Lessons from the Dragon Mother

For the past few days, I’ve been spending what feels like every waking minute hunched over my computer, editing a video of three-year-old Pippa learning to ride her bike. This is my first time, and though it is time consuming and frustrating, like learning another language, it's also weirdly satisfying. I say weirdly because I'm not the most patient or present person when it comes to DIY, especially high-tech DIY (and anything involving speaker wires, hammers, or yardsticks). 

But as of this morning, after a 3.8 magnitude earthquake rumbled my writing loft, doing its best imitation of a furnace about to explode, and after I spent the next hour combing the web for reports of a quake, checking and double checking our boiler room for gas leaks, installing the carbon monoxide alarm that’s been languishing, forgotten, in our closet, I have a quasi-presentable little clip—set to music and not horrendously jittery—to show for my efforts. I taught myself how to do something. How novel. 

And how frivolous. 

That’s because, somewhere across town, right here in Santa Fe, a mother’s baby is dying of Tay-Sachs disease. If the story sounds familiar that’s because the mother, Emily Rapp, wrote an eloquent, devastating essay in Sunday’s New York Times. I began following Emily’s story last winter, after our mutual writer friend, Rob, introduced us on Facebook. She taught creative writing and had new baby and loved to hike, he told me. We should get together with our babies. We should be friends. 

But my father was dying, and I was preoccupied with grieving and traveling—specifically, grieving and traveling with a five-month old in tow. By the time I got around to following up on Rob’s introduction, it was January, and Emily’s Facebook page had a worrisome tone. I scanned back a few days, weeks and then forward, trying to make sense of what I was reading. There were mentions of doctor appointments and missed milestones, encouraging comments from concerned friends. Then, in plain black type, came the diagnosis: Tay-Sachs disease. A rare, fatal, genetic disorder without treatment or cure. Shocking that something so shattering could be laid bare on the screen, seemingly innocuous and unadorned.

I sat at my computer on that Saturday morning, as the world outside frosted over, feeling stunned. I didn’t know Emily. I didn’t know her son, Ronan, but I knew this terrible, final, irrevocable thing about her. I felt as though I ought to know her better, now that I held this terrible news, even while I knew with unequivocal certainty that we would not go hiking or go out for tea afterwards and talk about our favorite writers or new books we loved. Our friendship was over before it began. But what I didn’t know is that I would think of Emily nearly every single day since then, and marvel at her strength and bravery as a mother and weep for her dark-haired one-year-old son who might not live to be three. 

But many days when I thought of her, it was with despair and fear for my own children, for their fragility and mine. How is it possible to keep them safe, to keep us all safe? Last fall when my father was dying, I saw for first time how life hangs in a delicate balance, a spider web of hope, good health, and possibility strung from the ceiling, tenuous and easily swept away. Every irrational fear that could worm its way into my brain did, lodged there like an unwelcome, intractable houseguest. I spent many months in a deep state of anxiety. I had known, of course, that everyone eventually dies. But I hadn’t really known it. And now that I did, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, worrying about it, dreading it. Emily’s story haunted me, a devastating reminder that it happens to anyone, everyone, all the time: to fathers who are not so very old and children who are far too young and to mothers who love them madly. 

All winter and spring, I read her essays and blog posts, and watched as she grappled with Ronan’s illness and her own unscripted role as a mother of, as The New York Times put it, “a child with no future.” Her writing was eloquent and unflinching—reading her stories, I could tell that the act of writing was essential to her, a way to save her own life even if she couldn’t save Ronan’s. There was nothing extraneous—every deliberate word seemed to propel her forward into a new uncertain world, her world, like hands fumbling for a light switch in a darkened room. One step, and then another—words on the page a lifeline from this moment to the next. I felt this, viscerally, absolutely, and was filled with admiration. 

And guilt. How could I write about running or eating peaches or teaching my three-year-old to ride a bike or my one-year-old to sit still in a raft like a seasoned river baby, when another mother, whose baby will never grow to ride a bike, was wrestling with the biggest question of all: How do I help my child live and die with grace and dignity? If I really thought about it, it seemed possible, and perhaps preferable, to stop writing altogether. 

But I didn’t. Emily inspired me. I kept muddling through, even when the hollowness of my own stories, the seeming inconsequential-ness of them, felt like a deliberate slap in the face to this Santa Fe mother whom I didn’t know but who had been generous and open enough to let me feel as though I did. 

Like most writers, I write to make sense of the world, and my own life. Sometimes when I’m very lucky, the world and my little slice of it overlap in serendipitous ways, and I remember again how important it is to always keep my heart and eyes open, that inspiration comes from remarkable places, and that everything leads us to a new place. When this happens, it feels as though we are pieces in a larger puzzle that is slowly forming, fitting itself together, revealing itself gradually, in increments, until we can see a new picture in its entirety. This is how it has felt reading Emily: uncomfortable, terrifying, tragic, humbling, illuminating.

Now, after reading "Notes from a Dragon Mom," I see my fear and self-doubt in a new light, with more patience, acceptance, and compassion. “Parenting, I’ve come to understand, is about loving my child today,” she writes. “Now. In fact, for any parent, anywhere, that’s all there is.” These words are a gift, and consolation, to us all, but at such an unbearable cost. 

So I will keep racing after Pippa as she wobbles around the basketball court on her pedal bike. I will hike on Tuesday mornings with Maisy on my back, up to the same ledgy overlook with all of Santa Fe sprawling out below me. I will spend ridiculous, untold hours editing scrappy little homemade movies, and I will keep writing, about raising my daughters to be fiercely alive, outdoors, in the wind and the sun, crashing their bikes and getting back on again. This is OK. This is more than OK. This is what I do today. This is how I live now. This is all there is. 


Ode to Peaches (+ bonus recipe!)

I have been meaning to post about peaches! Of all summer fruit, a good peach is my absolute favorite. When I was little, my grandmother would arrive at the cottage bearing old-fashioned wooden bushel baskets full of Niagara peaches, the kind with actual fuzz that squirted juice when you bit into them. I could eat two or three in a row, and the only rule was that we had to sit on the front steps with a paper towel tucked under our chin, preferably wearing only our bathing suits, and hunch forward so that all the juice would run off our chin straight on to the verandah, sparing our clothes, because as my mother announced every single time I ate one: “Peach juice stains!” 

Ontario peaches come from the Niagara escarpment, fertile farmland southwest of Toronto on the shores of Lake Ontario. This is where Frieda had her farm. Frieda worked as a live-in housekeeper for my grandmother in Toronto in the 1950s and 60s. She was from Estonia but had immigrated to Canada and moved into the sprawling attic in my mother’s childhood home on Russell Hill Road. Frieda bought her peach farm on the Niagara escarpment in the late 1950s, and every August she would take her vacation, move out to the farm’s one-room cabin, and work in her orchard. She did all of the spraying and harvesting herself, and each morning a truck would come by and pick up the day’s harvest and take it to be canned. 

By the time I was born, Frieda had sold her farm, but my family had been spoiled on fat, furry peaches, and it was impossible to eat one without thinking of her. In the early 80s, when I was old enough to have my own memories of Frieda—her blondish grey bun, sensible beige, belted dresses, and her retirement apartment in a balconyed high rise along the highway—Frieda was diagnosed with breast cancer. She died some months later, leaving a peculiar vacuum, though maybe only peculiar to me. She was not family, not exactly, but she had been a fixture in my mother’s for so long that when she was gone the idea of her seemed to shimmer hazily like heat on summer pavement, always just a bit beyond my grasp. 

Ontario peaches ripen in August, so if you are at the cottage that month, you can boat over to Leahy’s farm stand at the marina and buy them by the bushel and eat at least one while you drive home, leaning over, of course, so that the pale pink juice runs off your hands and onto the hot metal seat or, even better, over the gunwale and into the lake. They are as sweet as nostalgia, and too good to waste in pies.

I was at the lake in July this year, not August, so I missed the peach harvest, and missed imagining Frieda on her farm in her dungarees with a kerchief tied over her head. Here in New Mexico, peach season is quite short, and if you are lucky you might have two or three good reliable weeks of peach-buying at the Farmer’s Market, but you have to get there early before the farmers from Velarde and Rinconada and the Upper Rio Grande Valley sell out. A late frost last spring killed most of the fruit. As peach summers go, this one was shaping up to be a bust. 

So I was excited when a friend of a friend told me about Marguerite, a Santa Fe woman who imports peaches from Colorado. Every week starting in mid-August, Marguerite drives seven hours north to Palisades, a farming community on the Western Slope of the Rockies, to buy peaches. She fills a truck with fruit picked that day, or the day before, and then turns around and drives home again. A few years ago, when I was reporting a story about organic farming outside of Aspen, I discovered Colorado peaches. They are huge and sweet and are as close to Ontario peaches as any that I’ve tasted. I called Marguerite to get on her list. 

A couple days later, I drove out to Marguerite’s horsy property just out of town and walked into a darkened, chilly garage filled floor to ceiling with larges boxes personalized with farmers’ names and logos. This was the real deal, a major score. There were so many peaches, it felt almost illicit, like a covert drug den, only not. Marguerite showed me boxes of organic and lightly sprayed peaches, in gorgeous, as advertised, hues, with tantalizing names: Crest Havens, Glo Havens, Sun Crests, Angellus. I bought two boxes for $32 each, less than $2 a pound, and staggered out to the car carrying 36 pounds of peaches. Other people were already crunching up the driveway to get in on the stash. 

I gave one box to a friend, and let ours ripen on the counter for a few days before digging in. They were perfectly ripe, fuzzy, and sweet, just like Frieda’s. We polished off the box in less than a week: peaches on cereal, peaches for snacks, peaches on ice cream, peach cobbler. I made my girls take their shirts off and eat them bare-chested on the front steps. Just as I was beginning to hoard the final few, I got an email from the peach lady, saying she had more. I drove out to her place and picked up my fix. 

This went on for a number of weeks. Steve stopped snickering about the enormous quantities of peaches that kept appearing on the counter. The first week, he’d defied me to eat them all before they rotted, and I’d risen to the challenge. He hadn’t known he was dealing with a professional who came from a long lineage of peach-eaters, but now he did. He shut up and ate them, too. 

Pretty soon it was Labor Day. I began to get ominous emails from the peach lady that peach season was winding down. “This might be the last week,” Marguerite told me one Friday morning when Maisy and I showed up in her garage. The boxes towered over the room, as always. It didn’t seem possible that this ridiculous peach bounty could ever end.

The peaches were so good, they required zero culinary skills. I could slice one and stick it in my daughter’s lunch box and look like a genius. But we’d had so many weeks of peaches, I was beginning to get cavalier with my supply. I brought half a box to a friend’s baby shower. I thought about blending one into a smoothie. Heresy! When Margureite emailed a recipe for grilled peaches, I decided to get creative. Or, correction: I decided to let Steve get creative. He selected a few tender ones from the top of the box and got to work. 

If you’d told me that, by the end of the summer, we’d be eating peaches for dinner, I’d have laughed in your face. But now we’d had so many for so long, it seemed to be the next logical step. I wasn’t tired of peaches, far from it, but the sheer abundance filled me with an invigorating sense of freedom, bordering on recklessness. Barbecue peaches! This was what life had come to. 

Steve put them on the grill with organic chicken breast he’d marinated in olive oil and lemon. Both chicken and peaches came off tender and juicy, the sweet of the peach a perfect complement to the tart lemony-ness of the chicken. We served them with arugula and mustard green salad, harvested by headlamp from the garden that very evening. Frieda, I thought, would be proud. 

A few days later, I called the peach lady to see if she had any left from her last delivery. I’d been fantasizing about peach ice cream. “Nope, sold out,” she said. One lone peach remained on the counter. I picked it up and held it in my palm. It was perfectly round and fuzzy and felt almost warm from its ripeness. It seemed almost sacrilegious to eat it, the last vestige of a wonderful summer. But I could see a small grayish dent beginning to form on one side—it was now or never. I ran it under the tap, took it out to the front steps, tucked a paper towel under my chin, leaned over, and bit into it. If memory has a taste, it would taste like that last peach: sweet and sticky, oozing juice, a dozens of happy summers packed into one perfect bite. Peachy.

Marguerite’s Grilled Peaches:

Cut peaches into quarters and marinate in good balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt & pepper.
Get the grill hot, put them on, and turn down to medium heat until they are beginning to brown around the edges.

Enjoy as dessert or serve with chicken and a salad:
Arugula and fresh mozzarella cheese with a simple lemon juice and olive oil dressing.


Crossing Over

It’s been grayish and cool for a few days—an eternity for Santa Fe’s climate—and so when I woke this morning to see the sky scrubbed clear of clouds and cornflower blue, I knew there was only one thing I wanted to do: go for a run. The clarity was a gift; often I feel so torn between motherhood, writing, and adventure that I can’t decide how to spend the free time I have. Am I an athlete today, or a mother or a writer? Should I be working, playing, or hovering around the house with the babysitter, to compensate for all the times I do leave? I miss the predictable rhythms my days used to have before the girls were born, when activities fit in neat little boxes. First you work, then you run, or vice versa. Multitasking was something that harried mothers with spit-up on their shirts and food in their teeth had to do. Now I’m that mother, and figuring out how to fit it all in is its own task, a time-suck I can’t afford. 

So I was psyched this morning to be able to so clearly visualize my day. First I run, then I write, then I mother. My heart and mind knew exactly what to do. But my body didn’t. The minute I stepped out of the car at the trailhead and slid my toes into my Vibrams, I knew something was up. The soles of my feet protested the thin layer of rubber beneath them. I was the Princess and the Pea—I felt every pebble in the parking lot pricking at my heels. I’ve spent the last six months running in my five-finger shoes, building up thick calluses on my soles. But today everything hurt: the long, reptilian crack in my right heel, exacerbated by four days on the river. The sometimes-tender spot between my big toe and its neighbor. My right Achilles

But I ran anyway, limping through the first downhill, with the awkward gait of a just-born foal, my limbs moving in opposition to each other, my feet reluctant to fully settle on the ground. I thought if I could get through the first descent and start climbing, my body would know what to do. But even after my gait eventually normalized, I still felt like I was running on knives. I couldn’t figure out why I felt so sticky and sore, my body fighting itself and the normal paces I put it through, the very thing that usually brings me such strength and joy. 

Then I came out of my myopic little pain cave and remembered. 

A year ago today, my father learned he had kidney cancer. I don’t know how he got the news that day; I never did ask him. But as I hobbled along, I could sense his shock, the stoicism and disbelief that would follow, the dread at having to acknowledge this truth, the private way he must have held it at first, this knowledge of how little time might remain and the tasks that lay before him. His wife would have been top of mind. And his farm. And his unfinished work. And then, when the news settled a bit, how to make the necessary phone calls, to make it real, to set this new paradigm loose on the world, on us, his daughters. 

He called me two days later. It was a Sunday, hot and sunny, summer still clinging hard to us, and vice versa. We decided to go rafting on the Rio Grande with some friends and their son. I knew it would be the last raft trip of the summer. I didn’t know that it would be the last raft trip before my father died. 

My phone rang just as we were about to drive into the Rio Grande Gorge. A minute later, and we’d be swallowed up by the canyon walls, with no service for the rest of the day, but he caught us on the cusp. “Hi, Katie, it’s Dad.” His voice always used to rise on that last syllable, audible excitement mixed with golly-gee surprise that I picked up the phone. 

“Hi, Dad,” I said. “We’re going rafting. We’re about to go into the Gorge. I’m probably going to lose you. Is everything OK?”

“No, not really.” Those words, a body slam to the chest. 

I don’t recall my response, just that I lamely assured him that I’d call him as soon as we got off the river and out of the gorge. I felt the blood rush to my head and looked up as we passed the gas station and the fruit stand and the creepy abandoned motel-looking adobe and the glazed pottery shop and met the Rio Grande on our left and saw that it was still clear and flowing and that we would have a good float, regardless of the words I had just heard but had not yet uttered or dared to make real. 

The canyon was the threshold between knowing and not knowing, between life as it was and life as I didn’t care to imagine, ever. I didn’t know the details, but I knew. Uncertainty rippled over me in waves, and dread sat down to stay. It was bad, I knew. 

We floated the Rio Grande that day. The river was low but still passable, the day warm and gorgeous. Our friends borrowed our canoe and got excited and accidentally ran it into some willows on the bank, which scratched their son’s cheek. There was some drama, but none compared to the horrific scenarios in my head. I told my friend about the phone call, and she said, “Don’t worry until you have reason to worry. There’s no point,” and her advice sounded good, so sound and rational. I threw myself into it, that sensibility and level-headedness, to no avail. Steve rowed and I held the baby and wrestled the two year old and I worried. I knew. 

the river that day
The rest of the day was a blur, except for this part: When the gorge spat us out again and I saw that my phone had service, I actually thought about not calling. Fear had me in its clutches, and rather than surrender, I was going to avoid it, ignore it, as long as possible. Fortunately my husband was more sensible. “Just call,” he said. “You never know.”

I did know, but I didn’t know, and then I did. I called and my father told me. Malignant tumor on his kidney. What he didn’t tell me was how long he had, or how big the tumor was, only that he felt relieved to know, relieved that the pain came from an irrefutable source, not just from his head, not from fear. This seemed to give him some comfort, even though it was the worst kind of news to receive, and deliver. “Stay positive,” I said, as much to myself as him, and for a moment I latched onto my own advice, as I had my friend’s. Yes, no reason to panic just yet. 

So it began, the season of denial (mine) and despair and dying. When I visited him in Virginia a week and a half later, he said to me, “You know when your body is trying to tell you something. You know when something’s wrong. Listen to it.”  I knew he was talking about his stubbornness and fear of going to the doctor, to get his lethargy and lack of appetite checked out. But instead, he’d pushed through for months, out of denial perhaps, or out of an uncanny certitude of what lay ahead. Perhaps he knew but he didn’t want to know, just as I hadn’t wanted to know. Perhaps he thought he could just push through, until he couldn’t anymore. 

I didn’t think about all this while I ran this morning. I thought simply about my dad, and of being on the cusp of this season again, and not being ready for it. I thought about stopping, of sitting down on the pine needles and really thinking about what had happened, but instead I kept running. I pushed through. I thought that if I could keep running, I could shed my pain, which was his pain, really, and send it out into the ponderosas and the sky that was clouding over and the air that smelled like fall. I felt like I could push through, and I did. 



We made it to first grade this past week. And, let me tell you the anticipation was immense for me. I felt such a mix of emotions as I watched him go from our long summer days of togetherness to the fall days where he is at school for most of the daylight hours. Well, maybe I am exaggerating a bit but for a huge chunk of them. Last year he went to half-day kindergarten and that felt like enough, now he is in full days, and while he was scared of them, he comes back saying that it was “awesome.” And then the first few mornings woke up and asked to only go half-day. 

However, this shift to full days is larger than first grade, from now on he will spend more and more time at school and less and less time with us. And, well, I love this kid, I love to hang with him, and talk with him, and do art with him and play with him. And now I have to share him more and more with others. I will miss him, and as my neighbor’s husband said when her babe went off to full day school, “He’s still mine, and there is still a lot of parenting left to do!”

Amen to that! 
*First day of school picture to follow…still trapped on my camera!


Getting a boost!

Last Tuesday I got a shot of penicillin in the arse. Yep, 36 years old and I donned my never saw the sun skin to a nice medical tech or nurse, not sure which he was, Andy, and gratefully received that long needle in my right cheek. 

You see I was dragging! Vicious headaches, raw sandpapery sore throat, aches everywhere for five days, until finally after my hubby’s urging I went into after-hours care to see my daringly talented neighbor, who also happens to be a doctor, who swabbed my throat and proclaimed STREP! 

I awoke this morning, still sick, but with the promise of getting better, to this quote from the Dalai Lama as one of my first facebook feeds. It was a gift.

“In daily practice, reflect on the benefits of love, compassion and kindness, then reflect on the disadvantages of anger. Such continuous contemplation, the growing appreciation of love, has the effect of reducing our inclination towards hatred and increasing our respect for love. By this means even anger can be diminished.” 

You see, I have been feeling maxed as I shared a few posts back and when I get maxed, anger creeps in. This is not fair to those around me. It affects my relationship with my husband and the littles, when mean momma raises her vicious head. You see I loathe anger in myself. A friend of mine made the connection between her sleep habits and her resort to anger as a tool for kid management. She brought what was lingering beneath my consciousness to awareness. An Aha moment you might say. Thanks Jenni, and, now I too am joining the sleep make-over. 

My sleep makeover began last spring when I was still pregnant and Katie pointed out to me that working with a computer or iphone in my room late at night is not good chi, and does not promote good sleep, Then, Katie visited me when my fourth was ten days old and raved about her sleep system, eye mask, ear plugs, white noise and zzzzzzz, it helps take the edge off. She even went as far as mailing me my own sleep system. Now after being sick for five days, (something I also loathe, and do not have time for,) I realize even more with school around the bend I need a boost and it is not just through penicillin in the bottom or sleep alone, but also prayer. I’d been neglecting my prayer, which I have a hunch will make me slow to anger too. So this time when I kneel it will be for grace and not just an antibiotic makeover. And instead of letting myself get so run down to the point of needing an antibiotic boost, I'm going to get a sleep boost and hope that makes my immune system naturally balanced and healthy! Bye bye strep! And with school around the corner who couldn't use a few more zzzzzz's.

My sleep pledge: I will shoot for 9-10 pm bedtimes, no iPhones or computers within reach, and last thing uttered on my lips prayer and the first sounds spoken grace.

Post Script: boosters do hurt and if you want to do your littles a favor rub the spot out after they get a vaccine!


Grousing, Vindicated

A story after my own heart,  from NPR's Alan Greenblatt, in which he says that there are many days when parenting just plain sucks, but we're not supposed to talk about it. As a friend of mine told me last week, about mothering, "Sometimes I hate my job and just want to quit. But I can't!"

Here's an excerpt:
Parents: Let's make a deal. Let's be honest with each other, or at least one friend, that there are times when the whole enterprise feels like a bad idea. Let's be less alone with this and maybe even laugh about it, putting aside for just a few minutes the earnest need always to say, omigod it's so great.

It seems only fair. The one thing we all do is complain about our parents.


Walk, Run, Sit.

You have to walk before you can run. At least this is the manta I kept telling myself as I tried to run for the third time since my fourth boy. This time from my house, down the Summit boulevard trail to the monument at the river. The path, a worn, dirt one, hugged by clusters of pine trees, some with large enough bases to be a fort for a 6 year old in the winter. Sun and welcomed shade graced my face, as I wove between the trees from a run, to a jaunt, to a walk back to a run again…it’s humbling to say the least as I grasp for breath. All the while I envision myself running these two short miles with breath full and bold circulating all the way into my sacrum and pelvic floor, not pausing at my neck where it seems to be stuck on a loop. 

I approached the last leg of the trail before it hit the River Road, I was stopped by a small boulder that had a plaque on it dedicated to the Junior League Women of St. Paul in 1977 for the reforestation of the city; those trees that lined my path placed by dedication to beautify. I paused with my hands cupping the rock, and behind me a bench invited me to sit on it with the morning dew still present. 

(I wrote the above paragraphs on Monday, it is now Wednesday and I am just now getting back to this, to that moment.) 

You see something happened in that moment I chose to sit in stillness with the wet dewed bench soaking my god-awful yellow running shorts. I felt my spine grow tall, my shoulders open up, my mind settle downward, and I tuned into my breath, I imagined it moving from my neck to my shoulders down to my stomach settling and circling through my sacrum and pelvic floor. An occasional car, or barking dog would punctuate my sitting meditation and I would notice them, even at times glance their direction, but then I would return to my breath. To feel the rising sun’s rays, slant cross the boulevard, and dance across my face. Gradually, with each breath I was more and more in my body and less outside of myself. I finally turned to go back on the trail I had come from instead of going the last fifty paces to the river, I realized later the importance of this, the river holds trails I walked as a child with my parents, but those old paces hold things I no longer wish to hold for myself. And, just like that I was ok with stopping short of my goal, the monument, and grateful for that small plaque on that small boulder, that invited me to sit and still myself. 

As my feet hit the trail, I was in a different place. My mind felt clearer, calmer, and I felt more in tune with my body. My shoulders down and back, my hips more open, my feet more purposeful in their walk, and my walk became a walking meditation. And while I wished for the trails of the mountains I once hiked, I settled for the plains of the Midwest and I was ok with that. 

Creatures of Habit

Every Tuesday morning I go hiking with my writer friend Natalie. We have been doing this for nearly a year now, and we have our system down to a science, or our routine down to an art. Whatever—we do the same thing each week we are both in town, which this summer hasn’t been very often. Natalie teaches and travels a lot, and I guess I’ve been gone my fair share of Tuesdays, too. 

[not this trail, but one like it]
But this morning is a hiking morning, so I pick up Natalie like I always do on the corner by her house, and she peers in the backseat window at Maisy and cooes hello, just like she always does. Then I rive us three-quarters of a mile or so up the road to the trailhead. We always hike the same trail. Every now and then we discuss hiking a different trail, but it has yet to happen. The one we like is close to both of houses, so we don’t have to waste precious walking time driving. There is a granite outcropping about halfway up where Natalie likes to stop and meditate while Maisy and I keep hiking toward the top. The trail to Picacho Peak passes through a shady canyon, then switchbacks through stubby pinon and juniper and offers plenty of distractions from the ascent in the way of western views to the city below and the Jemez Mountains on the far horizon. There is nothing not to like about this hike. It is hard to imagine improving on it. 

The first part of the trail hopscotches over the Santa Fe River (a couple feet wide, usually dry), climbs steeply to a road crossing, and then clambers over a series of rough, railroad-tie steps that are crowded by weeds and sometimes badly eroded, depending on the recent rains. Then it veers left and becomes more gradual, and prettier. Natalie and I always chitchat until we get to this point, catching up on whatever’s happened since we last saw each other. But at the place where the trail bends left, we stop talking and start walking in silence. That is the rule. This is how we’ve always done it. Most days, I feel like I could keep talking the whole way up, but it’s our ritual instead to say, “OK, see you at the ledge,” and then the only sound is the crunch of our sneakers on dirt and the breeze rustling pine needles and we fall into our own rhythms and paces. Before long, the distance between us has widened, so that Maisy and I are hiking on our own and Natalie is on her own; every now and then the trail swings wide one direction or the other, and I can see downhill through a few turns to where Natalie is, walking silently uphill, her face obscured by her nylon sun hat and her hands clasped resolutely behind her back. 

When I get to the granite ledge, I keep climbing through half a dozen or more switchbacks to my favorite tree, a regal ponderosa that shoots up out of a precipitous slope with great confidence, as though it has always been there and always will and is not phased by the thousand-foot drop below. The summit is not far, but this is where I turn around, in part because I don’t want to keep Natalie waiting too long and in part because I am excited to talk to her. When Maisy was only three weeks old, before I started hiking with Natalie, I used to turn around here, too, so that I could make it back to the car before I’d need to nurse her again. Maisy has always been a very tolerant, undemanding baby and until recently would sleep the whole way up and down, but her sister before her would, without fail, reach her limit by the time we got to our tree. So it has become tradition to turn around there. I am always pleasantly torn between wanting to keep hiking and wanting to head back, and I like that either choice is a good one. There is no bad decision. 

It’s 15 minutes back down to where Natalie is sitting, with her back arrow-straight against a ponderosa pine and she always says “Katie?” swiveling her head just a little, even though she says she can tell it’s me by my footsteps. Then we launch into all the thoughts and ideas we’ve both had in our own minds, brewing, the whole way up—food, fried eggs, writing, eating, motherhood, meditation, allergies, yoga, North Dakota—it’s all alive and fair game to us on the way down. 

This is how we hike.  We are creatures of habit, but of course things change: It was fall when we started, then winter—the driest we’ve had in years—now summer. Sometimes it is grey, but mostly it is sunny and bright. The baby is what has changed the most in the past year—she is the thing that is most different from week to week. She was 9 pounds when we started. Now she is nearly 20. That is a difference you can feel, in your hips and shoulders and the soles of your feet.

But this morning, something radical happens. Just as we get to the turn off, Natalie says, more to herself than to me, “I’m walking to write.” “What do you mean?” I ask over my shoulder, and she says, “I’m walking to prepare myself for writing.” It’s time to be silent, so I pipe down and don’t ask, though I want to, what she means, or how she will do that, or what it might feel like.  

I think about it the whole way up, this declaration of intention, and though it’s not my intention, it changes the way I walk. I am more here, less scattered, feet scuffing pine needles, eyes casting about to the view, my mind a narrow tightrope instead of its usual freeway of chaos and sprawl. I think about what I’m walking for today, and the sensation that comes to mind—it’s more a feeling than a word—is clarity. Like how I felt when I cleaned out my office threw out entire piles of junk mail and filed and tidied and made it my own again. I’m walking to prepare myself for all the mental clutter still to be cleaned, the tasks I’ve been procrastinating for no good reason, the chores I dread, the tasks I need to attend to.  

A few days ago, I picked up the September issue of Shambhala Sun on a whim at the grocery store checkout. The whole issue is devoted to love, and I thought it might give me some tips on how to stay compassionate and sane and loving in the face of our recent sleep crisis. In a short article about meditation, Pema Chödrön writes: “Each time you dare to remain where you are and do something completely fresh, unconventional, and nonhabitual, you open up new pathways in the brain. You experience that as strength and it builds your capacity to be open the next time around.” 

For the past year, Natalie and I have done the same hike twice, six times, two dozen times and have been inspired and comforted by the ritual. Natalie’s casual remark this morning cracked open the day and superimposed on our well-worn path—with its familiar landmarks, ledges, and trees—a new way of walking and thinking about walking. It was the same hike, but completely fresh. 

When I meet up with her back on the ledge, Natalie tells me that she hiked in her hips, felt her body rooted in those twin joints and felt herself settle into the walk and the day, so that when she settled at her desk later, she would ready to be there, in her bones. But you will have to hear from her how the rest turned out. Until then, I highly recommend doing your favorite thing backwards or in reverse or upside down, or in mismatched clothes like orange and purple, or simply with a purpose you say out loud. I guarantee it will crack your day open, too. 


Zen and the Art of Sleeping

I know I’ve been writing a lot about not sleeping lately, and I know if I want to sleep, I should probably write about sleeping, not about not sleeping—what you resist persists—but I need to say one more thing on this topic. Last week, I had a moment of unscheduled grace, a surprise truce in the bedtime wars. I don’t know where it came from, but I want to record it so I can remember it in case it doesn't happen again.

For most of the summer, I’ve been wrestling with Pippa’s resistance to going to bed in the evening and staying in bed during the night. We’ve tried lots of different tactics, some recommended, some not: putting her right back in bed without a word, over and over; threats; taking away her pacifier; stickers and rewards; even, in my most desperate and reactive Mommy Dearest moments, spanking. Not surprisingly, nothing has really stuck. 

So, last week: Steve helped me give the girls dinner and then left to play Ultimate like he does every Tuesday. Maisy went to bed without a peep, and then it was Pippa’s turn. We went through the whole song and dance routine—teeth brushing, PJs, book, 100 pats, one round of ABCs, and then “my favorite part of the day was _____ “(fill in blank). “Stay in your bed,” I told her right before I closed her door, cringing with dread as I did.

I parked myself in the hall. Instead of going to the kitchen or grabbing my notebook to write, I just stood there, waiting. I told myself I had nothing better to do. There was nothing I had to do but stand there and put her back in her bed ten times or 100 times, and weirdly, I was OK with it. I whittled all my normally enormous expectations down to a single, tiny sliver of purpose: Stand outside the door as long as it takes until she goes to sleep. I didn’t go into the bedtime routine planning to get all Zen on the situation, but there you have it. I’d stumbled into an uncharacteristic state of acceptance, and I was going with it.

She came out. Of course she did. Several times. Each time I spoke quietly in a unperturbed voice that did not sound like my own and put her back in her bed and because I had already written off wanting to write or read or do yoga or make dinner or anything quote-unquote productive with my evening, I was not attached to any of those scenarios. I did not get mad. I even thought, I could do this all night, and I wasn’t showing off or faking it. I actually meant it. Even better, I actually felt it. It was peaceful outside that door. Steve has lined the deep, flagstone windowsill with aloes and agaves and other succulents whose names I’ve forgotten but that glow green in the slanting light and have sharp prickly points in whose honor we have, perhaps unfairly, named it the “sill of pain” for the potential for causing inflict harm on small curious fingers. (Though in reality it is far more beautiful than dangerous.) I stood there looking at the sill of pain, and watching the natural light in the hall dim a little, and for once in the past eight weeks, feeling no attachment or gripping resentment or any discomfort whatsoever. 

At one point, I slipped into the laundry room next door and started folding laundry. I had no ambition to fold laundry, it just seemed like something calm and meditative to do, peaceful, like the waiting itself.  Click, went her door, and she appeared in my door. The sight of her did not really perturb me. I wasn’t attached to folding laundry (though when am I ever attached to folding laundry?!) and so I stopped what I was doing and put her back in bed. 

I could tell she could tell something was different, and that it made her curious, but not so curious that she would keep doing this. I could tell that was going to be the last time I heard from her that night, and it was. But I didn’t leave my post right away. I stood there feeling the night settle down on the house, and my calmness radiating out from me like a deep, still lake without a single ripple in it. 

Then I went outside, still in my three-quarter trance, and walked around the house in my bare feet. We call this “going round the world.” Our house in long and skinny like a bowling alley and Steve has laid a flagstone path the entire way around, and I walk it as often as I can in bare feet so I can feel the slightly coarse but flat, regular texture of the slabs beneath my feet and admire Steve’s garden as I go and pass by Dad’s peach tree, and in doing all this in this way, have my own little unofficial walking meditation. It’s not so different than my other evening circumnavigation ritual: When I was at Stony Lake in July, I'd put the girls to bed in the boathouse and eat dinner and double checked that they were still down, and then I’d go out in my mother’s new skiff or one of the kayaks and paddle around the island. 

Of course there’s something calming in traveling in a circle, whether by foot or by water. It’s the repetition and familiarity of the route, the fact that you can do it in opposite directions, and it will feel different even though you have memorized every inch of shoreline and every stipa grass or hollyhock along the way. Unlike paddling around Eagle Mount (which takes about half an hour give or take, depending on how many times you stop to drift idly and listen to the loons or swat at mosquitoes) when I go around the world at home, I usually make a few laps. The first one I might be somewhere else in my mind, debating whether this is a waste of time and I should be writing or doing yoga instead, but by the second lap, I am usually into the walk, feeling the ground with my feet, and hearing the gold finches and hummingbirds buzz by and just really there. I keep walking until I feel the tug of the house at me, and other demands or desires, and then I go inside and do something else. 
I went around the world that night a few times, and each time I passed the sill of pain from the outside, I peered in through the darkening window to make sure Pippa’s door was still shut, and it was. But if it hadn’t been, I’m pretty sure I would have been able to float inside the house in my little Zen trance and do the thing I needed to do, over and over if I had to. But I didn’t and it was peaceful, and I walked around a few more times and then went inside to see about dinner. 

That that night was an anomaly, and that for the following three nights I would enact scenes from Mommy Dearest as I cajoled and yelled and willed her to stay in bed doesn’t really matter. Of course I did. But for a moment I was the lake without a ripple in it, and I had shed every last prickle of ambition and impatience and resistance and was free.  


Anchoring the Monkey-Mind of Motherhood

Ok you got me. I am dusting off the keyboard and plunging in after many mental failed attempts to post…so here is a string of almost posts. A form I feel like I have written in too often as of late: as of Seamus’ impending arrival, arrival, and now post arrival. Between travel and motherhood, and boys bickering, I am fried at the end of the day too. It’s the constant refereeing I find myself in, and you are right even if it is just a phase and one I pray will pass, it sucks to be in it. I can’t figure out if they are fighting because they get my attention, albeit negative; they are coming off of a month of travel, they realize that Seamus is here to stay, or they need school and that schedule to start up again. Or all of the above. But, man, I am sick of saying, “You need to listen. You need to be nice to your brother. You need to be kind.“ Or the threatening, “That’s one, that’s two, that’s…” and before I get to three they snap-to. Not sure what I would do if I actually got to three, but I am tired of hearing myself on repeat these days. Especially after solo parenting for five days. I know I need to raise my horizon line to the far off distance and not the nearsightedness I am stuck in. 

So I sigh, and try to get back to something larger than the minutia of my children and whether they are getting along or not. This blog, my writing it helps me exhale get past my monkey mind and settle into my breath.  So what has happened in my month of blog neglect?

Well we traveled…to Boston to see friends and family and languished on the ocean drenched in sun, sand, and waves. We caught crabs and picked dead sand dollars, and played in tide pools. We bar-b-qued, and went to carnivals, and ate ice cream at Captain Dusty’s, and for the first time in years Peter took a proper vacation. No checking email or responding to work. This was not his initial intention. It never is, but when you leave you blackberry out in the rain that is the result. And after ten days, well nine, because day one he was still plugged in, he was a new man. 
The Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Cape Ann

During July I have to say my anxiety hit a peak. It hit a peak because well I don’t know if it was a hormonal shift that I didn’t see coming. The lice our neighbors accidentally shared with us that we had to rid ourselves of before departing for the east coast. Or the adjustment of being blessed with four kids six and under—it can feel at times an abundance of joy and good fortune or an abundance of needs and demands that I do not have enough hands to meet. Never would I trade it especially after going through a few years of not being able to have children. But wow sometimes the awesome responsibility hits me. 

After being out east, where it felt like I was literally bumping up against my past life of living in Cape Ann, we traversed to the high desert of Santa Fe. Seeing the browns of the desert punctuated by crisp colors of green and blooming desert flowers, I began to sink into myself more. However, Peter was back at work and my past fears of being solo parenting in the desert tapped me on my shoulder again, ever so sneakily. For the first few days I had the knack down. We went to the Children’s museum, swam at the Santa Fe Hotel pool, hit the library where we stocked up on books. Then day four hit and Peter had a sixteen hour day of work and wow anxiety spiked so strong I ran from that day like a wild animal in retreat. Instead of sinking into it I over planned and by the end of the day I was fried and crying and so were the children. You see, going places with four kids all in car seats is an undertaking much less doing it five times in one day, equals ten ins and outs of the car. It was too much. I realized that I was living life like a person without kids who has the freedom to plan a jam packed day, not one with kids who needs to listen to their rhythms and respect them. And so I once again learned the hard way, that part of parenting is mastering the art of being still while the littles dance around you in circles like a Mayflower pole; they occasionally bounce into you and ricochet back out from its center.
The calm of the desert grasses
So when we returned to Minnesota it took an act of will to just stay home and unpack. Sink into home after travel. Be an anchor after being adrift. Turn my head toward the unopened mail, the grocery shopping, the back to school preparations, the reconnecting of our friends here. I still have not done it all, but I am slowly reintegrating one step at a time and realizing our roots go both deep and wide simultaneously, like those of a dandelion, which makes them hard to pull up. And for this I remain grateful.


The Power of Now

I feel horrible. I haven’t posted in over a month. Here I am neglecting our blog about creativity and motherhood because, quite simply, motherhood has gotten in the way. It's almost impossible to carve out 20 minutes of brain time when your three year old who used to sleep through the night—7 to 7 and then some—has completely regressed and now wakes more times per night than the one year old. (Eight, at last count.) When instead of grabbing a notebook or laptop and sitting outside in the fading lovely light and feeling the words return and stories take shape after you blithely put her to bed (and expect her to stay there like she always did), you spend the next hour standing guard outside her bedroom, putting her back to bed five, ten, 28 times in a row while trying not to lose your shit. And failing, miserably. 

ahh, the old peace & quiet
Evenings used to be my time to write, a guaranteed few hours of wide-open mental space and freedom from all parental responsibility, uninterrupted writing time. I know what everyone says: It’s a phase. This too shall pass. I want it to pass now. I want my evenings back. I want to not feel like I’ve been run over by a truck every morning when I wake up, exhausted from clenching my teeth in my sleep, and putty-brained by 7:30 PM, like I am right now in a condo in Colorado while Steve's out hiking and I'm so wiped I can't even be bothered to read my book or decipher which remote control turns on the TV. I want to be able to put her to bed and write a few pages in my notebook and then eat a slice of cheese or just zone out and do a yoga pose or two and watch the cat scratch her claws on the fence post without having to play prison guard to a three-foot-tall escape artist with attitude. Is that too much to ask? Yes, apparently it is—at least right now. 

I know I’m whining and should just suck it up. But I miss my writing. I miss my freedom. I miss my time. I miss feeling the rat-tat-tat of ideas knocking around in my brain. So, a resolution, inspired by motherhoodwtf: Write anyway. Write even when it’s messy and you feel like chucking your computer out the front door, screaming at the defiant child, or running away, or all of the above. During those moments, write anyway. Don’t wait for long idyllic stretches of peace and quiet because you might be waiting a very long time. Don’t expect perfection. Don't hold out for inspiration. Write right now. Especially now. 

There, I did it. It's not pretty. But I sort of almost maybe feel a little bit better already.


River Legs

I am sitting at our kitchen table writing while the entire house naps. It is raining outside again, overcast, sky filled by cloud coverage, no sun in sight. I feel as if I live in Seattle instead of Saint Paul. This summer has been filled with rain, only punctuated by sun. The drenched squelch of the Twin Cities is such a contrast to the forest fires and aridness of Santa Fe.

Reading Katie’s post about her awesome river trip brings back that sweet day last spring when Katie and Steve took our crew down the Rio Grande. We were so stoked that anyone would give such an offer! Katie and Steve were just the couple to do it too, they have the skill, knowledge, and experience of having young kids out on the river. I was psyched and ready to have our virgin voyage be with them. Our motley crew consisted of: Kieran who was 15 mos. old, and fiercely attached to his paci, Pippa nearing two, Finn and Liam 5 and 3 respectively, Baby Maisy still in Katie’s belly, while Baby Seamus was yet to be. We launched. It felt amazing to be on the river, sun high, wind breezing over us as Steve steered us gracefully down the river with such strength.
Readying to launch...Kieran in the flag swimsuit.

We picnicked on the bank for a break since Kieran was ready to launch himself into the Rio Grande, but only managed to launch his paci.

Our panic at his paci launch! “Paci overboard!” We yelled as we scrambled to save it without tipping the boat. Novice mistake to only bring one for him. That meant we couldn’t plug his whininess.

Pippa to the rescue! She graciously gave up her paci for the common good.

Only to rediscover and reclaim Kieran’s lost paci hours later down river, nothing short of a miracle.

Exposing our boys to “adventure and fresh-air,” seemed so easy to do in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Now I grapple with finding ways to “let the kids explore and be wild, and play outside and get dirty and not have every minute scheduled with Stuff and Things to Do,” like your dad cautioned. So far this summer we have had art camp, and baseball, and soccer, and swim lessons…and when Liam pushed back and told me he didn’t want any scheduled sports, he just wants to be four and play outside I heeded to his wise lead. Finn on the other hand seems to relish his practices and games. Am I losing him to this march of the sporting world? Where are the idle arroyo explorations? The leisurely hikes, (leisurely because the littles were in tow)?

Leisure break with the littles.

Or just playing in the red dirt building short-lived dams with buckets of precious water, watching stink bugs lift up their rear ends? It seems to be such a delicate balance, and one I strive to strike again before I am out! Thanks for this sweet reminder.

The Flash playing ball.


Rubber Band Rings

They’re developing on Sweet Seamus’ wrists as he eats, sleeps, poops, eats again; the cycle of growth. He was born so lanky, so thin, so sturdy—his thigh muscles clearly defined. His long limbs going on for miles but pulled in like a wind up toy you pull out and then it recoils ever so slowly into itself. Now eight weeks later he is really growing in length and in girth with these sweet rings carving into his once dainty wrists, and his thigh muscle definition fading away.

And he is finding his thumb, talk about sweetness! Watching him suck his thumb. How ingenious! He self soothes no paci plugging, or incessant nursing. Well okay, still incessant nursing. But no paci plugging! That has caused me more sleepless nights with my other three boys than I care to count! The thumb is a revelation to me in parenting. Dr. Grady, our pediatric cardiologist who cared for our first born’s heart murmur, assured us that they needed “non-nutirtive sucking,” and therefore that we were not ruining our son with an introduction to the paci. And we didn’t, whew, but at the time it was such a new parent controversy—or so it seemed, sitting there in Dr. Grady’s office waiting for the results of Finn’s heart echo, with the palm trees swaying outside his window.

And can we talk about the sweetness of having a baby fall asleep on you? It’s really an euphoria that I can’t get enough of these days. Him asleep on me, cheek to cheek, snuggled under my chin, laxed arms draped over my shoulder, his feet curved under my forearm against my belly. Really! What amazes and saddens me is one day it just stops—they just won’t sleep on you anymore.  

In this four week small window filled with such major growth, I’ve met mothers, who recall with heart wrenching details their sons, sons that have prematurely died. As they tell their story, stories that are now part of mine, I have the Chinese proverb I once got on a fortune cookie in Santa Fe whisper in my mind: “May your children and your children’s children outlive you.” It’s become my prayer and my plea.

Two mothers, Constance and Princess lost their teenage sons to murder in Minneapolis’ north side. Another mother, Caroline, who lost her twelve year old son, Carter, to a freak accident at the park shared her story with me in the waiting room at urgent care as I clutched my feverish two year old two nights ago. She looked at me holding him, and said, “What I wouldn’t do for those snuggles again.” Her other son battles kidney failure. She wishes they had more kids as she sadly states, “My 16 year old does not want to be an only child.” Then, last night at my doula party, I sat and talked to another doula, Kelly, who shared her story of losing her 19 year old son, Tyler, last winter to carbon monoxide poisoning as he worked to install large booming speakers into his car with the engine running. With each story that I now hold, tears have filled my eyes and theirs.  Who knows what details will stick to memory? Caroline said, “I imagine Carter saying this one is really gonna be a good one as he launched the next rock. I imagine he died laughing. Happy.” Or Kelly who said, her girlfriend said “Tyler visited her and was very near God and said please tell my mom ‘I love her and that I am filled.’”

As I look at my sleeping Seamus and revel in his rubber band wrists grateful for his vitality for each of my boys lives, I accept how fragile and strong life really is, and that just like that it can snap, the band breaks and we are left to walk in those deep crevices like the ones sweetly forming, ever evolving on Seamus’ wrists.


Take Me to the River, Part I: 19 Nervous Breakdowns

dry run, carport, June 5
Tell people you're taking your 10-month old baby and almost-three-year-old toddler whitewater rafting down a remote desert river for a week, and most of them will cock their heads and look at you like you're a little nuts. But no one was more skeptical in the weeks leading up to our San Juan river trip than the shrewish, spoilsport voice in my own head. As our adventure approach, my inner Debbie Downer got louder and harder to ignore. “What?" she'd fairly scream at me. "You’re taking a 10 month old rafting? What are you thinking?” In the face of her grating scorn, I couldn't come up with a good answer, so I asked my closest friends, my mother, my sister, anyone who would listen, in an apologetic, disbelieving tone, like I half-expected myself to cancel at the last minute.

You might think that since not one person told me to pull the plug, I would have taken that as a vote of confidence and quit worrying, but deep down I thought they were too polite or nervous to say so, and I knew that the one—and only—person I had to convince was myself, and no one could do that but me. The night before we were supposed to leave, after I’d spent all day sorting an absurd amount of non-perishable kiddy snacks—more Pirate’s Booty and whole-wheat organic fig bars than a small army of kids could consume in six months—I gave up and went outside. Even if this wasn’t the most deranged and irresponsible idea ever hatched, there was absolutely no way it could ever be worth the epic preparations and logistical toil that had been required of us.

Bleary-eyed from a zillion what-ifs, I collapsed in the fading butterfly chair beside my dad’s peach tree and, feeling like the most reckless and wussiest mother on the planet, proceeded to sob out all my insecurities and doubts. What if the kids drowned? The river is as muddy as chocolate milk—anything accidentally dropped in would disappear forever. How would we keep them in the boat? What if Maisy got stung by a bee and her head blew up like a weather balloon? 

Dad’s tree just swayed a bit in the breeze, and sight of its leaves, finally unfurling now that summer had decided to stay, like hands waving back at me—calmed me a bit. At some point I realized I wasn’t talking to the tree anymore, but directly to Dad, and it seemed not unreasonable to think he might be able to hear me, and then it was not a stretch to sort of discern what he was saying back. In his deep, reassuring voice: You’re doing the right thing. You're doing a good thing. Mildly amused but never mocking. Unflappable. 100% understanding. 

packing the most important staple of all: beer
On my last visit with Dad before he died, we sat outside together in the weak, slanting November sundown. It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and I had decided to stay on with Dad a few extra days so I could go with him to see a new doctor. His oncologist had just told him he was no longer a candidate for chemotherapy and it was time to call Hospice. This seemed like a major fork in the road—perhaps the biggest and last decision he’d ever make—and I’d urged him to get a second opinion. 

That day as we watched Steve and Pippa and my sister drive down the long driveway, Dad turned to me and said, “You and Steve are really doing a good job with the girls.” He didn’t seem to have the strength or desire to talk much, but contained in this one comment, I knew, was unspoken admiration for our efforts to expose the girls to as much adventure and fresh-air as possible. We’d had conversations about this in the past, and it seemed enormously important to him, a validation of his own philosophy of parenthood, when as a younger father, he’d take us camping in a musty mustard tent on the Delaware River, snow-hiking on Skyline Drive, clamming in Maine, and amateur-spelunking in ticky-tacky Luray Caverns over the hump of the Shenandoah Mountains.

Two years ago, when we decided to do the same San Juan rafting trip with 10-month old Pippa, Dad had grilled me for every detail and then boasted of our bravery to his friends. Sitting there next to his peach tree, I could hear him, reminding me in his low, calming Dad voice how important it is to let kids explore and be wild and play outside and get dirty and not have every minute scheduled with Stuff and Things to Do. 

So there I sat beside the tree, blubbering to the evening breeze and to Dad wherever he was, in the midst of it all. When it seemed like I’d said my peace and he’d said his, I went back inside and finished packing the snacks. That’s when it hit me: We had done our homework and our legwork. We’d done this before and knew what we were getting into. We weren’t winging it or being reckless. We were Prepared. And all that preparation had to count for something. 

I shoved the last of the zillion packs of pureed fruit baby food into the dry bag and, heaving that mountain of snacks onto my back, felt suddenly and unexpectedly unburdened. Even better, a tingly goosebumpy anticipation began to creep over me, reminding me exactly of the way I used to feel when it was just Steve and me heading out into the unknown, when there was less at stake, and no one to plan for but ourselves. The feeling was so familiar and dear, I couldn’t remember ever not feeling it—that old rush of freedom and anticipation and possibility, the precursor to everything good to come and one of the very best reasons we go. 

And so began our adventure....

At the put-in, finally, June 7