Oh, freedom. Glorious freedom!
But wait a minute! What do I do with it? I’m not who I was way back then, when I gaped with disbelief at friends who chose to be parents. "It's a one-way trip!" I warned them, "Don't go through THE DOOR!"
I said things like...
You need to climb weekends, ski off mountaintops, cycle the Alps!
It’s not living if you're not scared.
How could you give up all that freedom, that independence?
Think of all the compromises you have to make.
I like my research too much, and I really do want to spend my evening in the lab with colleagues hunting down elusive isotopes.
But my friends went through THE DOOR nevertheless. They said things like…
It’s really fulfilling.
You learn to give.
Yes, you compromise, but it’s so rewarding. Really.
You’ve never known love until you have a child.
Those friends faded further and further into the distance on the OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR, swallowed up by family and responsibility and… ugh… maturity.
And when I was 40, I was told, "You're too old to have kids". Maybe I saw it as the ultimate challenge. Hah. No one could tell me what I could not do. So, I showed them! At 42, I gave birth to my own baby. So there.
And there was THE DOOR.
Those conversations at the climbing gym became awkward. “Have you been climbing? We just got back from amazing crags in South Africa!” Or… "What’s the next big peak you’re going to do? Nepal or South America?"
“Er… I’ve been to the gym a couple times. Coby can sit up now. And I’ve got this great mother’s group…”
My friend’s faded further and further into the distance. And many of them I don’t see them anymore.
So here I am, even going through THE DOOR is a distant past memory. I'm reveling in my son's independence, cranking up the adventuring as he gets older. Freedom is looking sweet.
But… and here’s the kicker... I’ve changed.
I've always liked supersaturated heroes, the ones who made clear-headed choices, who knew what was right and what was evil, who saved others with their selfless acts. I thought that was me.
Only it wasn’t.
In truth, I was the one who, when given the chance to choose first, took the biggest cookie off the plate. I was the one who railed at the inept climbers who put us all in danger by their slow retreat off a mountaintop in a lightning storm. Who gnashed my teeth at colleagues who gave away first authorship. Who played Monopoly to win.
But, like I said, I've changed.
At the gynecologist’s the other day, she asked… “Er, what’s this huge scar on your knee?”
“Oh, that? I had to tackle a friend’s dog. She’s really crazy for swimming, and she was running headlong to leap into a huge, snow-melt swollen river…”. It was nonchalant, like 'Duh, of course I’d throw myself onto a charging 100-lb. dog and get dragged along the granite to keep her from possibly drowning herself'.
I'm packed and ready with radio, GPS, bivvy and climbing gear, first aid kit, and ear plugs for the helicopter. Not for adventures, but to find a missing person in the mountains with my Search and Rescue Team, BAMRU, 55 people in red jackets who can tie a radium release hitch more easily than a necktie.
When I walked through THE DOOR, I gave up trying to be a hero. My hero’s journey had been all about pushing my limits, about competition and extreme adventuring, thinking heroism was made by tempering yourself in the forges of adversity. Instead, and quietly, while I held the hand of my toddler as he struggled over the enormous challenge of a sidewalk curb, I found it. Simply and easily. Joy in selflessness.
Motherhood as the hero’s journey? Believe it.