the kids are in school. I’m pulled in every direction by oodles of things I need to finish in a brief period of time. In Steamboat, however, there is very little of that, which is why I relax. The options for things to do are endless, but I don’t have anything I need to be doing. I can choose what I want to do instead of fighting to accomplish things I think I should do. I’m here to exist as a human BEing and not a human DOing. How refreshing is that?
Last night we went to enjoy the hot springs pool. Today we’re going to the Winter Carnival, an event where the local children compete in timed events on the snowy main street in town. The kids are on skis or snowboards, pulled by horses down the street, while they try to throw rings into boxes. The Winter Carnival raises funds for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club (SSWSC), a group that trains local children in winter sports events. Because of their dedication to training children, Steamboat Springs has produced more winter olympians than any other town in the country, sixty-nine to be exact. After the events this morning, we’ll be heading out with friends on our snowshoes for our own winter wonderland adventure. And, tonight when we’re at the Night Extravaganza watching future Olympians weaving their way down Howelsen Hill carrying lighted torches, we will revel in the small-town pride that makes Steamboat so great.
A while back I added one of those vinyl sayings to the wall here. It’s a Chinese proverb that explains, “Tension is who you think you should be; relaxation is who you are.” There is unbelievable truth in that statement. When I’m here, the tension is gone and the relaxation seeps into my skin until eventually it overwhelms me and oozes back out my pores. I’m genuinely able just to exist, enjoy, and be myself without pretension, stress, worry, tasks, or those rotten, dirty “shoulds.”
I need to find more places like this. I need to find places of stillness in our home in Denver, in my car, in the everyday places that I frequent so I can live more authentically as myself and spend less time trying to be who I think I should be. After all, I am already who I should be. I just need to relax more and be myself.
I have this small plaque on my kitchen wall that reads, “Who are these kids and why are they calling me Mom?” No. Seriously. Explain it to me. Some days I honestly wonder how I got here…and by “here” I mean “mother of two boys.” Okay. Okay. I know how it happened technically speaking. I just mean that I never imagined myself here. I’m sure many women envision growing up, getting married, and starting a family. I just never did. But five years after we got married, hubby and I found ourselves saying, “This is great, but now what?” Apparently our next great adventure after getting married, buying a home, and caring for two dogs just in case we decided to have kids, was actually having children.
I can’t believe I thought that becoming a parent would make my life dull. My life hasn’t had a dull (read: “quiet”) moment since the boys arrived. Raising them has been incredibly interesting. Remember before you had kids when you were worried about changing diapers and sleep deprivation? As if those were going to be your biggest concerns? HA. I giggle now when I think about it. It never occurred to me that there might be actual issues with my boys. I never imagined that they might have trouble with growth and development. It never crossed my mind that one of them might be ADHD. I certainly didn’t foresee my son feeling socially awkward or having a hard time making friends. Nor did I imagine how I would handle it when I found my six year old tying Barbie to trees or my eight year old researching “skinny dipping” on Google. Why is it that I have a million books on raising children, and not one of them tells me what I should do about my son with the killer gag reflex who vomits at least once during every dental appointment.
Through my time with my children, however, I have learned more than I did in 6 years of college and graduate study. What I couldn’t get in “book smarts” from college, I learn in hands-on lessons in real life. With my boys, I truly do learn something new every day. Granted, maybe I didn’t need to know that there is a gecko in Namibia that survives the deadly desert temperatures by using its large webbed feet to burrow deep beneath the sand it traverses during the day. I also probably didn’t need to know that baby powder, when completely emptied unceremoniously from its container, would take weeks to remove completely from the walls, carpet, and baseboards of a bedroom. I know I didn’t want to know that boogers are virtually impossible to pry from heavily textured walls or that you can pick up a so-called permanent tooth that has been knocked out and shove it back into its socket in the mouth, hold it there, and probably save it.
For each thing I’ve learned that maybe I didn’t feel I wanted to or needed to know, though, I have also learned something about myself. I pick my battles more carefully these days. I understand that sometimes it’s just best to cut your losses and that doing so doesn’t have to imply failure. I’ve become much better at problem solving and much more adept at improvising. I’ve learned that worrying about things doesn’t affect their outcome. I now know that sometimes even when things don’t work out as I’ve planned they have still worked out just fine. I’ve also learned that I am much stronger than I ever thought I was.
Parenting has been my life’s greatest adventure so far. It hasn’t always been a pleasant journey, but it’s been infinitely educational. Please remind me of that the next time Luke pukes in the dentist’s chair all over himself, me, and the floor, and I’m looking around as if I have no idea whose child this is. Please remind me that there are lessons to be learned everywhere in life. And then remind me that Spray ‘n Wash will remove regurgitated chocolate milk from a khaki sweatshirt if you catch it quickly enough.
My life is filled with worriers. It’s getting to the point where I am going to have to refuse any new friendships with people prone to excessive worry. It’s that bad. My husband and his entire immediate family are worriers, which I find quite interesting since they are some of the most fortunate people I’ve ever known. My husband will actually worry about things in the past. Seriously? Dude. They’re OVER. Move on already. And, now I realize he has passed this worry habit on to our oldest son. Joe’s constant worrying is about the only thing that worries me. Today he asked me to get rid of our stove so we won’t be killed in a natural gas explosion. Oy.
When I was young, I too worried a great deal. I worried about big things I could not control, like my parents dying or nuclear bombs exploding. I worried about ridiculous things too, like a sniper spraying our comfortable suburban home with bullets as I walked by a window or my being bitten by a shark (good luck with that while living in Colorado). On a smaller scale, if I didn’t finish my math assignment, I would be awake all night imagining that the next day the teacher would certainly call on me to answer the one problem I didn’t complete. I was a fairly neurotic child.
Then, during my 8th grade year, something marvelous happened: I got chickenpox during finals week of third quarter. My report card arrived the following week during spring break, and there were several Fs and incomplete grades. I was horrified because I had always been an A student. I sat there at home on spring break stressing about that report card and what it meant to my GPA. But, guess what? Nothing bad happened. I simply had to make up the tests, and the grades would be adjusted. It turned out to be no big deal.
I realized then that sometimes unfortunate things happen at inopportune times but the world continues. Of course, there are things that are far worse than not getting straight A grades. I understand my friends’ reasons for worry. But knowing that worrying about things will not change them, I have chosen not to waste my time. Some things are far beyond our realm of control (like our children dying unexpectedly) and other things can be remedied or will eventually work themselves out. And, even if they don’t, life goes on. Perhaps it goes on in a way we didn’t want it to, but it does indeed go on.
I saw a news story this morning about a suburban Denver mom who was driving her car when two tires came off a semi going the opposite direction on the highway. One of the tires bounced across the median in the interstate and landed directly on the roof above the driver’s seat. She was killed instantly. Her husband had been following her in another car and witnessed the event. It’s a horrible, tragic story. I bet her husband has been rolling around some “what if” thoughts in his head. But the fact remains that the what ifs don’t matter. All that matters is the outcome. Whatever happened happened. It’s our responses to life’s surprises that make a difference, not our anticipation of them.
If I had one wish for my friends, it would be that they relinquish worry. It is such an incredible waste of a mom’s precious energy and mental talents. I challenge you worriers (you know who you are) to resolve to move forward and stop wondering if your kids will turn out all right. They will. Choose to put your energy into changing things you truly have power over rather than considering things you can’t control. Accept that, although life is unpredictable, things have a way of working themselves out. Know that what ifs are worthless and just let them go. Vow to channel your inner Bobby McFerrin.
Don’t worry. Be happy.
(You’re singing it now, aren’t you?)
For years now I have been knocking things off my to-do list, most often big, nerve-testing things that have brought me greater confidence and a better understanding of myself. But, I’ve realized recently that some things that have been grand adventures were never on my list to begin with. Some of the smallest choices I’ve made have brought the greatest, most unexpected joy and taught me the biggest lessons.
Years ago, my oldest son asked me for a turtle. I’m not anti-reptile, so I told him I’d think about it and did some research. Turns out that a common box turtle, the kind you would get from a pet store for your son for example, can live for thirty years. Deciding I did not want to be moving into a nursing home with a turtle (which, let’s face it, is the probable outcome of that scenario), I gently nudged my darling son towards a different pet.
After a lot of discussion, we decided to get a tadpole and grow ourselves a frog. The tadpole experiment was far more interesting than I imagined it would be. For weeks, we waited to see some limbs develop. I swear I was more excited than Joe was when we first noticed legs beginning to form. Over the couple months of development, we anticipated the time when we would begin to feed him “real” food. Real food, it turns out, is live crickets. That took some mental finagling on my part. I was all for a frog pet but was not really thinking about how keeping a frog pet meant that I would have to keep cricket pets as well.
When the tadpole was starting to lose its tail, I began the odious task of raising crickets. I decided they would have to live in the garage; I pay an exterminator way too much money to keep bugs out of my house to move some into my house intentionally. I bought the smallest crickets I could get because our frog was still very small as well. Finally, when most of his tadpole tail was gone and he was starting to come out of the water for longer periods of time, I dropped a couple crickets in with him and crossed my fingers.
For days I watched that frog, but it would not eat the stupid, teeny crickets. I checked on it every couple hours. I was starting to fret that froggy might not make it so I decided to visit the pet store to see if there was something else he might eat. I went in to check on him before I left and found he was dead.
I was heartbroken. I cried over the loss of that little frog, sobbed and carried on in what had to be one of the world’s ugliest cries ever. I was the one who had convinced Joe that he needed a frog, and then I starved the poor creature to death. I had failed as both froggy parent and real parent. And then I had to pull myself together, go pick up my son from school, and tell him the horrible news. Sensitive boy that he is, he was convinced that it was his fault. We spent hours discussing life and death, crying, and finally burying that frog out on the open space behind our house. We decided no more small pets for a while.
Then, a year ago I saw our next adventure in a Brookstone store. It was a small aquarium holding two tiny, aquatic frogs. The frogs eat (get this) food pellets and not live anything. I knew that we might finally be able to put the great tadpole experiment behind us and have a potentially more positive amphibian experience.
So, in addition to four people and one neurotic border collie, we’ve had four African Dwarf frogs in our house since last May. These frogs are more my pets than my boys’ pets, and I am fine with that. I love those little frogs. I love them more than any creature has loved a frog since Miss Piggy worshipped Kermit. I am rather partial to Luke’s frogs, who seem to recognize my voice and swim over to see me when I come to their aquarium. Splashy and Swimmy love classical music and especially enjoy swimming to Beethoven’s 9th. Every day those silly frogs make me smile. They are constant reminders that sometimes life’s most rewarding and educational adventures are the small ones that we don’t plan for.
My husband and I have been parenting boys since 2001, and between our two boys we now have a combined sixteen years of parenting experience. So, it annoys me when we make rookie parenting mistakes. After this much time you’d hope we’d have a clue about how this whole parenting thing works. But, alas, sometimes we’re no better than we were the day we brought the little buggers home from the hospital.
Today we took our boys cross-country skiing. We tried this with them last month. Joe had been on skis before and took to cross-country immediately, but it was Luke’s first time on skis and he presented us with a bit more of a challenge. Luke, god bless him, always knows what to do before he is instructed and he has no intention of letting you tell him what he already knows. So, we spent the first thirty minutes of our last ski trip plucking him up off the snow because he refused to slow down and practice before setting off to catch up to his brother. The whining was unbearable, and don’t even get me started about the noises Luke was making. But eventually, when he figured out that he wasn’t catching his brother by becoming a snowball, Luke listened to our instructions and then took off like he’d been skiing for years. The whole experience had ended so favorably that we decided to spend the money to do it again today.
The boys remembered how to get into their boots and skis, and we were sure we were going to be able to ski three miles no problem. Once we got down the first big hill, though, Luke started having trouble. He was right back to where he was when we started skiing with him the last time. He wasn’t listening. He was perpetually on the ground. He started into the complaints about how he couldn’t ski. He was defeated, and we were getting incredibly frustrated. You know things are going poorly when you have to take turns relieving the other parent of their duty because things are getting ugly. After a half an hour, we had already had changed the guard several times.
The last time hubby scooped Luke up off the ground, he noticed that Luke’s skis were marked as “skate” skis and not traditional touring skis. The difference lies in the distinct lack of any gripping sections on the bottom of a skate ski. The smooth skis are great when you are skating your way up a hill, but not so great when you are trying to stay in the traditional, grooved ski paths and climb. I suddenly felt like Gru in Despicable Me: “LIGHTBULB.”
Had we really just wasted all that time thinking the dang kid was being stubborn when, in fact, he really couldn’t get up the hill? Steve and I have both been skiing most of our lives. You think it would have occurred to us that skiing is a muscle memory activity, and once you learn a skill in skiing you generally don’t lose it. Yet, we were so certain that Luke was being his independent self that we couldn’t even hear what he was saying. Not once did we stop to size up the situation and step back far enough to see that he was indeed slipping all over the place. Rookie parenting mistakes are almost always made when you make snap judgements. We had immediately concluded that Luke was simply not listening to us without even pausing to reflect on the situation.
The whole episode got me thinking about how often we get into a routine and we stop paying attention. We coast along as if we’re in those little cars at an amusement park, the kind where the cars are attached to a rail and even though you’re steering you’re actually just along for the ride. We’re just going through the motions, cruising along under the same tired assumptions totally oblivious to what’s happening around us. It’s fairly easy to get caught up going in circles when you’re on automatic pilot all the time.
In yoga class, the instructors constantly remind us to be present and to check in with ourselves, and on a yoga mat that is easy for me. But, in day-to-day life, it’s normal for me to coast along unaware. I wonder what better place I might be in if I looked up once in a while and made sure I was reading the signs and heading in the right direction?
A couple years ago, I found myself in a peculiar place. Despite having everything a woman could ask for (a handsome and supportive husband, two sweet boys, a beautiful home, myriad friends, good health, and financial security), I was depressed. Every day I would wake up and just go through the motion of living as if someone had switched me to automatic pilot. I was someone’s mom and someone’s wife and I had things to do and no time to think about anything else. I was so far gone that I didn’t even realize I was depressed. My mother had to point it out to me. When she did, I denied it; but I knew she was right. Finally, after years of moping and coping, I decided was tired of who I was or, rather, who I wasn’t. I started wondering what had happened to me. Where had I gone? And, I decided something had to give.
After several long conversations with my spouse, we agreed that I needed to make myself a priority again because (let’s face it) my attitude was making everyone else miserable. I needed some outlets. I was plugged in all the time to what was going on with everyone else and there was nowhere for me to plug in something for myself; I was drained. So, we installed three new outlets in my life: 1) exercise, 2) time with friends, and 3) travel by myself. And it’s because of these things that I decided to start Moms Into Adventure.
Many women seem to lose themselves when they become wives and mothers. The indoctrination begins when we’re young girls: you find the handsome prince, you get married, you have a family, and you will be fulfilled. But, as wonderful as marriage and family can be, they can take a lot out of you too if you aren’t mindful of your needs. If you don’t take time to recharge yourself, what can you provide to others without grudge, annoyance, or negativity? When I made time in my life for exercise, my attitude about myself began to change. With each bike ride or long walk, I became more fit. I started to look better and in turn I started to feel better about myself. The better I felt about myself physically, the more capable I felt. In 2009, I did my first metric century road bike tour, I walked 50 miles for MS with my dear friend Celeste, and I took my first solo trip since getting married. Those three things made me feel strong and independent again. I remembered who I was on the inside.
It wasn’t easy to make these changes. It took time and practice. I had to throw off excuses. I had to be creative to fit everything into our already busy schedule. I had to find a sense of humor some days when plans fell apart and I had to adapt. To motivate myself to exercise, I signed up for events that I would need to train for. My family had to make some adjustments too, my husband most of all. He began spending more one-on-one time with the boys without me. The three of them started having more father-son adventures. But as a result I was a lot less grouchy when I was around them, and our family time was much more pleasant. It’s a process, not a destination. I work at it every single day.
Two years ago I made a conscious choice that changed me forever. I wanted to feel alive and not just to be alive. Ask yourself if it is really enough merely to exist within the framework of the life you currently have? Take the time to listen to the answer in your heart and reflect on it. If you realize that you need more from life, you have to make it happen. No fairy godmother is going to appear and give you the you that you would like to be. You have to envision her, create her, mold her, and nurture her. Remember this: “She didn’t try to change the world. She changed herself, and the world rose up to meet her.”
What are you going to do for yourself this year? Make a decision and follow it through. Bring a friend along with you. Have an adventure. You only live once.