I just got back from a 9-day hiking adventure in Scotland. Without my daughter. Just me, my close girlfriend (who also left her kids at home), and a mountain to climb. We set out to climb Ben Nevis, Great Britain’s highest peak. And we did it. That and so much more. And we came back changed women.
I should start with a little something about fear. I was so afraid of this trip. Terrified. Afraid to drive on the “wrong” side of the road. Afraid to travel as women without men. Afraid of the daunting hiking challenges that we had planned. And, more than anything, afraid to leave my five-year-old daughter Violet with my ex-husband, who, although he has been successfully taking her for overnights for six months, has never parented alone for more than three consecutive nights. And he’s only been sober for a year and a half. And I don’t trust him to put our daughter first. I may never trust him for this.
Fear is a strange emotion. When I am truly honest with myself, fear is what kept me in my failing marriage more than any one thing. I was afraid that I could not handle being a single parent. I was afraid of being alone. I was afraid that raising my daughter in a family with two homes would break her and would make her incapable of understanding how to love. None of these feared outcomes has come to pass. Not one.
Rocking the Single Parent Gig. I am literally rocking this single parent horse. I have systems. It’s kind of like being an experimental scientist. I get to try things out, celebrate successes, and move forward from inevitable failures. And I’m doing it. But it bears considerable mention that I have had help. I am surrounded by this tribe of great people who love and support me. My traveling companion takes my daughter on snow days when neither my ex-husband nor I can miss work. She makes us dinner every Tuesday night when her husband is away for work. We get a beautiful meal and we get to support her too. I have several friends who we go to the beach with and hike with so that we all have another set of eyes and hands to mind the children. Many of my tribe check in every few weeks if I’ve been quiet on social media or even if I seem a little “off,” or just because they miss me.
Parenting alone is kind of awesome. I have found that parenting alone is oddly freeing. It’s kind of like going to the movies by yourself (which I adore). You get to be fully present in the endeavor without constantly looking to your viewing companion to see if they like or don’t like the film. You get to satisfy only your own expectations (well, and maybe a few of your child’s expectations as well). And it’s awesome. If you like having a set schedule, it’s yours to plan and execute. If you want no schedule at all, also cool. If the dishes aren’t done or your daughter’s clothes are put away unfolded, so be it. If you want to make breakfast (or even ice cream) for dinner, yes please! The only drawback is that you are the only one to shoulder the ramifications if your plan goes bust. But the freedom of living your mistakes is also kind of awesome. You are the champion of your own parenting destiny.
Love is where you find it.” Kurt Vonnegut was, as he nearly always is in my experience, right. Love is where you find it. Violet sees love every day even if it looks a little different from the love that exists in the families of her peers. But…love is love. In fact, I’ve come to realize that her watching me in a highly acrimonious relationship with her father would have done more to negatively shape her conception of love. I should note that I’ve recently started to date someone who seems to be on the path to partnership. So, with any good luck, Violet will see many forms of love. And will have the opportunity to see a model for how it’s supposed to be done when of the romantic variety.
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Back to Scotland. This trip took on an unreal significance for me. Because it represented the pure challenge of so many of my fears wrapped into 9 days. But I had to do it. For myself – because as parents you can’t pour from an empty cup – and for my daughter – because she also needed to see my confrontation of fear and my sheer will to overcome it.
I will say that I had so many contingency plans set up right until the day of my journey. I very nearly cancelled the trip. . . twice. In the end, we got on the plane and all was well. In fact, it was a greater, more epic experience than I could have conceived.
On the day that we climbed the mountain (or walked the hill as they say in Scotland), my friend and I were terrified. We made a pact that, if at any point it became too difficult for either of us, we would turn to the other and say, “This is the turnaround point.” It never happened. Much to my surprise, I was unfazed. Twice, my friend stopped for a breather due to her asthma. I told her with all seriousness that we could turn back. She flatly refused. I warned her that I could not carry her down the mountain. She replied with a smile that she couldn’t carry me either.
So we forged ahead. 5.5 miles ascending through water, peat, and sheep and then…clouds, crag, and snow. 5.5 miles very carefully descending. My friend later told me that she had decided at each of her rest stops that she couldn’t give up because she did not want to take the experience from me. It was then that I realized we had been carrying each other both up and down the mountain.
After our hike, we ate a great meal and took a pint at a rustic hiking lodge with a clear view of our mountain. I could not help but think to myself: This is the kind of person that I want to be for my daughter. This powerful, determined, caring, supportive woman. We were changed and it was good.