Where Did She Come From?

Part of the journey on the other side of the hill involves letting children go.  It’s easy to forget that their independence was the goal all along.  This can be both heart wrenching and freeing, at the same time.   My oldest has been married and on her own for nearly two years.  My second in line is now testing the waters, finding her footing and getting ready to launch into her own big world.

I just bid farewell, for the summer, to my younger daughter.  This is my middle child, with all the traits known to that position in birth order.  She wants to be considered as independent as her older sister, yet wants to be taken care of as much as her younger brother. She can breeze through a room, turn it upside down, then waltz out as if nothing has happened. Her ideas are grandiose but not supported by planning or follow through. She has an oppositional streak, making choices that directly defy my wishes.  No gift is special enough, no time is long enough, and no amount of attention is deep enough for this insatiable human being.  She is a child that humbles me and makes me doubt my abilities as a mother.

This “child” is my 19 year old college student who has yet to leave our nest.  She attends a local college full time, works half time, attends church, has a great group of friends and runs marathons with her sister.  On the surface she is making good choices, functioning successfully, and doing what every parent wants their young adult to do.  Why then is she so difficult in my home?  Why must we  constantly butt heads over every issue that arises?

When my daughter started researching summer long missions, I had a variety of thoughts. Would she be able to plan long term enough to apply, fund raise, pack for and attend a summer long mission?  Could this person who likes to be taken care of serve others for two months? How quiet would my house be for a whole summer?  If her plans were successful, this would be her fledgling experiment with independence,  the first time she’s spread her wings so far.

Her coming of age parallels my own.  She is nearing official adulthood and I am coasting down the hill to a time when I’ll be a “retiree” and an “empty-nester.” Her summer away is our trial run at the second vacancy in my home.  Though each departure brings an ache to the heart, each vacancy in my home represents a more simplified life and the freedom for this mother to remember who she is.

After months of planning, praying, coordinating, the day for her to leave for the mission site arrived.  In the hours leading up to her departure, I waited for her nervousness to turn to irritation with me as it usually does. Instead, she grew more and more calm during the  24 hours before we left.  In place of the frazzled, irrational girl that I’ve always had to usher through new beginnings, stood a serene, confident young woman.  Where did she come from? She was focused and at peace.  Her voice, instead of shrill and frantic, was sure and quiet. I’ve never met this young woman before, but I liked her and felt an instant bond with her. And as we prayed together for a summer of glory, growth and safety, I felt the long buried cord between us tugging our hearts together.  I felt a hope that God has my little bird in the palm of His hand and that, perhaps, I have done something right as her mother.

Lessons from the Journey

 
     If you’ve seen my previous post you already know I spent last Saturday hiking Valencia Peak trail for my 50th birthday.  I approached this task with many reflections regarding my passage to the half-century mark, but with quite a cavalier attitude about the hike itself.  I am no mountain climber, but the peaks in California are mere hills, I thought to myself. Valencia Peak is only 1347 feet up, as reported by the website.  I was sure this hike would pose no difficulties for me.  And it didn’t, at first.
     The bottom half of the hike is a friendly trail with a gradual grade.  It affirmed my belief that this would be a cake walk.  I was mildly surprised when we started hitting patches of crumbling rocks with little place for sure footing, but it was still no great challenge for me. Near the halfway point, that changed.  The grade became steeper.  At the same time the beaten path disappeared and combinations of smooth and crumbling rocks took over.  Not ready to tell my daughter, and hiking partner, that I was beginning to tire, I suggested more frequent water breaks.  We continued to creep up the ever steepening hill, and I began to gulp for air.  My heart pounded way too hard against my chest.  As we stopped for our umpteenth water break I had to admit to my daughter that I was having trouble.  I doubled over to lower my heart’s position and slow its rate.  While waiting for that to happen, I encouraged my daughter to go ahead at her own pace and let me catch up when I could. (I secretly hoped she’d make it to the top and back to me before I had to climb the two final ramps of trail I could see along the mountain’s side, just before the top.)  She dutifully declined and we continued.
      Next we reached a plateau, about three-fourths of the way through the trail.  It had a great view of the valley below.  We considered letting this be our “top” of the hill.  We could take a great picture and start our descent.  Then we turned around and saw the two remaining “ramps” up to the real peak.  We knew what we had to do.  The water breaks turned into breathing breaks and the struggle was real.  Those last two legs of the journey were the most difficult, nevertheless we made it to the top.

     There was nowhere to sit on the boulders that made up the apex of this hill.  So we stood and looked over the valley below and the trail we had just scaled.  We took our pictures, drank more water and caught our breath. Then we happily began our descent.   Hiking was so much more pleasant going down the hill. I could breath and enjoy the scenery. Although I did become aware of a whole new set of muscles being put to use, I was greatly relieved at the relative ease with which we glided down the mountain.  It seemed like no time at all passed before we reached the ending point of our hike.

Along the way, I was struck with a few more reflections from the physical aspects of my hike.

When it was hardest, just before the top, I didn’t think I could do it, but I did. At least once I was sure I was physically incapable of climbing to the top.  I was wrong and I did accomplish that goal. This leaves me wondering how many other times in life I have nearly accomplished something but didn’t because I was sure I was not capable.  How many of those times was I wrong? How many opportunities and blessings have I missed because I mistakenly believed I was unable to do something?  And most importantly, will I be able to find new confidence to know all that I am capable of?

On my trek down the hill, I felt empathy for people I passed just going up.  I knew how I’d felt climbing up and I wanted to “help” by sharing some of my new knowledge of the trail with them.  Yet I didn’t.  Wisdom, my filter, call it what you will, kicked in and I didn’t say anything more than “good morning.”  I left passersby to their own experiences and interpretations of the trail.  As I am starting down the hill of my life I often feel that same way.  I so want to share my unsolicited wisdom with my younger colleagues and family members.  I’ve been through situations like the ones they are in, and I could tell them just what their responses should be and what happens next.  Yet on a good day I do not.  Instead I respect that each journey is unique and each person must learn from their own choices and mistakes.  As much as I want to guide them to what I have found to be the correct path, I have to let them find their own footing up the hill.

It was much faster navigating down the hill than it had been climbing up.  It’s a universally accepted truth that the trip home is always mysteriously shorter than the trip to whatever the destination. The life analogy is obvious. The second half of life will no doubt be the more concise half.  Coasting down the hill will be fun and most likely swift. Time seems relevant anyway, regardless of calendar days.  For children, from one birthday to the next seems like an eternity.  But the more we age, the sooner birthdays come. Even if I live another 50 years, they will seem to pass by more quickly.  Still, I’ll glide happily down the hill until I reach the end of my hike.  The trip is always shorter on the way home.

Over the Hill

 

I will be spending my birthday hiking up (and down) Valencia Peak in Los Osos, California. This is an appropriate way to spend my day. I will literally be going “over the hill” on my 50th birthday.  I remember when I was younger and getting over a hill meant getting past a difficulty.   When riding bikes as children, we struggled up the hills so that we could coast down the other side with hearts beating double time and the wind blowing in our hair. Wednesday has been universally dubbed “hump day” because on that day we have climbed halfway through the work week and can see our way through to the weekend.  On Saturday when I hike, I assume it will be a relief to reach the top and have only the descent left.  In many contexts, getting over the hill means we’ve reached the better half, so when did getting “over the hill” become a derogatory term for aging?  I want to apply the other contexts for this term to the second half of my life.

The other side of the hill promises to be the better half of my life.  I’ve spent the first 50 years climbing to this point.  I’ve worked hard and learned from countless mistakes made. The struggle has made me strong and showed me what to have confidence in.  I am learning to discern between what matters and what doesn’t. I’m becoming able to truly be at peace and enjoy.  The hard work it has taken to get to the top of this hill is starting to reap benefits.

There is an ease to this later stage of life which contrasts the chaos of earlier life, much like the hiker who has reached the apex and is getting ready for descent. With age seems to comes serenity and security.   Perhaps this is why I’ve secretly looked forward to being an old woman since I was a child. It may not be life that actually gets easier, just our reactions to life’s events.   Outer circumstances may not be what changes, but rather the inner fortitude.  With so many problems conquered (or at least survived), new challenges seem less foreboding.  Tasks that used to seem overwhelming have become commonplace and routine.  Older beings, it seems, move through the same difficult world with a new calm.

I am ready for the exhilaration of my journey down the other side of the hill, ready to struggle less and experience more.  Maybe I’ll try new things, crossing items off my bucket list. Perhaps I’ll observe more carefully and appreciate what is already around me. Either way, I want my heart to beat double time with the wind blowing through my hair.

Enjoy the Ride

I started preparing for my journey to the other side of the hill a year and a half ago. I don’t think I knew I was making a momentous decision at the time.  It seemed like the logical thing to do.  I decided to trade in my extra long minivan for a small economy car.   Most of the time I found myself alone in the cavernous seven-seater, to the tune of 11 miles per gallon.  A new, smaller car just made sense.  Besides getting much better gas mileage, it would be easier to park, to back up, to wash.  So with my mind made up, why did I tear up at the thought of parting with a fourteen year old, soccer ball dented, gas guzzling minivan with the ram emblem peeled off by my middle child?

This ugly hunk of metal and I had a sentimental attachment.  In it, I had chauffeured my babies to preschool, to elementary school, to middle and even high school.  The whole family had piled in with our bags and suitcases for countless trips to the beach.  Loud groups of friends were brought to birthday parties, practices of all kinds, and gymnastics.  Quiet secrets were shared with Mom in the safety of the sound proof van and the security of everyone facing the same way.  I had more than half-raised my children in that vehicle. To get rid of it was to admit that life had irrevocably changed.  I was no longer in the familiar, comfortable position of having children in tow everywhere I went.  With them, I knew who I was. Mom.  My role was clear, and I was good at it.  Now, who was I, all by myself?  I’d spent so long making sure I nurtured my children that I hadn’t planned who I’d be when they were grown.  All these emotions were symbolized by a minivan.  So I let myself have my tears.  Then I took a deep breath and made the trade.

I have been surprised at how quickly I’ve adjusted to my smaller car, and how little I have missed the van.  I am enjoying the feeling of driving it, and I’m reminded of me when I was single and had plans.  I feel faster and free. The car itself isn’t faster, but going places alone and unencumbered is liberating.  I drive more often. I’m free to do crazy things, like run to the store in the evening when I used to be putting someone to bed.  If the old van symbolized the joys of motherhood, the new car symbolizes a new found freedom to be me again.  It encourages me to dream and figure out exactly who that is.  It calls me to enjoy the ride on the other side of the hill.

The path on the other side of the hill

Black balloons and “over the hill.” As I near my 50th birthday, there is a tendency to feel loss and regret.  True, I may have lost my youthfulness with its sureness and efficiency.  I am not as strong or quick as I once was. I no longer think I’m invincible; I know the things I cannot do and the dreams which will not come true.   My family has changed.  I’ve lost those sweet babies who have now grown into independent adults.  However it is my hope that with these losses come new opportunities and, dare I say, wisdom.  As I move forward, I will search for these opportunities as I build the second half of my life. I will explore the parts of me that I can be sure of and find new dreams I can pursue. I want my half century mark to be a time of celebration as I find my path on the other side of that hill. I write this, hesitantly and humbly, for myself; but you are welcome to share my coming of age journey.