“I guess we’re going?”
My best friend and I must have uttered that a few dozen times. Always ending with that rise in tone indicating our intent with the veiled statement was really just a chance to allow the other to change their mind.
“It’s not that far.”
“We won’t be in the middle of nowhere.”
“It’s really no farther than driving to your house”
“If we feel uncomfortable, we can always come home”
We weren’t always this tentative getting out of dodge.
Shauna spent her early adulthood traveling through places like Europe and South East Asia, haphazardly out of a backpack with not much in the way of plans or money, and with a shocking level of success. Meanwhile, I grew up traveling the country in a truck, state to state pulling a trailer full of horses competing in 3-day events.
Needless to say, we were a couple of highly capable young ladies. Despite all of our past successes, present day I think it’s safe to say our confidence in ourselves could be described as wavering.
We both have our own brands of anxieties and intrusive thoughts, her’s—nowadays, centers around her new daughter, Hudson. As a first time Mom who has fought tooth and nail to maintain breastfeeding and nourish her kid to the best of her ability, she feels an enormous amount of stress pulling away from her normal routine. Some of her fears are founded in fact, some lean more towards the irrational, but all that’s important to know is that the concept of spending a full day in a completely new surrounding can be overwhelmingly stressful. The company of her husband does a lot to relieve her stress but some days have to be solo.
While you could argue Shauna’s anxiety is completely understandable, maybe even the marker of a caring mom, mine is a little more on the “hard to rap your head around” end of the spectrum.
I have a mild case of
Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by symptoms of anxiety in situations where the person perceives the environment to be unsafe and trapped with no easy way to get away. These situations can include open spaces, public transit, shopping malls, or simply being outside the home. Being in these situations may result in a panic attack. In severe cases, people may become unable to leave their homes.
Mild because, at the moment at least, going to the grocery store or staying a full shift at work is only a 2 on the anxiety 10 scale, but passing the 60 mile range from home or the occasional solo trip to the gym (where I’ll be exerting myself by myself) could very well end in a nice little panic attack, where I will feel the need to quickly excuse myself, and then, with lighting speed, return myself home, into my parking space, through my creaky wooden gate, and onto my couch where nothing could ever, ever hurt me. Luckily my long time boyfriend acts as a safety string of sorts. I can usually get by containing the constant barrage of “what if’s” in the passenger’s seat with white knuckles while he leads the charge into the unknown— err.. or the uncomfortable, rather. Lets face it, we’re not setting off on expeditions into the far reaches of the Antarctic.
So for various reasons, Shauna and I were hesitant in committing ourselves to a full day-trip to Joshua Tree.
Especially without our dudes.
We both knew this was going to be the perfect HUGE baby step. Adventure Mamas was holding a mom’s bouldering day in Joshua Tree. Only a couple hours from Shauna’s house, with a bunch of mom’s (there you go Shauna, you can take a deep breath, they’ll understand if you need to breastfeed, or if Hudson needs to throw a tantrum), and I’ll have my Shauna. She’ll understand if my anxiety is just too much and I need to go home.
So we went.
The drive was easy. A little longer than we had undersold it to ourselves initially, but it was easy. Like almost all situations, the anticipation of anxiety was far more climactic than just doing the damn thing.
You couldn’t have ordered up a nicer day… 50º but felt like 65º. Comfortable in the sun, sticky rock in the shade, and moms with their tiny humans everywhere. It was the perfect first outdoor rock climbing experience for my new-to-the-sport bestie.
Jackie Trejio was hosting the meet up, the goal of which to get a bunch of moms and their kids, with varying climbing experience, outside and on some real rocks while feeling comfortable doing it.
Based on those parameters, you could easily call it a success.
For some ladies, not just Shauna, it was their first introduction to real rock as a climber. Others could count on one hand how many previous outdoor experiences they’d had and a fewer still were invaluable beta encyclopedias and spotters.
We showed up a little late, missing the warm-up area, but catching the group in migration to area 2. We geared up, patted each other on the back for, at the very least, making it to the destination.
I think our exact praise was, “Even if we go home right this second, we technically still succeeded!”
The crew of 15 or more moms hiked their way from the road side, past a few single pitch cracks and into the boulder field. Just the act of watching so many other moms boldly towing, carrying, and guiding their offspring between cacti through the desert was in a way, fortifying.
Nerves didn’t wash completely away that easily, but it was a great start.
We plopped our gear down after a short walk at the base of the Manx boulder. Like the rest of the moms, Shauna went straight to work in mom mode, pulling out toy shovels, rolling out a smorgasbord of baby snacks, and taking a look around at the word class scenery. I pulled out my camera and bouldering gear, quickly shuffled around the crash pads (my very favorite way to micromanage community safety), and watched.
The infants and toddlers were beyond thrilled to see who could get more sand and dirt in who’s clothes and crevices and have staring contests with flowers. The older kids scrambled around on the smaller rocks and maybe threw a couple into the bushes, while the oldest put on shoes and eagerly panhandled for beta.
While all of the moms were naturally in a state of high alert, making sure their babies didn’t end up being carried off by a coyote or stuck under a rock somewhere, the village mentality of child shift watch resulted in a collective sigh of relief as they realized they had back up.
This had to be one of the most obvious benefits of a group meeting of moms.
Speaking purely out of observation, kids are squirrely.
I can’t imagine how stressful it would be, being a new climber trying to sort out all of the nuances of outdoor climbing on your own; Where’s the climb? Where are the holds? How do you set up your crash pads? Feet go where?… all the while having to maintain intermittent child watch.
This group setting, while made up of mostly strangers, were all fellow moms and made each of them especially qualified and attuned to kid care. Knowing that there was always a set or two of mom eyes on the herd gave a lot of moms a chance to focus on a climb for longer than 20 seconds without fear of small bodies having become suddenly camped out on the crash pads or off playing with a rattle snake.
Shauna flashed her first outdoor climb. It was a super inviting and classically heady boulder problem that resembled the loud soft loud pentameter of 90’s grunge. The start is a no brainer mantle with big hands, then a short dance higher to a bold lurching reach over a bulge to a nesting of more solid but slightly slopey holds, and a mellow (but committing) top out.
“The holds are all there, just make smart choices when you get to the top.” The best advice I could lend her before she fired off the highball. If for only a moment her parenting anxieties were shed, and she was only concerned with the task at hand. Mine too. Something about taking care of other people has a funny way of making you stop worrying about what’s going on in your head.
After a slight heart flutter topping out, she made it up clean. Ecstatic she pranced and cheered for herself at the top of the boulder. I joined her at the top to celebrate and help point out the down climb.
(There may have been a second “loud” section when she realized she’d have to learn to chimney, and fast, in order to get off the boulder.)
Loads of moms were having a shared experience. Acquainting themselves with the sport, learning to read rock, spot, be spotted and all with the rare opportunity of being able to lend their undivided attention knowing their offspring were being safely watched on the ground. Even if just for a hand full of turns at a time.
Climbing aside, I’m guessing it had to be reassuring to ladies without a prior outdoor support system to see that they weren’t alone, or bad moms for letting their “darling children” cover themselves in earth and lick rocks.
After spending a few hours playing around on a variety of problems, the group wrangled, packed up, and headed off to their last boulder of the day. We parted ways and made our way back to the truck.
Packing up, Shauna was beaming – proud of her climb, and talking through beta on the climb that managed to elude her for this trip. As a climber, I couldn’t have been more thrilled to see her fire lit, and, most of all, her confidence swell.
The drive home was a lot of that, talking about climbs, patting each other on the back for our acts of bravery and our success.
I don’t have kids, and like most people, I don’t feel a burning need to surround myself with hoards of other people’s children, but the day was incredible. On a personal level, Shauna and I found an awesome opportunity to challenge our comfort zones, reconnect, and grow back a little bit of confidence.
On a community level, what Adventure Mamas is doing is solid. Creating a real, physical community of moms and women with open arms ready and willing to help other moms feel welcome in nature and on the rocks postpartum is a fantastic cause that realistically, anyone can get behind.
I mean if you break it down:
rad moms = rad kids = rad future adults
and the future is going to need as many rad people as it can get.