How to Travel With a Shattered Heart

My friend has set off on a big adventure this week–her first real vacation after her divorce. She needed a teensy boost from the Cool Kids today, so we got on a chat thread. She had made it through all the logistics and teen dramaz and such and had gotten the whole crowd to their destination. Time to START HAVING FUN, right?

That’s when the sad whalloped her. She wrote, “Ashley, I don’t know how you did Paris after Richard. I really, really don’t.”

I told her the truth: “I cried every day of that trip, but that’s not the part I remember now.”

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That week in Paris on my own was my first trip to Europe without my darling. I had to take a Valium and a deep red wine for dinner to make it through the flight. I hid in the bathtub as soon as I got to my hotel. I cried when I unpacked my clothes because there were so many extra drawers and hangers.

Richard had always been the one to plan the flights and hotels. I just told him where I wanted to go and he made the logistics happen.

Richard held my hand whenever the plane took off.

Richard did all the metric conversions. I once told a guy at the ski rental place that I was 1.2 meters tall and weighed 700 kilograms because I did the math wrong. Before we left on that ski trip to Austria, I had looked at a map of the Alps and commented, “3000 feet? That’s not that high. North Carolina has mountains almost that high.” He explained that we were going to 3000 meters and that was quite different from North Carolina. Like permafrost and thin oxygen kind of high. Then there was that one time in Luxembourg when I ordered myself some wine with dinner…750ml of wine. So yeah, he handled the metric system.

Richard was in charge of safety when we traveled. There was that time he fought off a pickpocket in Amsterdam. And the time I jumped on the wrong train in Belgium so he jumped with me.

He read the maps and read the time tables and read the street signs.

I wasn’t just dead weight on our adventures. I was in charge of the itinerary, cultural enrichment, translations, communications, and food. Without me, he wouldn’t have known the story of why Athens was named for Athena instead of Poseidon. He wouldn’t have learned that he kind of liked modern art. He wouldn’t have known why people place small smooth stones on graves in a Jewish cemetery. I got him to try Indonesian rijsstafel and pickels on cheddar cheese sandwiches and retsina (don’t try that last one–tastes like Pine Sol). We made a great team.

So yeah, how did I manage that first trip on my own?

I remembered that, as much as Richard had done for me, I could still do it all for myself. I applied the lessons he had taught me. I shopped ticket prices and left on Christmas night to save money. I booked a nicer hotel than he would have, so I would feel safe and have a concierge to answer my questions. I studied the Metro map and learned the major streets. I checked my landmarks, like Sacre Coeur. I learned how to hail a cab and get over the expense. I thought about my own safety and skipped crowds at night. I bought a phone card so I could call home when I got lonely.

I treated myself because he wasn’t there to delight me. I learned to say, “je voudrais une crepe avec chocolate et banana” or something like that and then I ate a chocolate and banana crepe for lunch on the sidewalk. I reserved a ticket to see Swan Lake at the National Opera (and I fell asleep during part of the first act). I bought splits of champagne at Printemps food halls. I took a Segway tour of the sites (and drove the dang thing off a six inch curb into traffic while I was admiring a street sign for a place where Hemingway had lived). I watched “Gone With the Wind” dubbed into French and ordered a giant plate of French french fries for dinner in my room. I gave myself a pound of candied orange peels dipped in dark chocolate–he had always remembered that was my favorite.

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I still cried under the fluffy down duvet on my lonely bed at night, but I was crying in Paris, dammit.

So to my friend, when you are off on an adventure and realize that you are alone–here’s what I hope you will remember. That YOU who had all the good times with that other person? That you is still in there. That you still likes chocolate orange peel and Gone With the Wind. That you still enjoys wearing a killer pair of boots and strutting down a cobblestone sidewalk. That you will dawdle on a park bench in the sun. That you will ask a stranger to take your picture. That you will buy a necklace shaped like a star to remind yourself to shine.

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It’s true–that you will stand in front of Rodin’s “The Kiss” and you will feel your heart seize with grief for the kiss that will never be again.

Then you will realize that you have another first kiss coming.

And that you that is still in there, that you that has gotten you through every awful thing in your past, that you will think of your future, and smile.

Other People’s Boogers

Y’all know I am a fool about these kids in Carlos’ preK class. There are a couple that I am super foolish about and my heart is pinching up this week because Friday is the last day of school. I’ll probably never see these kids again. Their preK class is pulled together from schools all over the district, so they won’t all be moving to a different room on the same hallway next year.

We have been through a lot this year, so we took a selfie this week at the Moving Up ceremony.

My friends

My friends

The little girl with the award for Outstanding Bus Conduct is the Egyptian angel that I wrote about in The Least of These. For the first two months of school, she didn’t speak. Then one morning while we were building a tower with blocks, she held up a block and whispered, “red.” Look at how she sparkles.

The little girl in the red shirt, she’s my special baby. She gets more lap time than anyone else. She tucks her head under my chin and I tell her that her hair smells like coconuts and it’s my favorite smell in the whole world. She left some boogers on my shirt on Superhero Day but we found a solution. I’m going to miss that little girl. Every day I fight the voice in my head that tells me I’m a worthless piece of shit, but this girl sees something in me.

Mr Man posing in the back there? He’s a handful. One of the smartest kids in the class–been writing his name in a neat line since before Halloween. We play a game every morning where I sit next to Carlos in one of the tiny chairs and Mr. Man comes up behind me to tap me on the shoulder. I look one way and then the other–with him bobbing and ducking–and then I ask one of the other kids if someone is behind me. They giggle and say his name, but I pretend I can’t see him. He knows I love him. And I hope I will see him again one day.

The boy on the end there? He’s the quietest kid in the class–Silent E. He’s left the most boogers on my shirt lately. He loves his mama. One time when I was playing at his table, he touched my arm gently and pointed to his feet. “My mama got me new shoes.” I made a big fuss over them. Then a few weeks later, he whispered with his chin tucked down to his neck, “My mama car broke.” I was about to say, “Did she get it fixed?” but then I thought about how much that costs and said, “Oh, that’s a big problem, huh?” instead. He nodded and we left it at that.

Two weeks ago, Silent E was sobbing before school because he missed his mama. The teacher held him and rocked him. I held him for a while and his favorite sweatshirt that he wears every day smelled like old cigarettes.

A few mornings later, his friend came up to me and tattled that Silent E had been running in the classroom. I turned to him to remind him that it was a walking feet place and he shrunk away from me. His whole body got narrower. No matter how many times I said, “You’re not in trouble, honey!” he cowered in the corner of the reading area. He wasn’t playing, no faking. The idea twisted into my heart–Silent E already sees the world as a fearful place.

And wouldn’t you know it–once the teacher talked Silent E into joining the class on the rug, Mr Man threw something hard and it bounced up and hit Silent E right in the head. While the teacher dealt with Mr Man, I took Silent E in my lap and held him close. I floated my fingers back and forth from his brow to his cheek, up and down, to the same rhythm that we were rocking. He quieted some but was still hurting. When it was time to leave, I kissed him on the head. I went home and changed my boogery shirt.

I love this kid, and I don’t know what kind of world he lives in. But every day when it’s time for me to go, he gets in line for a hug. He’s little, so I pick him up in the air and whisper in his ear, “I love you. Go have a great day.” Same thing I say to Carlos, who mostly ignores me.

On Graduation Day, I waved to all the kids and took pictures, just in case their parents couldn’t be there. I called Silent E’s name from the bleachers and he waved back. After the ceremony (which Carlos sat out on the sidelines with G and me), we went back to the class for awards and snacks. Silent E lay in a tight little ball on the floor behind the teacher’s desk. I caught her eye and pointed to him. “Mama couldn’t come” she mouthed.

I sat down on the carpet with him. “I was so proud of you today! Which song was your favorite?” He didn’t answer. “Hey, I took some pictures of you–look.” He leaned over my phone and swiped through the photos. “How about I email these to your teacher and she can send them to your mom? Or maybe she can print them out and you can take them home?” He nodded silently. Then he got a long hug and left some boogers on my sleeve.

This morning he was wearing a new shirt. He pointed to a tiny cut on his leg. I asked what happened and Mr Man said, “He fell on the playground yesterday.” Silent E asked for two hugs today.

I tossed him into the air and caught him close, held him tight.

I don’t know where he will land. I don’t know where either of us will be in the fall, but Silent E taught me that other people’s boogers can be a real gift. A sign of trust, of love given with open arms.

Superhero

Superhero

Check Your Mirrors

Somebody sing "Sunrise, Sunset" while I cry.

Somebody sing “Sunrise, Sunset” while I cry.

Victoria passed her driver’s test today. Parallel parking and everything. She’s sixteen and on her way.

A few months after G and I started dating, I was over at their house. Victoria was watching TV with her friend Emma and didn’t hear G when he called to her from the kitchen. I told him, “She’s transfixed.” From the living room, Victoria hollered, “I’m not six–I’m six AND A HALF!”

That’s only a year older then than Carlos is now. Jeez. I blinked and this happened.

Well, when it was time for her to go back over to her other house tonight, she came out to the pool where I was skimming green sludge. She put her arm around me for a hug. “You sure you don’t want to stay for dinner? We’ve got pool cleaning to do and it’s Taco Tuesday!” She laughed. “As fun as that sounds, I better get going…”

As she walked away, I felt this overwhelming urge to say “BE CAREFUL! CALL WHEN YOU GET THERE. DON’T PICK UP HITCHHIKERS. REMEMBER YOUR BLIND SPOTS. CHECK YOUR MIRRORS BEFORE YOU REVERSE AND DON’T FORGET TO LOOK OVER YOUR SHOULDER TOO. WHAT I’M SAYING IS CHECK YOUR MIRRORS BUT DON’T RELY ON YOUR MIRRORS, ALWAYS LOOK TWICE. LOOK TWICE, SAVE A LIFE, MOTORCYCLES ARE EVERYWHERE. DON’T RIDE A MOTORCYCLE.”

Instead, for the first time in my life as a parent, I said the same thing Daddy always said when one of us was leaving–“Be careful. I don’t have any extra children.”

I get it. I get what he was feeling. You want to see them grow and get more capable, but oh, there’s so much they don’t even know to look for yet. But we smile and send them out into the world with a little wave.

P.S. – I just remembered another little tidbit about that day at G’s house when Victoria was six AND A HALF. I got my first speeding ticket on the way over there! Going 45 in a 35 down College Station Road. After 21 years of driving without a ticket, I got THREE that summer! Speeding, rolling through a stop sign, and a parking ticket downtown. So what the hell do I know?

Keep the Change

Maybe I wasn’t the only woman buying a pregnancy test at Kroger at 1:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning–this is a college town after all–but I’m pretty sure I was the only one with gray hair and an itemized tax return.

So…yeah. I had been feeling anxious and snappish for a few days but when I couldn’t sleep that night becasue the waves of anxiety were washing over me and my heart rate was in the triple digits while lying down–it hit me. My period was late. Several days late. And in 35 YEARS, that has only happened twice. I remember those two times clearly because their names are Vivi and Carlos.

Pregnancy tests are super accurate and fast these days. They’re digital too, so instead of that cryptic blue line that I had to search for with Vivi, this time the digital readout window said:

LOL SRSLY? UR OLD

I was so relieved that I woke G up to tell him the good news. He got things a little muddled what with being asleepish and it being 2 a.m. and me starting with, “I’m having an anxiety attack. Can you keep me company? My period is late and I just took a pregnancy test.” (This was the moment when he truly woke up and yelled “OH SHIT!”) It took him a few moments to hear the “IT WAS NEGATIVE!!!”

Finally got to sleep at 4 a.m., only to wake up a few hours later convinced that the test had to be wrong. Seriously–twice in 35 years. And those two times were already awake and getting jelly on the Roku remote. The anxiety rushed back over me in a flush.

I made an appointment with Dr. Web MD and started searching specific things like “am I old enough for menopause even if I have a child in preK?” I found the results somewhat unclear because there is NO WAY I AM OLD ENOUGH FOR THIS:

  • Average age of onset for perimenopause: 47. HA! I am 47 and a half, so that can’t be it.
  • Low sex drive. I wouldn’t call it “low.” More like “riddled with fatigue and resentment.”
  • Mood swings. Oh, fuck you, Web MD. I’m still in my prime. (sobbing)
  • Trouble sleeping. I can sleep FINE. In hotels. And during the day. As long as the ceiling fan is set to warp speed. And 50 mg of Benadryl doesn’t hurt.
  • Hot flashes. I don’t have “hot flashes.” I have anxiety that rushes over me in a flush. Totally different.

I called my sister, because she has both a medical degree and a uterus. Her diagnosis was, “Duh. At least you save money on tampons, right?”

I called my friend who’s a few years older and she said, “Yeah, you’re going to want to kill everyone but it gets better. Try yoga. And drinking.”

I called Big Gay and, after a lot of commiserating, she said, “Well, I will say that I feel more comfortable in my own skin at this point in my life.”

So there’s that, I guess. I’m going to be the sweatiest most self-actualized mom at kindergarten registration.

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I wrote this a week ago but I’ve been too afraid to publish it. We’re not supposed to talk about “lady parts” and what they do, right? I’m tired of the sense of shame I have about the way my body works. I have periods and I am grateful for them because they made it possible for me to create two people from scratch. (Well, it started out as more of a back rub than a scratch.)

Our girls deserve to know that the way our bodies work is miraculous and normal. When Vivi and I were in the Wesleyan bookstore last month, she hollered, “WHAT ARE TAMPONS?” across the store and I knew it was time to start The Talk. I didn’t get a talk–my education about what my body could and would and SHOULD do came from the teeny folded up square of paper with the diagrams and instructions inside the tampon box. Periods were something we whispered about and worried about, not something we straight up discussed.

When I googled menopause, I felt like I should erase my browser history, like it was something embarrassing or uncouth. Like I was failing in some way, admitting defeat. When I called my friends and family to ask questions, it made me nervous, like I was asking them how much they paid in taxes this year or whether they ever bit their own toenails.

Hell, I’m nervous about putting this out there but I thought it was funny and true. And I want other women to know that I’m in the same boat. My therapist assures me that there are a lot of positives about moving past periods and into the next phase. Let’s talk about those! How sex is more fun when you don’t have to worry about getting pregnant. How you can buy ALL the white pants and ride a white horse down the beach at daybreak.

This is totally me at the beach next year.

This is totally me at the beach next year.

It’s strange–knowing that I’m going to be different from what I have been for 35 years. The most of my life that I remember. What’s ahead?

I had all this on my mind when I went to Wesleyan for Alumnae Weekend. At the luncheon for the class celebrating its 50th reunion, I looked around at the other women at our table and realized that they are all about 20 years older than me. Every single one of them has gone through menopause and come out the other side. They’re lawyers and teachers and writers and designers and community activists. They are moms and grandmoms and dog moms and aunts and great aunts and daughters. They are smart and kind and funny and compassionate. They are beautiful and glamorous and genuine. They’re my sisters.

As in every other phase of my life, I can’t wait to grow up a little more and be just like them.

Then I went back to my hotel to take an afternoon nap with the fan on High. This video popped up in my Facebook feed and I HOWLED with laughter!

 

Superhero Day

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Today was Superhero/Disney dress up day at Carlos’ school. There he sat in his “big boy car seat” in a Batman shirt…but we had a problem. The buckle was stuck. Stuckity stuck stuck stuck. I had pushed and prodded and cussed under my breath but it wouldn’t budge. I started to panic–thinking I would have to drive him to the fire house and have them cut him out of the dang thing.

Then, over my shoulder, I hear a friendly voice say, “Hey!” There stood Troy, father of one of Carlos’ classmates from last year and all-around cool guy. Who happens to work out many hours a day and has giant arms. I asked him to take a shot at getting the buckle unstuck and a couple of tries later, Carlos was free. Troy had swooped in and saved the day.

Troy’s superpower?  Strong thumbs and persistence. And kindness.

The classroom was boiling with excited kids–three Batmen, two Spidermen, a Super Mario whose sixth birthday was today, two sparkly princesses. And my sweet friend, Jayla, by herself in the back of the room with her thumb in her mouth and a heartbroken expression on her face. When I waved to her, she shuffled over to me, still sucking on her thumb. I’d never seen her do that before.

“What’s up, buttercup?” She mumbled something that I couldn’t hear. “Here, let’s go over here where it’s quiet so I can hear you….” I sat down at a table in the back of the room and she climbed onto my lap.

“I didn’t dress up.” I was about to tell her how pretty she looked in her flowered shirt and jeans, but it didn’t feel right. Instead, I wrapped my arms around her and she melted into me. Her face tucked under my chin. My body started that mom-rocking thing that bodies just do when a little one needs comfort. We sat there together, her getting all my attention in the middle of the crowd of excited superheros and princesses. We rocked and rocked and rocked. She snuffled and I clucked to her and patted her hair. I did my best to save the day.

My superpower? An expansive lap and a body that can bend itself into a mama shape when that’s the only thing that will do. And kindness.

Miss Carri saw us sitting there and came over to check on Jayla. She patted and clucked too then her face blossomed with an idea. She went over to the dress up center and pulled a Rapunzel dress out of the cabinet. Et voila…Jayla had a princess costume to wear.

Miss Carri’s superpower? A quick mind and giving heart. And kindness.

Once again, I found myself sitting in the parking lot for a few minutes to process the morning before I started on the day. I sat with the kindness that I had given and the kindness I had received. I let myself feel sad for the kids who don’t have a costume to wear on dress up day. I felt gratitude for the teachers who work so hard to make things even out as much as they can. But it can’t ever be 100% wonderful for every kid, all the time. I sat with that for a little while.

Just before I cranked the car, my phone dinged with a text. April, my friend and coworker, said, “Hey! I read your blog about the school parking lot. Do you think Carlos’ school could use those superhero capes we had for the NICU reunion?”

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Seriously? A bag of capes so that no one is left out on superhero day?

April’s superpower? Reading minds. And kindness.

Most of us are never going to have laser vision or freeze breath or Spidey Sense. Shoot, we aren’t even going to have a Batmobile or an invisible plane.

But every one of us has a superpower–kindness. Seeing each other when we are in need and stepping up to say, “Well….I can fix THAT.”

Today I Pledge

It was a rough weekend. Anxiety pinched at my every breath. Couldn’t sleep, couldn’t stop thinking, couldn’t finish any of the tasks I had set for myself. Just…couldn’t.

It’s been a rough month, what with the pneumonia and the plumbing crisis and taxes to do and summer camp registrations and bleeding cash and still missing my dad and the pollen and the and and ands.

It’s been a rough year, even the parts I haven’t talked about. I’ve been getting quieter and quieter because I started believing the lie that there were stories I’m not allowed to tell. I spent too much time listening to the vicious little voice that says, “No one gives a shit what you think anyway.” I started carrying the weight of “but what if I hurt someone’s feelings if I say that?” I put my own hand over my own mouth then wondered why I felt so stifled.

So with all that said, I found myself sitting inside my car at Carlos’ school this morning and I realized that I was pretty close to happy. Jayla and I had made a pattern of beads. She took my hair out of its ponytail and said, “Let’s be pretty!” Reniya sat in my lap while we counted pegs and stacked them up to make the tallest tower we could. Caleb counted all the way to 20. Rico snuck up behind me so I could play our game where I look over my shoulder and pretend I can’t see him back there. Malak showed me her new pink sneakers. Jaden showed me his dance moves.

When the Good Morning Song played over the intercomm, we cleaned up the toys and pushed the chairs under the table, then the kids went to their spots on the rug. I kissed Carlos on the top of his head and whispered, “Have a great day. I love you.” I gave a couple of hugs to the ones who wanted one. I slipped out the side door of the school and walked across the empty parking lot as the Star Spangled Banner played. The PA system reaches out to the playground, so I can still hear what’s going on inside the building.

I sat in the car with the keys dangling from the ignition and my phone in hand. On busy mornings, that moment in the car is usually my first chance to gather myself and see how I am that day. Today, after all those airless moments this weekend, I found myself with a glimmer of happy, like a candle flame trying to get started. I looked out into the sun rising over the playground and breathed in some of the pink sky.

The teacher in charge of announcements read the menu for breakfast and lunch. She reminded everyone that tomorrow is superhero dress up day. Then she welcomed three little preschool kids who would be leading the school in the pledge that day. Each one hollered their name into the mic–so loud and proud I couldn’t really understand them. But their joy came through loud and clear.

They launched into the Pledge of Allegiance with verve. One little girl was going double-time so it kind of fell apart in the middle section. The teacher chimed in to get them back on track, and in unison they all wrapped it up on, “with liberty and justice for all.”

My heart twisted. That’s the part of the pledge that’s hardest to hear right now. For the past couple of years, being woke has worn me out. Once you’ve become attuned to the unjust parts of our system, whether it be sexism, racism, or economic chokeholds–it’s hard to believe it when we say “liberty and justice for all.” I have to remind myself that it’s a goal, not a done deal. That liberty and justice for ALL is what we’re working towards.

The happy started to dissipate under the weight. I could feel all that joy that I had stored up with my preK friends begin to flicker and fade.

But those kids on the microphone weren’t finished. Right after the Pledge of Allegiance, all the students at the Early Learning Center recite their school pledge, which goes like this:

Today I pledge to do my best

By being READY to learn

RESPONSIBLE for myself and

RESPECTFUL towards others.

I am an ELC Lion…hear me ROAR!

The trio doing morning announcements really threw themselves into that pledge today and I thank them for it. As their roars raced across the parking lot to where I sat alone in my car, I realized that I can believe in their simple pledge. Right now, every day.

I am ready to learn, even when the knowledge hurts.

I am responsible for myself, honoring my mind, body, and spirit.

I am respectful towards others, even those who disagree with me.

I am a tired but hopeful middle-aged white woman whose heart sometimes breaks in the parking lot….hear me ROAR.

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So She Can Live Without Me

On the day my daughter was born, she started living without me. I mean “without” in the sense of “outside of.” Her body began to live without my body.

That day, her birthday, has meant something special to me for eight, almost nine years. It’s the day I became a mother. I’ve marked each year of her life with big parties (there have been ponies involved more than once), but this year is going to be different. It’s got me a little choked up.

Vivi has been wanting to go to sleep away camp so we’ve decided that this summer is her time to try it. I never went to camp, so there’s no legacy here. With the rampant enthusiasm of my friend, Bryn, I found a camp that looks like a perfect fit for Vivi. It’s a camp about leadership for girls. Teaching girls independence and competence. Cooking over a fire, playing in a swimming hole, singing songs together, paddling a canoe, sleeping in tents.

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All great, all great. But after I clicked the Register button, I realized that Vivi will be at camp on her ninth birthday. I broke the news to her and her reaction was, “COOL!!!!” OK. Maybe it’s just me having a hard time with this.

Planning her birthday party has always been my special gift to her–a way of showing her how extravagantly she is loved. This year, my gift to her will be letting her go. Pushing her in the direction of living without me.

Since my dad’s death, I see the importance of making sure my children can live without me. I felt something similar after Richard died–I only had grief, not struggle on top of the grief. My husband was dead, but I knew how to do the taxes and change the outside flood lights and check the air pressure in my tires. I only had to learn how to live with missing him, because I already knew how to live without him. Same with Daddy–I miss him, but I still know everything he managed to teach me about living. He didn’t do things for me. He taught me how to do them myself.

Last night, I asked Vivi, “Is there anything about camp that worries you?”

“Not making friends.”

My heart seized up. What if that happens? What if, even though I know the counselors know how to make sure everyone has a good time, what if my little girl spends a few moments sitting on the edge of her bunk feeling alone in the world? GULP.

“Well, I don’t think that will happen, sweetie. You make friends everywhere you go. If you do find yourself feeling apart, be kind to someone else who might be having a tough time. The best way to have a friend is to be a friend.”

“Or what if I make friends then I have to leave them when camp is over?”

There’s that too, baby. There’s that too. “You’ll be able to see each other at camp next year!”And then I went to my room and cried a little bit with fear for her. But she’ll learn. She’ll learn to tell herself these things when I’m not there beside her. The only way for her to learn that she can navigate the world on her own is to let her live without me.

We spent Easter Sunday in the woods at Cowtail, riding ATVs and slinging mud around. I’ve never been comfortable driving the ones you steer with handlebars–I like driving the Mule because it has a steering wheel, a brake, and a gas pedal. The kids love the Mule because we can pile all of them in the back and go caroming over stumps and rocks, weaving through trees and plowing through mud holes. The kids have to wait until one of the adults will drive them.

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Victoria rode shotgun with me for a couple of trail rides. It was tough driving in the rain. We had to remember to keep our mouths shut while hitting the mudholes at full speed–mud gets EVERYWHERE when you’re hooting and hollering. She’s never driven the Mule but she’s sixteen now and knows how to manage a steering wheel, a brake, and a gas pedal.

I gave her a little push and she tried driving it. She wouldn’t let the Littles ride in the back–it had to be just the two of us. And she may have pruned a sapling or two on the tight corners. But she did it.

After a while, I relaxed enough to look out at the scenery, which I never get to do when I’m driving. I saw dogwood trees that nobody planted, just blooming in the woods in the rain. I saw chunks of pink quartz peeking up from the earth. I saw 20 colors of green.

Victoria learned how to enjoy the Mule without me and that gave me the opportunity to sit there beside her, fully present.

As we ground our way up Rock Hill, she said, “I can’t wait to bring my kids to Cowtail. It’s cool to think that they’ll be playing with Grant’s kids and Jake’s kids and all the cousins.”

That’s family. Growing into that fine balance where you know you can stand on your own but you never have to be alone. With and without.

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