Day 104: “Celebrate Your Son”
I may be the only living person who loves Dallas in August. After years in New England, Dallas in the summer is like living your life on permanent vacation: sun, pools, patios with umbrellas. While the rest of the world goes on vacation in August, I hate to leave home.
We moved to Dallas in August, eight years ago. People often say to me it’s a wonder I stayed, given August brings the most punishing heat of the year to this North Texas metroplex. Within days of arriving at our new home, Michael’s guinea pig Chewie died in the sun, our dog Lucas was rushed to the vet with heat stroke after a walk, and I burst into tears in a grocery store because I didn’t recognize a single brand of yogurt and couldn’t find anything that resembled real bread (still can’t, by the way.) It was a difficult transition, to say the least.
While my husband and I were both brave to undertake this second marriage/six kids/move-everyone-to-Dallas commitment, my kids were the real heroes. Each of them in their own way had their lives turned upside-down, painfully so, and they made enormous sacrifices in order for this newly-blended family to have its best shot at survival. They did it out of love, there’s no question about that. Each of them raised their hand to say “Yep, let’s do this. Let’s move to Texas”, although they’d lived their whole lives in a perfect little Connecticut town. They did it knowing how important it would be to get back to their Dad in Connecticut regularly, and to make him part of their lives despite the distance. My kids are the bravest people I know, all four of them. They are the people who helped me, at their very young ages, when I needed it most. They are my heroes.
I thought about this today when a friend of mine asked me about Michael’s “trek”. She listened patiently as I told her why, in the context of Michael’s history, this hike is such an accomplishment. Geri is a remarkable person herself, having founded a school for children with disabilities and differences in New Jersey many years ago. When I told her about Michael’s spread sheets and equipment purchases and miles covered and his insistence on flying out to San Diego that morning alone, she said “You must celebrate your son.”
Seemed like a reasonable thing and I rather smugly thought to myself, “I have rock star kids, hero kids. I celebrate them all the time.” Then I said that I find myself starting to worry about what will come next–where will he live? what will he do for work? will he return to school to finish his education?
And again, Geri said–somewhat more emphatically–“Maxine, I’m telling you this as a professional, not as your friend: You must celebrate your son. He was emancipated at 18. What he decides to do and how he decides to do it is his job and his right. If he can plan this trip and accomplish what you say he’s accomplished, he can solve that problem. Step back and let him do it.”
And then this part: “You have a special son, one with both intellect and courage and ability and passion. He is unique and different from your other children. What an amazing gift that is. Who needs four kids all the same? He is exceptional, and this is the way he excels. He is showing his sister and brothers how strong and resilient he is, how smart, organized and capable he is. He is able to do things you and I and they could not do. What courage he has to do this! What physical stamina and commitment and dedication he has! Celebrate your son! Don’t problem-solve. Celebrate!”
Celebrating is different from acknowledging or appreciating or understanding. It takes a whole different set of skills, whether we’re celebrating kids or celebrating ourselves or celebrating one more day on this planet, or the gift of your parents or the good fortune of your job or your beautiful home or the friends in your life. Skills that I suspect Michael is learning right now—to see beauty, to accept things as they are, to relinquish control and experience through his eyes rather than his head. Maybe to put down the feeling of gratitude for awhile and ramp up the feeling of joy. Celebration. To be delighted. To embrace what is before him and clap his hands with wonder.
The idea for this blog came from my inability to find anything online that spoke to the experience of a parent who watches, worries and celebrates a son or daughter of any age attempting a thru-hike like the Pacific Crest Trail. Since Michael is not much for journal-keeping, I also worried that he wouldn’t have a record of this experience and thought that this could serve as a keepsake for him, too
I thought that I’d have all sorts of specialty information to impart to you, things you’d need to know if a child of yours turns to you one day and says “Mom/Dad, I think I’d like to hike the (fill in the blank) trail this year.” I wanted to give you a road map, something that says “Do this first, then breathe, then go to REi, then do this again, then pray, then buy lots of packing tape..” and so on.
Instead, all I seem to be able to tell you is this: nothing stays the same. This experience will change you in ways you are meant to be changed. It’s a gift, really, because if you had the choice, you wouldn’t sign on to this ride, I bet. But you don’t have a choice and you’ll reap the benefits anyway. So sit back and witness from afar the remarkable person who is your child. You are lucky enough to have this kid, doing this hike, at this time, while you are still around to hoot and holler and jump up and down and, yes, to celebrate.
As of today, Michael is in Northern California, approaching a town called Belden at the 1284 mile marker. That puts him almost halfway to his goal of reaching Manning Park in British Columbia by mid-October. (I sent Box 10 to Belden on Monday) He’s been without cell service for over 8 days (thank you, SPOT) and able to get a few texts through, but no pictures. I’m hopeful, when he gets to Belden tomorrow, we’ll see some. Thank you for following this journey and, as always, your support and prayers.