I’m writing this from an idyllic setting that many people would call “heavenly.”
I’m sitting in a log cabin in rural Maine. There’s a lake out the window, with a little sandy beach and crystal clear water down the way. I can hear birds chirping and bugs buzzing, even from inside the house. There’s no cell service or wifi to be had, unless you drive half hour into the nearest town.
Everyone else in my family is in some version of their own heaven out here. Me? Not so much. As we pulled off the main road and the closest town got smaller and smaller in our rearview mirror, I could see my husband’s shoulders visibly fall. His breathing regulated. He finds all this nature to be soothing. Spiritual, even. Sometimes he goes on month-long hikes just for fun.
I’m a city girl at heart, but any kind of town is fine with me. I like coffee shops and air conditioning and people-watching. Bugs and dirt and isolation make me anxious. I can’t really swim, and hiking is low on my list of Things I Want To Do (it’s somewhere below going to the dentist but above camping, because camping actually involves sleeping outside and not just being outside and the only thing that sounds worse than being outside is sleeping outside). Plus, I’m concerned about the world’s ability to just carry on without me while I’m absent from social media. I’m not sure that this vacation is actually occurring unless I can post photos of it on Facebook in real time, you know?
It’s not that unusual for couples to have different interests. I’m sure that saying that opposites attract came from somewhere — even though science has disproved it (we can just ignore that part, though). Because this isn’t actually about my husband and me. We made peace with our differences long ago. Hiking and cycling are his things. Going to indoor malls and window shopping is mine. It works for us.
But this trip is my toddler’s first ever visit to the wilderness. We live in a big city, as urban as it gets. She takes subways and hears sirens and sees people everywhere she turns. Trees and grass and sand and water are brand new for her. As I watch her take in the foreign surroundings with a lot of wonder and a little bit of apprehension, I can’t help but imagine back to what I was like as a child — and that image fills me with terror. The last thing I want is for her to be a smaller version of me, because I was a Child That Hated Fun.
I hated being outside and I hated anything that might make me vulnerable in any way. If I never tried anything new, I could never fail at it. Staying inside and reading books felt safer. That little girl still lives inside me and she’s very hard to shake. And it’s because of her that I missed out on so many things in my youth. In fact, I’m still skeptical about trying new things.
I think about the future we have in front of us and I imagine my daughter and my husband going on hikes together and talking about how Mom is No Fun. I see them swimming in a lake and lamenting how Mom is So Boring because she won’t even leave her beach chair. It’ll become a running joke in our family, haha, isn’t Mom The Worst? Those are the things people said about me as a child and they followed me into adulthood; do I want to carry them with me into motherhood, too?
I find myself sitting on the deck, looking out at the trees and asking myself, How do I break the cycle, if not for me, then for my family? I want my child to have memories of her mother participating in her childhood and not just sitting on the sidelines, iPhone raised to take the observational photos. I want to be the person I’ve never been able to be, because she deserves a better me than the me I’ve always been.
I might hate hiking, but I love the smile on my daughter’s face as she rides on her dad’s back and makes her way up the mountain. I may not like swimming, but I love the shrieks of joy my daughter lets out as she splashes in the water. I can’t say I love getting sand in my bag and shoes but I do love watching the wonder in my daughter’s eyes as she builds her first sandcastle and then knocks it down. And I may not like solitude and isolation, but nothing will replace the late-night talks and family dinners I’m sharing with people I often take for granted.
Heaven, it seems, is where you find it. For me, it’s not in the trees and the sky, but in the moments I share with the people I love. Heaven, it turns out, is a shift in perspective. I could spend my entire trip complaining (and let’s be honest– there’s some of that), but the truth is that I’ll never have these moments back. Instead, I’m trying to enjoy them while they’re here.
And maybe next year I’ll enjoy the hiking. Maybe.
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