We were outside. Really outside, a long way from home. In a state park, carrying fishing poles, hiking through the rain and meeting wildlife sometimes too closely. I was repeating “stop,” “slow down,” “hold my hand” and “be careful” like a broken Gregorian chant record, if the monks were chanting warnings of physical dangers rather than spiritual. We were soaking wet, and I was emotionally on edge from trying to keep three kids under 6 from meeting a river-swept end and arguing with my husband who had forgotten to pack the rain gear. [I made the list, he executed on it…he swore I didn’t include those items on the list. I swore too and hoped the sound of the raging waters muted the swear words before they reached my kids’ ears.] A thought clung to me as tightly as my soggy, not-at-all-suited-for-this-adventure Anthropologie top: I’m an ass…and not just because of my clothing choice for today. This dirty, sodden, spider-filled day was probably the best day of my kids’ lives so far because it was wild. It was a real-life, wild adventure and I, and my grown-up ill-packed baggage, needed to get out of the way.
I needed to stop letting my frustrations and fears interfere with their adventure. I needed to shut up and let them explore.
But my half-Catholic, half-Jewish brain was stuck in a death spiral of worry and guilt, and concern over our lack of sufficient snacks. Would they get sick from being so cold and wet? Would they slip/fall/drown/be bitten by a brown recluse or rattlesnake or black bear or West Nile-carrying mosquito or Lymey tick? Would their confidence be shaken if they couldn’t make it to the top of those daunting rocks or catch a fish? Would the ice cream truck in the parking lot at the end of today’s adventure have mint chip? [Okay, that one was more about me than them.] Just name anything that could make their little, sweet faces crumple into tears, and I was worried about it.
I knew that most of those worries were nonsense. Sure, some were valid (especially the snake thing), but not a single one of them warranted my compulsion to pick them all up and run. So I stopped. I stood back…a bit. And I let them run wild.
I told myself what most of us already know. Kids need to get dirty. They need to be scared once in a while. They need to fail. And we need to let them.
So 600.8 miles from home, over the course of a week spent where Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania meet, my kids got very dirty. They were scared riding horses for the first time and frightened by the sounds and sheer size of the nature around us. They failed to catch a fish…and didn’t care one bit. They had a blast.
The long drive home was filled with talk of what they will do next year when we return to meet Grammy and Granddad at the house in the woods. My 6 year old made a list. They will go on long trail hikes, eat ice cream every day, ride really big horses and go fishing again, maybe this time from a boat. And they will remind their parents to bring the rain gear.