November 26, 2017
Entrepreneur Girl – The sand dune before me is enormous. Not only big in the way of size and shape, but grand in that it never seems to end.
As my eyes keep traveling upward, my sea-level brain knows instantly that something is terribly amiss. I fumble with the brochure once more. “This can’t be right”, I muttered to my twelve year old, Gavin, “it says here that it’s a level three trail”. He shrugs in the only way a preteen boy can; nonchalantly and totally devoid of any parental responsibility. Yet, aside from me, he is the oldest, and I am in desperate need of some recalibration. I cast a cursory glance at the other members in my troop. The two, four, and six year olds are scattering like ants. The ten year old is lying on a log, bored by my hesitation. Scanning back to Gavin, he raises an eyebrow and dramatically pauses with each word, “well- are- we- going- or- not?”. Everything in my logic suggests I go back to the van and bribe them with ice cream. I take a few steps towards the entrance, taking inventory of the other families as I walk. Each group travels with two adults and only older children. Everyone is well equipped with strapped on hiking shoes and loaded backpacks (most certainly filled with spring water, organic granola snacks, and essential first aid equipment). I glare at my thrift store flip flops and the single water bottle haphazardly thrown into my oversized purse. My responsible self chided my lack of preparation self; the weight of my bag alone, would be great enough to slide me, clawing and screaming, down the dunes, backwards. I turn to leave, stuffing the brochure in my purse, as I go.
I pull my hand out of the purse, the fabric of my jacket catches on my watch, and becomes visible. Earlier, I had stuffed this hoodie- with the words “Fight Like A Girl” embellished on the front- into my bag, in case I got cold. However, looking at it now, the pink fabric symbolizes more than just warmth; it represents my mental struggle, not only with thyroid cancer, but with every flaw and fear my ‘forty something’ body harbors. I rub the cotton between my fingers and know instinctively, that today is more than just a getaway. Today, in some unspoken way, is about not giving up. Feeling as if my sanity was hinging on my success, I swung around with new determination, and faced the dunes.
Putting on a brave face, I pair us up, and take the first few steps. The kids are quick to run ahead and I marvel at their physical prowess. I am a mere twelve feet up the slope and I am exhausted. I try to outsmart nature by taking off my shoes and running, but my efforts are equally matched by a never ending supply of avalanching sand. With each step, I find myself sliding backwards several inches. Sweaty, and sore from the purse digging into my shoulder, this seems like an impossible task. “People actually do this…. for fun?”, I scream ahead to no one in particular, while I half support, half drag, my two year old behind me. Just when I feel I can’t possibly take another step, and I’m calculating how long it will take to be found by a park ranger, a beautiful thing happens… we reach the top.
In a single instant, I forget the pain. There below me, for as far as the eye can see, is a vast body of water. The massive wet waves, are such a contrast to the dry, sandy mountain, that I am actually shocked to see it lying there. Speechless for a long moment, one thought keeps spinning in my head like a mantra: if you hadn’t tried, you would have missed this . .. if you hadn’t tried, you would have missed this. Empowered by my triumph, I walk ahead.
The trail is peaceful. The kids are content to be hiking and are surprisingly quiet. For the first time, in a really long time, I am free to reflect over the past few years. Hard years. Years filled with life-altering problems I hadn’t planned on: cancer, embolism, sick parents, moody teens, family drama and ten extra pounds. In fact, I had spent a whole childhood planning, and re-planning, not to have such issues. I had invested every ounce of myself into creating the near perfect life. I had never given consideration to the ‘what if’s’, and I found myself utterly….. lost.
We hike until we reach a chain of stairs. These steps, much like the dune before it, are intimidating. Too numerous to count, they lead straight up and over the mountain top. My thighs hurt just by looking at them. Yet, my hesitation is shorter this time, and my excitement greater. What, I wonder, could be awaiting us at the top this time? As I start to climb, I realize just how far away from home I really am. How crazy it seems to be here, alone with the children, encouraging such dangerous play. Or, perhaps, it makes perfect sense. I’ve always been an extremist in spirit. When it came time to have children, I had eight. When buying a car, I sought after a Shelby Mustang, a redneck Excursion, and a fifteen passenger van. Instead of taking the average one week vacation, I commit to seeing all fifty states in five years. And as school time rolled around for the kids, I opted to home educate. I had been living life on full throttle… until, the cancer diagnosis screeched me to a halt. Now, I was having a hard time figuring out how to exist in this world, while simultaneously living under the threat of dying; and I miss the old me.
As the end of the staircase approaches, I am giddy with anticipation. I haven’t felt this spirited in awhile, and it awakens in me a yearning to be alive again. As if on cue, over the horizon, an entire city comes into view. Industrial and old, it is different from any town I have ever seen. I stare at the factory on the shoreline, wanting to memorize every detail. The strong, brick walls mock the raging water, “you can weather me, but not destroy me”. I realize how weak and crumbled I am, in comparison. As I have allowed my fear to reach such epic proportions, that my life is spinning out of control. I have been living like I’m already dead, rather than being thankful for the new adventure of each day . I whisper to myself, “you are better than this”.
Then we break away from the view in order to slowly meander down the tall, wildflower trails towards the beach. The kids run to jump the waves, as I plop down on the sand and wrap my precious jacket around me. It is cold by the water and the kids don’t seem to notice one bit. I inhale deeply and marvel at their freedom. It’s amazing how much a single day can change our lives; how a single decision- to do the thing you cannot do- can catapult a string of events that makes all the difference. I am aware that my newfound happiness, didn’t descend upon me because of some cosmic fortune. I fought for it, looked for it, and even prayed for its manifestation. And somewhere between the hot asphalt of the parking lot and the cool waters of Lake Michigan, I managed to find a braver version of my old self. There, hidden under all the pretences of life, was the real me. The one that eats too slowly, talks too much, and loves too hard. I looked at her, wounded and bruised, and smiled. Suddenly, I understand the cancer. In this moment, I learned one very important lesson: there will always be good and bad working in my life at the same time, and I must find a way to be happy in both. Happiness, of course, won’t just come to me; I will you have to create it in my mind.
Gavin’s voice breaks the silence, “ready to head back now, mom”? I am pulled out of my deep thoughts and look around me. Then I suddenly realize, with no panic whatsoever, that I don’t know how to get back. In fact, I only have a vague sense of which direction to go to get the van. In complete relaxation, I take my teen’s hand and shrug, in the only way a forty-something-living-in-the-moment-mom can: nonchalantly and totally devoid of any parental responsibility. We make eye contact and laugh. Although neither of us say a word, we realize in this second, in this park, that it’s all going to be okay. In fact, it’s going to be better than okay, because we will be happy no matter what life brings.
So here’s wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving! May you always push yourself and grow! Do the hard things and keep rocking it!
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