Tuesday, March 31, 2009


I learned an important lesson this last week during spring break—precipices and children don’t mix. This may seem obvious, in some ways, but precipices crop up in the most unexpected places.

For instance, they crop up in state parks while camping. Last week we made the questionable decision to camp for spring break at Deception Pass State Park in Washington. Questionable because we’ve never been there before and were basing the decision on guidebooks, because it is the rainy season in Western Washington until July, and because our teenagers are not exactly thrilled at the idea of roughing it for the week, even if that means roughing it with a roof and two portable DVD players.

I’d worried that there wouldn’t be a spot open, so I reserved one online, forgetting that Washington has another school schedule than ours, and that it wouldn’t be spring break up there. So the good news is that the campground was virtually empty; appealing to us because there are fewer dogs to challenge ours to a smack down and fewer kids to negotiate around successfully with our youngest son. Plus, we like nature without the sound of other humans. The bad news was that our reserved space was the muddiest in the whole park, and there were no rangers on duty to help us relocate our prepaid fees. We were literally stuck in the mud.

But being North Westerners, we made the best of things. We watched movies, walked on the beach, collected rocks, ate tortilla chips and guac’ and made mad dashes to the heated restroom between storms. We also, at my instigation, took a brief, two and a half mile hike around a lighthouse point on a nature trail through beautiful forest and along terrifying precipices.

I’ve always been nervous about heights and edges; don’t get me wrong, but somehow the combination of no railings between us and a hundred foot drop onto rocks and the four people I love most in the world made me into a wreck. Add on a teenage boy (with the typical urge to push the boundaries) stepping close to the edge again and again, bringing his six year-old brother (low on common sense but strong in survival urge, thank goodness) along with him, and I was sobbing, and cried the whole way, unable to stop.

To clarify—I was terrified. No, I didn’t vow to never hike again; I wouldn’t even deny the teenagers the right to hike near precipices—they have excellent coordination and good judgment for the most part, I just can’t be there when it happens. It also came to me, like an epiphany, how vulnerable loving anyone really is.

I was behind my crew, watching them, and realized how my heart was sliced into intentional pieces and sewn into them all, carried with them wherever they went, whatever happened to them. I loved them so much, it took my breath away, and the thought of one of them stumbling, falling, just about crippled me.

Loving is such a freefall; a jump without a parachute into a lifetime rush, never knowing when the ground will rise up and greet you. But looking at my family, sobbing silently, trying to keep a stiff upper lip and not give way to panic (surely the Paxil should have prevented this), the gasping, irrevocability of that love was worth it all. I never thought, when I was young, that I would be strong enough to risk it.

No comments: