Motherhood has consumed me for the past ten years. Two years of infertility, then finally-babies!, cloth diapers, breastfeeding, attachment parenting, healthy food for them, knitting for them, lather, rinse, repeat.
I love my children so much. So much. But where am I? I have been that baby mother for so long, but my last baby is growing up. He’s two. No longer a baby and into toddler and boyhood. I must emerge from that baby den, too. I love being a mother. I love my family, but I want to grow, too.
Where have I been hiding? There wasn’t room to breathe outside of that mother-space when the babies were small. When there was always another, either within my womb or just born, needing me constantly. I decided to take a deep breath and make space for me.
But first, let’s go way back. I didn’t take a lot of risks growing up. I didn’t make decisions. I wasn’t a leader. I was sheltered, overprotected. I lacked confidence. I didn’t believe I could do things. Didn’t experiment, didn’t take chances. I always worried about being wrong and making mistakes, about not knowing the answer. If someone else could do things, I let them. What was the point in my learning how? I could just pretend. I didn’t trust myself to figure it out. Gave up before I even began.
When I first started dating Jason, fifteen years ago, he took me camping for the first time. I loved it. We’ve been car campers ever since. We have visited and camped in numerous national parks and Michigan State Parks, both just us together and then with our children. I love getting away, into the woods.
But the past few years I’ve been obsessed with trail memoirs. Wild, Into the Wild, Grandma Gatewood, A Thru-Hiker’s Heart, Barefoot Sisters. I started reading forums and blogs about backpacking and thru-hiking. I started taking the kids on more hikes. We worked ourselves up to 4 and 5 miles hikes, even Adelaide, my four year old. We started keeping track of our miles on a family hike poster- they love keeping track of our progress! Seeing deer, sandhill cranes and even snapping turtles cross our path, having chickadees eat out of our hand on the trail. It’s so wonderful seeing them fall in love with nature. To be mesmerized by the changing leaves or by the sunlight shining through the pine branches.
We visited and camped at The Smoky Mountains this past June and hiked a very tiny portion of the Appalachian Trail on the bypass trail to Clingman’s Dome. The AT, with its white blazes I had only read about in my trail books.
I wanted more. I want to hike the AT. The trail has been calling to me ever since.
I have no hiking friends, all my friends are mothers like me, whose free time is spent grocery shopping or showering alone, not hiking and sweating in the woods, so I randomly made a post on a Michigan hiking Facebook group and someone recommended SOLAR- an outdoor club that’s nearby, with a beginner backpacking course and a practical with a short local weekend trip at a state park, and a true backpacking trip to Picture Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula. I was initially excited, but then inwardly scoffed and scolded myself for selfishly considering it. How could I, a mother of three young kids, take a “night off” every week for a class, and then two weekends to backpack without my family? Me, who had never even spent one night away from her kids except to birth siblings? Me, who didn’t take risks?
I did it. Jason pushed me out of the nest, assured me he would work out the childcare details, and I did it. I carried everything I needed on my back and camped in the woods.
I’m technically middle-aged, but I feel like parts of my life are just beginning. There is so much to learn, so much to explore. I am strong. I want to prove it to myself. I still hear the AT calling my name.