Back from my second road trip in a month; staggered and still, dirty and delighted from my time in Lassen National Forrest in California.
Before leaving, I had a chance to sneak a last minute job in with a new family. When I arrived, they woke the 20 month old up from his late nap. Although I understood the necessity of this, those of you with children know how the story goes from here because–NEVER WAKE THE BABY! He looked at me with the sleep glazed eyes that I know so well from my own pre-caffeine face. Within ten minutes, his parents were out the door and he melted down hard. He went face down on the floor, probably because he was still sleepy, and cried so hard that there wasn’t much breath for anything but yelping sounds. The snot pooled on the side of his face as I rubbed his little back.
I understood. Maybe I am grown up, but I still feel utterly defeated sometimes when my expectations are not met, and at least once a week I want to stretch out on my living room floor and cry as wholeheartedly as he was. He had been snatched from sleep, a place that is very far away, and then abandoned by the people that are usually there. It was confusing and that wasn’t fair. I made sure to breathe deeply to help him find a way back to calm when he was ready, but told him to go ahead and cry for as long as he wanted.
The next night, three hundred miles away in 30 degree weather, wrapped in a sleeping bag in a tent by the creek, my anxiety kicked in to high gear. I script it now as dialogue, but these were all actual “problems” that my mind tried to sell me on.
“My chest is heavy, do you think I have altitude sickness? Four thousand feet is pretty high up.”
“No, I don’t think you have altitude sickness. Don’t you think that there would be some sort of clearly visible warning posted somewhere if it posed any danger at all to hang out at this altitude?”
“Okay, but it is pretty cold out here, do you think we’re going to freeze to death?”
“Very unlikely. We can put more clothes on if it gets colder, but right now we’re quite toasty in this sleeping bag.”
“Or we could go home. If we leave now we could be back by two or three am. No one would have to know that we chickened out. And technically it’s not chickening out, I mean, what if the creek rises and washes your tent in while you are sleeping in it? Then going home is just good foresight. You don’t know how well you staked this thing down.”
“We are not going home because our chest feels heavy and it is cold outside. And you realize that the creek would have to rise like six feet in eight hours in order to even touch where we’re at. There is no rain in the forecast this week.”
“Fine, but what about wild animals or crazy rapists?”
“I get that this is a struggle for you my heart, but no one in their right mind, human or animal, is out to get us in this weather. But if it makes you feel better, I will go get the scissors from the utensils bag, and you can have something close by to stab at any animals or crazy rapists that may wander by in the night. Would that make you feel better?”
“Yeah, thanks buddy.”
“You’re welcome, I love you, let’s try this sleep thing again.”
As my cat has been reminding me since my homecoming this afternoon, all this adventuring is a very new norm for me. My internal parents used to be very boring, stay at home kind of people, but as I wake in these last few years from a very late nap, I find that they have changed and are continuing to change. Sometimes they seem like strangers and I don’t know if I can trust them to hold me while we’re moving, the same way I trusted them when we were still. I want to protest. It’s too hard!! It’s too confusing!! So many curveballs to deal with, growth and changes I never expected at this stage in my life.
In this light, my increased anxiety chatter makes sense. But, just like I talked to the little boy the night before, I could talk to myself. I could rub my own back, sit with myself till I felt safe again, all the while holding firmly to the fact that I could not bring the old, boring parents back. I’m who I’m “stuck” with now, and the fact is, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Yesterday, I went hiking in Lassen Volcanic National Park (moderate hike my ass, Hiking Guide). Anxiety chattered again on the way there–was that sound a bear? what if you get lost? what if someone has stolen your car when you get back?–with countless things that would likely never happen. I set a timer for how long the map said it should take and attempted to breathe gently with myself while the ground was still relatively flat.
When I got to King’s Creek Falls, the chatter went silent.
“Wow. We found it. This is so good.”
“I know. Let’s get closer.”
I shambled down the face of the mountain, on what was definitely off the marked trail, until I found a ledge to nestle into, the strength of my back meeting the strength of the rock. I pictured the generations that must have sat somewhere within my line of sight and watched the water fall. I even caught glints of sunlight hitting spider webs as they swung across the valley. I wondered if, as I sat here immersed and serene, spiders were saying ‘fuck it’ and taking the zipline ride of their lives. I didn’t wonder what could go wrong in this moment, not even a little bit.
I continued to make my way down till I was at the base of the falls and could dip my head under a smaller stream before it plashed into the creek. It was much colder than the head dip I took in the Cave of the Winds at Niagara Falls last year, but the thought was similar. “Mother, bless me. Come with me. Help me move from fixed to fluid.”
However, the response this time was different. “You don’t need a blessing. You are a part of this. All this strength, all this wisdom, all that I’ve seen in millions of years–you are part of it. If you need the blessing, it is in you.”
I am a part of this. The phrase stuck with me as I reluctantly made my way back up and out to the trail. That would mean that my nervous, underslept two year old is a part of this too, as well as any future versions of myself in the making. As I panted and my hip flexors helped me claim the trail summit once again, I could finally stop and really take in a view that was blue and green for miles around me.
I am a part of this. We are part of this.
How surprising to wake and think you’ve been abandoned, only to discover you’ve been held closer than you can imagine, for longer than you’ve existed.