Thursday, November 10, 2011

Fear Itself: Confessions of a Former Badass

Today I'd like to talk about fear.  Not haunted house, scary movie, fear-of-dying fear, but rather the run of the mill daily fears which can keep us from living our fullest and best life.  I've been doing a lot of ruminating on this topic lately.  Now that the little man is more of a fully-functioning, self-entertaining child than a needy infant, I've had a moment to reflect on life's changes since his arrival, and to discuss them a bit with my husband.  Not surprisingly, life now is somewhat unrecognizable to what it was several years ago, and while some of those changes are wonderful, timely, and welcome, in other areas we need a course correction, the primary one being our sense of adventure.
Hubs + me on top of Vermont's Mt. Mansfield in our super-adventure days.
Let me preface this by saying that I used to be a tad bit of a badass.  When the husband and I met and got together, I had been working on and off as a wilderness guide for the better part of six years.  I guided kayak trips on the San Francisco Bay and New Hampshire's Piscataqua River Basin, I co-lead a months-long backpacking trip for college students deep in the backcountry of California, I solo lead a work crew of high school students and spent a summer building a boardwalk across a marshland with my own little hands.  When the husband and I got together, I was running backcountry leadership training programs for the east coast's oldest conservation organization, teaching experienced mountaineers twice my age how to run their wilderness adventure trips.  I appeared to be fearless and imminently capable, which the husband has often told me is one of the reasons why he fell for me in the first place.

I will break here to highlight the word "appeared" from the last sentence of the last paragraph, because, here's the thing... I was not raised to be a wilderness adventure person.  I grew up in a very cushy New York suburb, and went camping a total of one time in my childhood, with a lovely Mormon family who took me and about 23 other kids on a weekend car camping expedition not too far from where we lived.  Mountaineering it was not.  I truly fell in love with the backcountry during my college years when I was an environmental studies major and my family took a (cushy) whitewater rafting trip in the summer between my sophomore and junior years.  Nights spent sleeping under the stars (and one particularly handsome raft guide) had me crushing on the wilderness lifestyle, and I decided that guiding was for me.
Deep underground exploring Vietnam's Củ Chi tunnels.  A bit badass!
From there on out, I had to fight every over-cautious, sheltered bone in my little suburban Jewish girl body to achieve my goal of becoming a Patagonia-clad, deeply tanned, uber-capable badass.  I pushed myself hard, and encountered a lot of fear along the way; fear that I've never admitted in the past, but here it is: guiding trips on the heavily marine trafficked, literally shark-infested San Francisco Bay?  Scary!!!  Being solely responsible for a half-a-dozen teenagers in the midst of a massive lightening storm in the middle of the night with no place to take shelter?  Terrifying!  On a solo overnight in bear country in the high Sierra?  Peeing myself in the tent with nerves. Yet, I did these things, and I felt a tremendous amount of satisfaction as I checked each one off my list.  Still, the underlying fear I felt even as I maneuvered in these high adventure circles had me feeling something like a fraud.
Running the 2003 New York City Marathon and continuing to dabble in badass.
Let us fast forward, then, to 2008-2009, when I was pregnant and a new mom.  People, this is hands down the most frightening thing any human can ever attempt to accomplish.  Gaining 65 lbs and pushing an 8.5 lb human out of your body?  Effing terrifying (...and yes, I said 65 lbs.  Got something to say about that?  Think carefully, or I will sit on you next time I am pregnant).  Having your breasts be someone's sole food source?  Mighty intimidating!  Using a robotic machine to pump milk out of said breasts between meetings in your work day?  Yeah.  Needing to operate in the world on an average 4.5 hours sleep?  Challenging! Having a piece of your heart and soul embodied in another human being out in the world to potentially get hurt in any number of physical and emotional ways every day for the rest of your life?  Well, I have no words.  It has been an adjustment to say the least, as has both juggling being a working mom, and then coming to terms with being a stay-at-home-mom and the guilt that comes with not making a financial contribution to the family (so complicated, these emotions!  I could go on for days!).
Let's be real: my most badass moment to date.
So, this brings us to the present day, and my current thoughts on fear.  Last Saturday, over coffee, the husband and I were talking about how different life is now.  The badass backcountry chick he was once all moony over is way, way back on the back burner of my personality these days.  I wish I was a real, legit, super-mega-total badass like my friend Haley who has been known to hit the backcountry with her newborn in tow, and casually breastfeed against a giant Sequoia, but my nursing tendencies turned out to run more towards sipping a glass of ice water while obsessively watching the Food Network.

Once I kind of got the hang of the new parent thing, we were then mired in moving and other transitions, and slowly but surely, our life has become more safe and predictable, with nary a camping trip to speak of in the last few years, and precious fewer hikes, surfs, and other adrenaline-boosting activities than both of us would prefer.  Now, with little guy being incredibly self-sufficient (except for the diapers) and adventure-ready himself, I know it is time to course correct, and become something of a hybrid of the wannabe badass I once was, and the more staid, predictable mom-person I currently am today.

So, how to do this?  Well, I'm thinking the answer is baby steps.  Yesterday, for example.  The hubs needed the car, and I needed to get the little guy across town in a timely manner.  The obvious answer?  Bicycling!  Something which I've been terrified to do with him in the city.  I witnessed a horrible and fatal bike accident right after we moved here, and it put the fear of city cycling in me.  I love to ride bikes, but am very cautious, and happily let the husband be the one with the baby seat mounted on his handlebars.  Yesterday, though, I had to bite the bullet, or lose the most precious commodity in my life, time.  So, on went the helmets, and out onto the city streets we went.  I definitely messed up the the gear shifting element (not easy to shift when a large toddler is front and center on your handlebars), and probably was biking about 1 mile per hour, but you know what?  I did it.  And when we reached our destination and I caught my breath, I felt that old, familiar satisfied endorphin rush.  And I liked it.

Now the thing is to reconcile our current reality and limitations with the original love of adventure and the outdoors that brought us together in the first place.  I've been so busy just trying to survive in the last few years that I've let my sense of adventure slide, especially when the couch is so cozy and the Friday Night Lights DVDs are so plentiful and captivating.  I've let that cautious suburban girl in me take over, even though I'm not as fond of her as I am of that tan chick paddling amongst the sharkies in the SF Bay.  I've let her take over largely because of fear; irrational mom fears like toddler + campfire or toddler + mountain cliff or toddler + open bodies of water, but also more simple fears, like being cold and uncomfortable when so much else in life is necessarily uncomfortable these days (see: grocery shopping with a two year old boy) or losing another night of sleep to being kicked by the little man in my sleeping bag, when good sleep still seems so, so very precious, fleeting and necessary to our sanity.  And in typical fashion, I've gone to extremes, and it's either a backpacking adventure or the couch.  Sigh.  How do we fall into these traps, even as we're so very aware of their existence?
Sea kayaking with my dad.  So relaxing and soothing it can hardly be considered badass, but an adventure nonetheless.
So, baby steps.  A small, nearby hike.  A mini, short surfing expedition.  A carefully plotted morning out fishing.  These things must be done, but for some reason, finding balance truly seems to be the most fearsome parenthood challenge of all.  And becoming a parent is hardly the only thing that can throw you off your game.  A move, an injury, a new job, a bad break-up; any major life event is usually enough to halt your usual routine and make taking it back up a striking challenge.  In our case, it has just been years, rather than weeks or months, since the shift occurred, making change all the more difficult.

Are you still with me?  All of this pondering leads me to this: a promise to myself and my family to prioritize the effort for balance, and a return to some of things that were important to us before life changed so dramatically.  After all, this is all we really have to rely on when life demands a fundamental shift from us: a silent, determined, will power-driven commitment to change.  I believe that people can change, but not overnight.  These shifts demand a daily nudging, a series of small, almost imperceptible mini-changes which over time grow to mean something truly significant.  So, that's where I am... slowing pushing the boulder of post-parenthood life a bit back towards the middle.   With some resolve and a little help from my dormant inner badass, I know I can get where I want to be.
How do you get out of ruts and channel your inner badass?
Woods walk last weekend.  Perfection.  Mini-excursions are the new badass.


  1. Whoa... so timely, so amazing... thank you, just... thank you.

    I never knew that you were a backpacking wilderness guide! How did I miss this? Is there anything you can't do?? :) So impressed, girlfriend!

    I love that this post gives hope to regain one's badass-ness. I tend to get caught up in the mentality of all or nothing, 0 to 60, achieve at 100% or don't bother trying. No, no, no. It IS all about baby steps, and that is the reminder I needed. And baby steps DO make the difference, too!

    ps. Hello, my name is Courtney, and I gained 45lbs my first pregnancy, so there. Now, I've already gained as much in my 17th week as I had gained at only my 22nd week the first time around, so LOOK OUT!

  2. I'd say that writing this post is pretty badass, SMJ. Mazel to you!
    And hello, my name is Shira, and I am well on my way to 65lbs this pregnancy. At least I'll be in excellent company.

  3. I'm with Courtney - so many things in this post that I was surprised by. I was thinking "how did I not know this!?" Makes me want to jet across country to Boston just for a sit down & catch up with you! Too bad I didn't win the lotto last week. :-)

    Although I cannot relate on the parenthood transition front...I can relate to transitions in general. I've felt this each time I moved. And here I am in the midst of the transition to married is definitely not the same as when I moved here in 2007. When I find myself in a rut, after much frustration, I soon realize that it's an opportunity. Not only to get back in touch with the things you used to love...but also find new things to love/challenge yourself with/conquer & channel your inner badass. Much like when I ramble in person...I feel like I'm rambling now.

    But just so you know, I've always thought you were a badass SMJ...and I admire you, for so many reasons. xoxo

  4. Small excursions are the answer for now! Keep that little one out exploring every park, beach, field, and nature center you can locate.

    It's nice to know more about the prior SMJ. It sounds like you conquered fears left and right. I agree that becoming a mother, nursing and all, is at the top of the long list!

  5. Awesome post...thoroughly enjoyed.

  6. Thanks, ladies. I'll admit, putting all these fears out on the internet for all to see was a little scary in and of itself! Your feedback makes it all worthwhile. xoxo

  7. once a badass always a badass. thanks for the shout out smj. i wish we could go for a hike...