The plan was simple. Take the teenager, hike a mile and a half into the woods on a marked trail inside a state park, and meet up with friends who were camping. Then, have a glorious day, be wholly and profoundly changed by the experience, impart affirming life lessons, be the hero, eat lunch, and go home. Easy, right? This is not rocket surgery, folks.
Well, the first part was simple enough. And it was, in my dreamy, star filled head. Super simple in the part of my brain that forgot how baffling Target’s new layout still is. Easy peasy in the lobe that doesn’t remember having to use Waze to find my way out of the cul-de-sac for the first six months we lived here.
I suppose I should celebrate the one small victory I had on this day. With no cell service to call my friends for help, I did manage to find the correct trail that led to my friends’ campsite all on my own. Unfortunately, I zigged when I should have zagged, turned us completely around, and headed the other way. The wrong way. The way that was meant to be.
“Do you know what you’re doing?” Begged the skeptical teen.
“Do I look like I know what I’m doing?”
“No. Quite frankly, you do not.”
And still we carried on. Ignoring steep inclines. Trying to forget the punishing humidity and heat. Pushing beyond the reality of three trucks carrying injured hikers past us. Still we climbed.
It didn’t take long for the anger and resentment settling into the teen to be spat directly onto me. I didn’t even want to come today, but you made me.
I plastered on my happiest face. It will be fun! This is an adventure! Even if we never find them, at least we got in a good hike!
The hordes of weekend warriors grew thin as that trail grew more steep, and eventually it was just myself, my kid, and an ever growing insecurity. Robert Frost opined about the splendor of taking the road less traveled, but clearly he’d not accidentally found himself heading the wrong way on a strenuous trail with a teenager mocking his every mistake.
At turn five, when I’d finally had sense enough to make note of the trail blaze, the wrong trail blaze, I realized we weren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto, and I sheepishly admitted my mistake.
This isn’t the way.
To his credit, this kid hadn’t complained anymore than any other teenager would, hadn’t whined more than I. Poor thing, he’d been sold a bill of goods by his deluded, directionally challenged mother and he had every right to make some noise. But he didn’t, bless that soul. He did, however, ask I finally throw in the towel, so I obliged.
Heading downhill gave me a chance to catch my breath and clear my mind. I could let go of the dream, the pie in the sky perfect day. It wasn’t going to happen. Between his mood and my bum leg, we were done.
On the way down, somewhere in between what could have been and what was yet to be, I let go. I gave in. I joked about how easy it would be for him to push me down side of the mountain and make it look like an accident. We laughed and let it be.
We talked about homeschooling and all the things we loved about learning the way that we do. We chucked rocks over the ledge. We swatted bugs from our faces and laughed about our day.
We took a stop to cool our feet in the frigid river. Our toes numbed almost instantly. There was only the sound was rushing water. And then, “I’m kind of glad it worked out this way,” he said, quietly.
Me too, kid. Me too.
He’s 13 now and, if memory serves, he’ll be grown and out of the house by next week. At least it will feel that way. It’ll be over that quick, in the blink of an eye. So this was my serendipity, the one I almost refused to see. The moment in time graciously slowed for us.
Maybe that’s what it is. I feel him pulling away. He’s supposed to. This is where it begins. He’s the last one in the nest and time is ticking by. I wanted to create a moment. I tried to manufacture a moment. I expected it to go my way. I was greedy, too hungry for something that was obviously not meant for me.
We had our moment, eventually, one more quiet than I had tried to plan. The change was, perhaps, not so profound. But it was special in its own way. The wrong way, which happened to be the right way, which happened to be the way it was meant to be.
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