Nature and I have been out of sorts for quite some time. It wasn’t always this way. When I was a young girl I spent most of my time outdoors. We grew up in a community tucked away in a serene valley surrounded by foothills to the Rocky Mountains. There were manicured and less manicured trails, creeks, rock formations perfect for playing masters of the rock and a nearby equestrian center that our neighborhood crew would claim as our playground after dark. I collected craw fish and rain frogs and rode my bike (on accident) over a few rattlesnakes. Nature and wildlife wasn’t something to shy away from, though I think I always had a healthy respect for the power and beauty of non-human creatures. In my late teens I was fond of camping and backpacking, catching, gutting, cooking and eating fish during such excursions. I was an avid skier well into my late adolescence relishing in the intoxicating rush of those Colorado peaks. But as I resigned myself to the many indoor demands of adulting, my relationship with nature began to take a turn.
It is possible that mildly traumatic experiences played a role in the demise of our once thrilling relationship. When I was 18 I was bit by a brown recluse spider which later made way for contracting a nasty case of impetigo, an unrelenting staff infection, that required six months of antibiotics and a whole lot of pain and embarrassment as the primary spider bite puncture rested just below my right butt cheek. It was only a few years later that I was attacked by an angry gang of squirrels that dominated an outdoor eating area in the midst of my college campus. Few people understand how ferocious those little beasts can become when they no longer maintain any respect for the human species.
So perhaps those incidences left my relationship with nature feeling slightly strained, but they’re not significant enough to explain why now as a 36 year old woman, I rarely make the time or have the desire to be outdoors. I’m not exactly sure when or how or why or where my desire went. Every now and then something awakens it and so I attempt to re-engage with the vast world I now feel so disconnected from only to discover I am extremely skittish and easily discouraged. I jump out of my own shoes when I unexpectedly stumble upon a gathering of deer eating their evening meal where I take my dog out to remember he’s still an animal. I freak out when a bug flies in my direction. Once while living in Uganda, I was working from our cottage patio when a praying Mantis flew straight for my unexpecting face. I instinctively screamed loud enough to startle the entire compound and ran for safety just inside the patio doors. I then spent the next 30 minutes tossing shoes at the bold mantis in an effort to annoy it enough that it might abandon my outdoor office so that I might return to my work. Suffice it to say that my efforts were entirely unsuccessful and clearly ridiculous.
I recently heard these words come out of my 14 year old’s mouth: “I HATE being outdoors.” This was the same daughter who would pick up worms and snakes with her bare hands. The daughter who loved rollie pollies and playing in the dirt. And now, a decade later, she screams at the sight of a bug flying toward her face as well. Admittedly, her response could very well be an indication of the influence of my own poor example. But it certainly has me wondering what else could be to blame for our mutual sense of disconnection from and fear of the world beyond the safety we find within those boxes we call homes.
“Enough is enough,” I declared about a month ago as I decided I would find a way to repair the rupture in my relationship with the great outdoors. Each Wednesday since then I have embarked upon an outdoor excursion with the three year old and the most lovable yet annoying chocolate lab in tow. Rain or shine, the three of us are learning how to explore and venture beyond our neighborhood parks every week. Only a month into these Wednesday excursions and I am just beginning to understand why my relationship with nature took a dive over a decade ago.
Today’s adventure led us to a lake only a few miles from where we currently reside. I knew it was going to eventually rain, so we needed to get a jump on our adventure. After parking our stereotypically middle class suburban family minivan, I grabbed our day pack, put the leash on the dog and walked in the direction of the lake with tiny one’s hand held safely in mine. There was a man fishing near the lake so I led the two little noise-makers in an entirely different direction. After nearly 30 minutes of walking I realized that the trail we were treading upon was leading us into areas less tamed by man-made landscaping measures.
My heart began to race a bit more as I saw signs indicating this was a protected wildlife habitat. I felt less in control of my surroundings and that’s when a new understanding was unearthed…or maybe it was actually re-earthed. When I was a child and especially a teen, my life was filled with chaos and traumas of varying degrees. I sought refuge in the natural world all around me not as an escape from the chaos, because there is a kind of chaos in the natural world as well. Somehow the natural chaos was expected, predictable in it’s wildness, held by something grander and larger than each individual component. It felt grounding to be in the midst of the world outdoors. It made me feel alive, like anything was possible. It revealed that beauty could be birthed from the chaos, that learning how to play in the dirt was essential to feeling grounded, and that being human was about being a part of this chaotic beautiful world.
As I moved further into adulthood, I think I began to imagine I could somehow escape the chaos and trauma of life, or at the very least, I believed I could minimize it all. Nature knew I was kidding myself and so I had to retreat from the ways it would whisper my folly. Or so I thought. But life has continued to feel chaotic, wild, and even traumatic in this chapter of adulthood as well. While venturing into the woods surrounding that lake today, I felt my heart race at the unpredictability and I heard the whispers. I remembered that a racing heart isn’t always an indication of harm to come. Sometime it’s the precursor to something breathtaking just beyond the horizon. The natural world is where we belong, despite all the ways we try to pretend like it’s not. All those structures we build and roads we pave – we think they keep us “safer” but perhaps they make us forget that we are not meant to be safe. I’m only now beginning to remember that we are really meant to simply belong to a wild and unpredictable natural world.
Featurette: A guest piece written by one of our readers. A small narrative vignette inviting us all to see the world from behind their eyes and hearts for just a moment. You can submit your short story for consideration here. Today’s guest piece is written by Beth Bruno.
In this Mediterranean climate, the air is still warm. The open-shuttered windows let in a refreshing rustle through the newly turned leaves. Though my kids donned costumes and gathered sugar late into last night, my husband and I are half way around the world celebrating 20 years of marriage. The Italian guests congratulated us with “bravo!” this morning at breakfast. Indeed, we know it is something worthy of no small bravo.
It is a monumental passing.
But this week while we traipsed around medieval hill towns, I missed my oldest daughter’s monumental passage. She sent me a brief, “It happened” on kik, the wifi messaging app we are all communicating with, and we struggled to talk around her school schedule and a 7 hour time zone. I fought back tears at the thought of being absent for such a significant week, yet at the same time, thankful for all I had already done.
I have been on a journey with my tween daughter, intentionally ushering her into womanhood through a year I call “becoming.” I have been searching for core, intrinsic attitudes of women which supersede culture and history and that far surpass the more traditional focus on periods and purity.
Of course, periods and purity are conversations worth having. But we’ve been having them for years. The only way to normalize a thing is to talk about it casually and frequently. I’ve been prepared and preparing my daughter for the onset of her period increasingly over the past months. We knew it was coming.
Unlike some 30 years ago when my own first began.
We are a full day’s car ride from home and surrounded by all the relatives. My Grandparent’s house is nestled in a wood with corn fields behind and a mortician living down the lane. The small town feels isolated, stalled, and like their home, frozen in time. The baby blue toilet with the padded seat cover is my hiding place. I am 12 and something is happening.
In the kitchen, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and the mortician neighbor enjoy happy hour. It is Christmas and we are all together. There is no privacy, though I pull my mother down the hall to the baby blue bathroom next to the 13 inch TV with Miss Piggy sitting atop. I am horrified. My underpants are brown and sticky and I have absolutely no paradigm for this. My mother pauses. An embarrassed smile is gone as quickly as I detect it and she brushes it off, “too much chocolate” she says.
Six months later it is Spring and the sticky returns red. Now, from health class I presume, I know what this is. I know what to ask for. I know what has happened. Years later, on the eve of my wedding, when the same smile returns to her face, I will recall the baby blue toilet. I will remember that at age 10, I had asked what French Kissing was and she said she had no idea. I will remember another toilet at age 14, from which I received coaching from a friend. She handed me a tampon and mirror and closed the door, not letting me out till I was successful.
And though I managed despite my mother’s embarrassment around intimate and feminine topics, what I recall her telling me that Christmas at my Grandparents, has framed the bulk of my parenting: there will be no topic too intimate to discuss candidly (and age appropriately) with my kids.
So my daughter and I have been having body talks for years, whenever her curious mind pops a question. In 5th grade, I bought her a little coin purse, put some sanitary pads in it, and told her to keep it with her. She has been prepared and knows what is coming. There will be no public celebration, but I will try to muster excitement (tell me a woman who actually enjoys this reality! We aren’t spending 5 days out of the month sequestered in a red tent with our friends and sisters after all!) I will do my best to welcome her to this life-giving gift we have of bringing babies into the world.
At the same time, she is joining the ranks of women from all time, from all over. I want her to know that though she’ll continue on as a kid who now has pads in her backpack, still getting tucked into bed at night, some of her global sisters are experiencing a radical change of life. At the same age, a young girl in Afghanistan or Yemen is now declared eligible for marriage. A peer in Uganda may stop going to school at this point because she lacks sanitary pads to keep her clean. In fact, maybe our celebration of her first period will be to sponsor a year’s supply of pads for a girl of the same age.
These are all thoughts I’ve been having leading up to this reality. But here it is and I am not even with her! By the time I return, she’ll have endured her first cycle. In all my determination to handle this differently than my own mother, in the end, it was out of my control. And in the greatest irony of all, my mom is the one with her right now.
In God’s great sense of humor and grace, my mom gets redemption.
I have contended from the beginning of this process that ushering our daughters through a process of becoming touches our own story and soul. It is as much about the mother as the daughter. It can be both painful and restorative to rifle through our narrative. But what a delightful surprise that my mom is included. Removing me from the picture allowed her to do things perhaps the way she always wanted to, but wasn’t free to at that point in her own process of becoming. We’re journeying together, across generations.
And for now, across oceans.
I am not a huge fan of the month of love. I have nothing against chocolate or flowers or sentimental cards. I’m actually kind of a reluctant sucker for all three if they are offered out of a heart rooted in desire rather than obligation. So yes, the contrived and constructed nature of Valentine’s Day certainly leads to some major cynicism. But that’s not why February is on the bottom half of my descending list of favorite months of the year. I think it has something to do with the momentum of January with all of its energy and newness beginning to stall, but it may also have to do with the bitter cold and amount of snow we tend to get this time of year in Colorado. I am only a fan of snow when I get to play in it or watch it from my window while sipping on Chai and reading a book, not when I must drive through it or shovel it or scrape it off my car. Lest I begin to sound like a whiner, I must confess that even my irritation with Colorado winters does not fully explain my less than fond attitude toward the month of February. If I’m truly honest with myself, I must name that there is a narrative component to this negative energy.
February 12, 1994 was the date of my first Sadie Hawkins dance. I was 14. The same age that my oldest daughter is currently. I had attended my first high school dance with a group of friends, my date being a dear and kind friend of my older brother. But I actually had a boyfriend for this dance which made it feel more significant. Or at least I thought he was becoming my boyfriend, hence the late night flirty phone calls that led up to this first date of sorts. He was only a couple months shy of his 18th birthday and I was still a rather naive freshman. He picked me up from my house that night with a corsage in hand, but as soon as we walked out the door he informed me that the day before he had been busted for having alcohol in his car while parked on school grounds. He was suspended so we would be unable to attend the actual school dance. As a grown woman, and a therapist who has now worked with a number of abuse victims, it is painfully easy for me to identify all of the red flags indicating the course of events that would transpire that night and the predictable path the “relationship” would take for the next couple of months. But there was no way for me to understand the trap I was walking into back then. There was no way for me to understand how my story leading up to that moment in time had left me vulnerable, characteristic of easy prey, and without the capacity to protect myself.
Faith, my oldest daughter, attended her first high school dance at the end of January this year. She went with a group of friends and had what she considered to be a fantastic time. After a full day of playing beauty salon and prepping her for the dance, her dad and I dropped her off with her friends, took a few photos, told her how much we adored her and then departed for the evening. Brian had to head to an event at his school for the evening (Assistant Principal duties) so I had a rather lonesome car ride home. It was enough space and time for the tears to emerge and trickle down my face in a way that felt cleansing, redeeming parts of me I didn’t know were still longing for redemption. I couldn’t protect or equip myself back then, but by the grace of God…truly by the grace of God, this child of mine has had a very different story than my own. I know that we do not live in a bubble, which means that a culture bent toward the objectification of women and girls has been woven into her narrative in ways that are seen and unseen. Just recently, the hype and buzz around 50 Shades of Grey necessitated a lengthy conversation around the disturbing content of the books and movie introducing categories I wish her mind did not need to hold. Heck! We returned from a weekend in Vegas for a soccer tournament only a few weeks ago, where each of my girls were exposed to the horror of strip club adds littering the streets. We were ALL literally walking all over the nude bodies of women. Images of their bodies, their beautiful and miraculous bodies- meant for SO MUCH more than being used as objects of pleasure for others – were being discarded like trash. I kept telling myself that each of these women have a story. They have a story. They have a being. They are not just a body. It’s the very same thing I keep trying so hard to instill in the hearts and minds of my daughters. Each of us are marked by this culture, there is no way entirely around that reality. But on that evening drive home, I saw the fruit of our efforts of resistance. At 14, Faith has more of a self than I was afforded at her age. And she continues to grow day-by-day in that direction.
February will likely always remind me that the battle against a culture of objectification, a culture obsessed with the sexualization of women and girls, must continue to be waged. It will likely always bring me back to the violation and darkness of that evening when I was 14, but perhaps facing death is the way toward life. Goodbye February of 2015, I am glad you’ve come and gone. Hello March. Hello Lent.
The night of Faith’s first high school dance. Woman becoming, a piece of my heart that lives and moves outside of my body, beyond my story and into her own. I love this child of mine fiercly.
It was the fall of 2008 when Lucy was four and Peter was two that I was frantically trying to make use of the two-hour afternoon nap time. That was the only time of the day where my kids were both otherwise occupied when I could scour the final surfaces of my home before I had company over that night. The night before, I had already scrubbed four bathrooms, vacuumed the upstairs, main level and basement, swept and mopped the kitchen floors, ran the dishes, cleaned the refrigerator, wiped down the oven and microwave, Windexed the glass backdoor and dusted all the wood furniture in the house. That afternoon, I just had to Comet the kitchen sink and countertops and I would feel adequately ready to have friends in my house. My two-hour window was closing and I just knew that Lucy would likely be ready to get out of bed before Peter. As I desperately wrung my Comet covered sponge under the kitchen faucet willing it to get rinsed quicker I began my Hail Mary. In those moments, a mother hopes, prays, promises, says the rosary, barters, pleads, bribes, and otherwise commends her spirit into the hands of the Universe to just make her kids stay asleep a little longer so she can finish her tasks uninterrupted. That’s when I heard a voice in the distance. Only it wasn’t the Universe. She hadn’t heard my plea. It was my daughter, “Mommy? Can I get up now?”
I ripped off my rubber gloves and threw them on the counter in an attempt to punish the Universe for not accepting my righteous petition and huffed upstairs to let Lucy come out of her room. I told her I would put a show on for her to watch while I finished cleaning in the kitchen and would get her a snack in just a little bit. I sat her down on the couch and turned on Curious George for her to watch. At four years old, she had surpassed an interest in Sesame Street which meant Peter practically missed Big Bird and Elmo entirely.
I rushed back to the kitchen and skipped trying to wriggle wet rubber gloves back on my hands and instead proceeded to douse the countertops in Comet. [I for one, am a Comet kind of girl. When I was young and cleaning the bathrooms was my chore, I picketed if my parents ever bought the grocery store version of the same cleaning solution. It was Comet, or they could clean the bathrooms themselves. Paying the extra $.59 per canister was apparently worth it, as that remained my chore until I moved out of the house at age 22]. Bending over, I proceeded to apply the elbow grease my mother and grandmother swore got the job done and scrubbed the cracks and crevices of the Formica countertops. Mid-scrub I heard Lucy call from the living room. I stood up straight, with both hands on the countertops and my head tilted back chanting to myself “Why me? Why me?” and finally answered her as calmly as I could muster “Yes, Lucy?”
“Mommy? I think I need some love.”
I looked down at my hands clutched a little too tightly to the blue sponge and thought, “Love. Love. Love. Ok. I can do that. Love. Ok.” So, I rinsed my hands and went to sit next to her on the couch. She was still watching the onery monkey and I ran my hands softly on her back…side to side up and down in circles back and forth. When I thought she had either forgotten her request or I had fooled myself into believing she had gotten enough love, I slowly removed my hand from her back and snuck back into the kitchen to pick up where I left off. My time was most definitely limited now. I knew I only had moments before Peter would wake up and between the two of them I would not have a minute to finish. I started scrubbing again when I heard, “Mommy?” I responded more quickly this time, “Yes, Lucy?”
“Mommy? I think I need some more love.”
I sat the sponge down and rinsed my hands again. Then, I proceeded to sit next to her on the couch and rub her back a second time the same way I had done the first. And when I thought she had either forgotten her request or I had fooled myself into believing she had gotten enough love, I snuck away to the kitchen and was able to finish rinsing the sink and countertops before Peter woke up.
I was able to reach my goal. I succeeded in getting my house clean by the time both kids woke up. Friends came over that night and enjoyed a very clean and hospitable environment and left with plenty of food and fun.
It is difficult for me to find these next words. I am trying to be kind to myself – to look back on the young mother that I was and extend to her grace and mercy, because she didn’t know any better. But, really, in my shame I want to grab her by the arms, drag her from the kitchen to the couch, sit her down and say, “This is what matters! Not a clean countertop, not a clean sink! Love on this little girl right here, right now, so much that she doesn’t have to ask you twice. Scoop her up and rock her in your arms for all the times you couldn’t…for all the times you didn’t!”
Tears of regret stream down my face as I remember that moment. What I wouldn’t give to have a do-over. And…in the same breath, I also believe in redemption. I know that because of that moment, I have been more aware of my daughter’s need for love. I have listened more closely, been more attentive, picked up on the nuances of her needs more acutely than if I had not failed in that moment so terribly. She has never made a direct request like that since. And for that, I am deeply grieved. But, because of my mistake, I have grown a strong attunement to her heart’s needs, and I believe she still asks me in many ways to give her more love. Every time I pause to scratch her back or give her a squeeze, or snuggle with her in the morning to wake her up, or sit extra close to her on the couch when we watch movies, or insist on having my arm around her when we sit in a booth at a restaurant, or hold her hand anytime we are out walking, I get my do-over.
What actions or goals or values get in the way of you being able to give others more love? Is it your to do list, or your image, your busyness, or external pressures? Is it all the ‘shoulds’? We’d love to hear specifics from you in the comments below.