This week has been one of the worst weeks of my life.
I say that dramatically, and even as it really feels like this in places of my body that hurt, like my neck from tension, and my heart from the times I didn’t control my temper well enough with my kids, I know it’s not true. I’ve had weeks that were much, much worse than this past week.
But this week was still hard.
I’m sitting on my front porch reading a memoir about a woman backpacking alone. It reminds me viscerally of my former life as a backpacker; of my life when I was childless and living with my boyfriend (now husband) out West, when backpacking was a normal part of our life.
This humid cloud of July heat hangs over my white rocking chair, as I move myself back and forth and read this other woman’s words. Her story, though nothing like my own, still recalls fully the sensations of blistered feet, and working lungs and leg muscles, and, mostly, that particular feeling of complete exhaustion that hits mentally and physically after hiking so many miles up, up and up, until a plateau is reached, and the land levels off, and everything falls into a break before the next inevitable up-mountain battle begins.
She talks about “trail magic”. I remember this feeling, too.
“Trail magic” is when something beautiful and unexpected comes and contrasts completely with the often overwhelming exertion of hiking. My life right now has so much “trail magic”, although I haven’t strapped on a backpack in years.
Yesterday was the end of a long week with sick kids, and everything fun that they look forward to in the summer being cancelled because of their sickness, and of weather so hot that humid streaks of breath emanate visibly from the pavement up into the air.
Yesterday was the kind of day when I look at the clock and it’s only ten. And then it’s only eleven. And then it’s only three-thirty. And then it’s five o’clock, and I’m madly texting my husband to inquire when, for the love of God, he’ll be home. And then he walks through the door and my tired body barely grazes his in a kiss, as our children whine at his feet in their cabin-fever sick haze instead of at mine. I escape to the front porch. I sit in my white rocker and read. I hear them crying inside, and I hear him giving our youngest Tylenol. I hear him starting dinner while I take a break, as much for my tired and spent body as for my tired and spent mother heart.
And he’s had a long day at work, too. He’s had a hard, busy week. I’m not unsympathetic towards my quick escape, and our youngest daughter crying at everything from a bug outside of the window to a piece of lint that attached itself to her finger, because she feels so badly that she’s not really crying at these things anyways. But I exploded at the kids when they didn’t deserve it because this week was torturous and long and uneventful in the sweetest it-feels-like-Summer kind of way, while also feeling jail-like.
And then there was the “trail magic”.
There was the moment mid-week when my 21-month-old started calling me “Mama” instead of “Mommy”. She picked it up from friends visiting from Sweden the week before. My oldest, at first, told her no, that my name is Mommy. I said they don’t have to call me the same thing, so my 21-month-old says “Mama Mama Mama Mama Mama” over and over again partly to whine my name because she feels like crap, and mainly to roll it around in her mouth and test out my new nickname.
There was the time when my feverish daughter came up behind me while I was getting her something to drink, and she kissed my arm. I had silently felt so stressed I felt like I would vomit if I heard any more random tears or sibling fights over nothing worth fighting about. And then she kissed me, and she saw my body relax at her tender touch, and she pulled me down to her level and kissed me squarely on the mouth with her beautiful eyes less than an inch from mine.
Trail magic like this happens so often on my journey as a mother.
Motherhood doesn’t tax my muscles, and my lungs, and my spirit in the same ways that hiking for days at a time did. It taxes me in entirely different ways, all new each day, just like when I was a more avid outdoorswoman and I would feel like I had finally adjusted to the ground beneath my feet and the weight of the pack on my back, and then a new, steep switchback came into sight, and I nearly buckled from the daunting reality of it.
Motherhood and hiking are both physically demanding while also being distinctly “mind over matter.”
Just when I feel I’ve tackled an important situation for my children—the courageous mama bear who can and does do anything for her kids—a new one pops up. A new scary thing we must face together, because that’s what moms do: they provide the cushion of never having to do anything exactly alone. Except that, ultimately, we’re all all alone, so a mom also has to know when to step back and let her little ones sink or swim all by themselves.
Letting our kids go so they can traverse their own life’s journeys and have their own successes and failures is the hardest part of motherhood, and my kids are still so small that I really don’t have any idea of how hard this gets.
And when each year passes, like this next one when my oldest enters full-day school for the first time and I begin to cry simply thinking about it, I’ll remember that not one single step of this motherhood trek so far has been without trail magic.
Not one single day has flown by, or crept by, or trickled by, or sped by without my kids’ naturally wild, beautiful souls reminding me of why I started this journey of being a mama in the first place.
Some days might be good simply because I didn’t yell at someone. Some days might leave me feeling a bit like Supermom, after a day of my girls and I going to the zoo, and for ice cream, and inching the hot July days away underneath the shade of our gazebo tent out back, with crayons and juice boxes and coloring books on their Little Tikes picnic bench being the scenic backdrop of our life.
I am not a perfect mom. I don’t pretend to be. The path that I’m working my way through with my husband and our kids is like those Western singletracks that my boyfriend-now-husband and I used to walk on; knowing that others had plodded down this same path before, but the grass had again grown over in places, or trees had fallen down and we had to climb our own way over. The trail was new and fresh and all our own to carve in so many ways that made it both invigorating and terrifying.
There is no other journey on earth like parenthood.
There is no magic so intense and magnificent as that gifted by our kids.