A few years ago, my first boyfriend came to Vermont and we met for coffee. I hadn’t seen him in maybe 15 years? And I was worried.
There was this nagging feeling I had, not that either of us weren’t mature enough to have a cup of coffee together as adults, but about something I did to him back in the day.
Or didn’t do.
Basically communicate effectively at the end.
As an adult, I think back to the former me, and still shake my head in disbelief. I was such an awful person back then. That I could ever treat anyone with such disrespect. But when I brought this up over coffee, so many years later, he laughed it off and said something to the effect of:
“We can’t be held responsible for what we did when we were like 20, 21….I mean really…we all did really senseless things back then”.
I was so relieved after all these years, and have thought about that sentiment often since, letting myself off the hook for quite a few dumb choices while repeating these words to myself.
I do however think back to that time in my 20s, and I may not have had much sense but I was fearless.
I moved from location to location following my career. I lived alone.
I explored new cities and towns when I traveled, all by myself.
I had no qualms about going into a restaurant by myself. Drinking wine by myself. Going to the movies by myself. It wasn’t easy at the time, but when I forced myself, in the end, I was empowered by it.
My last state move, to Vermont, was no different. After the first few weeks of crying, wondering how I could make such a crazy mistake, thinking I could adapt to life in the country, I finally settled on a 3-bedroom house just for me. I need to be happy, right? Nesting is good.
When I was first learning to love the nature-girl life, I embraced it on my own.
I went for hikes in the woods.
Said yes to learning weird hobbies from new friends: foraging, running on river rocks, fishing, cruising around in the evening looking for critter sightings…
Once I learned what people around here did for fun, I went for it. I would run from river rock to river rock without worry, up and down my favorite spot along the Big Branch in Mount Tabor and go out looking for wild mushrooms deep in the woods.
And going solo? Never worried about it.
Last night, I was reminded of the younger, bold but senseless me , when I was on the phone with my husband, who is traveling this week. We were talking about what activities Brett and I had on the agenda for the week. I really want to go mushroom hunting; because there should be a ton of chanterelle mushrooms in the woods, but am not really used to going on my own anymore.
I asked my husband, “do you think it’s safe for us to go up to our favorite spot in the National Forest, alone?”
My husband sounded startled. “of course, it should be”, he said “why wouldn’t it be?”
I hung up the phone and wondered, when did I turn into that person who hesitates?
Who stops, and misses out, because she is scared?
There was one incidence, after I had lived in Manchester for a few years. There was a snowmobile trail from one side road near my house that opened up to the woods, eventually bringing you out over a walking bridge, that came out onto another side road. One day as I was walking from one side of the bridge to the next, I heard voices. Hiding behind a tree, I slowly took a few more steps, and then a few more, until I could see what was up.
Two stringy-haired guys, in their 20s perhaps, were taking tree branches and slamming them down on the windshield of an old beat up muscle car they had dumped there. Crushed beer cans surrounded them. I turned around immediately and ran all the way home.
I suppose this could have been when I started rethinking solo walks deep in the woods as I never went over the bridge again after that.
Who knows who could be lurking around?
What if I wasn’t able to turn around?
What if they saw me?
What if? What if? What if?
All these thoughts in my head; I never used to worry like this.
I never needed to rely on someone else to do what I wanted to do.
But as a woman, and a mom, 15 years later, I have way too much sense for my own good.
So many years of anxiety about keeping my kid with a life-threatening food allergy safe.
I’m always at-the-ready with a safe snack and a few Wet Ones.
When it snows? Or if there is any inkling of black ice lurking on the roads, I don’t drive. It’s not safe.
Chemicals and insecticides in the environment and on our foods? Ugh. Must stay away from them too.
What else should I worry about?
Be careful on those river rocks, you might slip!
As I think back to that sentiment: We shouldn’t be responsible for what we did way back then, I realize after years of gaining more sense, something I desperately needed, I need to dial it back a notch and throw some of it to the wind…
I don’t want to resurrect the insensitive qualities of my early-adulthood of course, but need to get over the constant worry.
Can I be bold, and have common sense at the same time, can those qualities realisticially live side-by-side?
I’m tired of missing out. Tired of making decisions for my son that will cause him to miss out as well.
So today, I made the decision, Brett and I went to the mushroom spot by ourselves.
What if there was a weird psychopath on the trail? I think to myself…
What are the odds?
We’ll be ok…
As we rumbled along the deserted gravel road leading to the chanterelle spot we saw a sign:
Road Closed. Gated
Well, no chanterelles today I guess, but we enjoyed Plan B instead.
Not quite running , but some slow climbing on the river rocks.
And it felt so good to be out there again.
The breeze. The beauty of the rocks. The sound of the water.
I just saw a glimpse of my old-younger self again, and want to push myself back, but forward, just a little bit each day, so I can see this side of me a little more often…
Do you have moments when you don’t recognize yourself today? Without wanting to go back, are there qualities you had then you wish you could get back again?
Would love to hear your stories and comments.
Oh my gosh that sounds like me! I used to live in the big bad city by myself and never thought twice about doing things that my now older, wiser (?) self cringes and frets about doing. I do think when we are younger, we still feel invincible so make stupid decisions that thankfully didn’t hurt us. But now I’ve read too many horror stories both in books and newspapers and now that I’m a mom, I don’t want to risk myself or my family. Overall though, I feel like a much stronger, self sufficient person. I’m much more confident in myself both in looks and abilities. I don’t care as much what others think of me and I’m much more willing to stand up for myself and don’t avoid conflict or confrontation like I used to. I do still need to let go of those “gosh, I can’t believe I did that!” thoughts though.
Angie, thanks so much for the comment. I knew there were lots of us out there like this. Typically I’m proud of who I have become but there are little things like this that worry me. Seems like the theme of my life now is that “there’s a fine line” between a lot of different things: healthy and being obsessed. Safe and Too Safe. Worried and Too Carefree. Being an adult is tough!
I think everyone of us who has become parents go through this.
I think it comes down to knowing that we are responsible for another human being that does it.
I have six children and every one of them has been fearless, but I have noticed a change in the behavior of the oldest two recently. And, not coincidentally, it seems to coincide with the birth of their first child.
Thanks so much for your note! love hearing from the parent perspective; you are so right. Putting on the parental hat definitely changes things.
Cori and I have been together for a long time (met in college), but we were pretty fearless for many years. Definite risk takers. Lived in many places, traveled, etc. I can’t speak for Cori, but for me, it’s all changed now with kids. I don’t want to live in fear, but with 3 kids depending on me, I am more cautious. For example, I won’t go snowboarding now. If I break my wrists and can’t type, the paychecks stop coming. Sucks, but that’s just how it is. I want to support my kids more than I want to snowboard. And I want to be there to see them grow up as well. I’m not saying I wear a bubble wrap suit when I leave the house (I cut my own firewood, for example), but I’m much more careful than I used to be.
Bob, thanks so much for your comment. Makes me wonder though, why my hubby isn’t worried about us going off into the woods?? Hmmmm. makes sense though. Finding that balance and choosing activities that help you stay true to yourself but still be safe I guess is the way to go, just as you have done. I hear what you are saying about snowboarding. In my last post I kind of had a similar thought about bicycling and have told Tom, don’t even think to start…he’s ok w/it since he has too many hobbies already.
Robin, great subject. And from one who’s never had kids, I don’t see any big difference between how I lived as a late teen or young adult versus how Helen and I live and travel by pedaling now. But then again, I certainly didn’t have any reputation for a wild streak way back when.
ahhh! the confirmation we all suspected but needed proof: it’s all because of kids! And I’ll bet you did have a bit of a wild streak (at least in comparison to your brothers)…it’s all relative, eh? thanks so much for your feedback Jeff!
What a thought-provoking question. I’ve generally always been a cautious person but it’s only as I’ve gotten older that I’ve felt comfortable taking controlled risks and trying new things. I still would not characterize myself as fearless but definitely I am less afraid of the world than I was when I was younger.
There’s a lot about my former self that I didn’t like and was happy to discard, and the stuff that I did like about myself, I’ve held on tightly to. My fearfulness was one of the things I disliked and was really happy to be rid of it.
Caitlin, thanks so much for your comment–that’s really encouraging, about how you have had the opposite hold true for you (becoming less fearful over time), and about current “controlled” risks. I seem to take quite a few risk in fitness endeavors but in the real life outdoors I have become the fearful type–so glad to hear you were able to shed this part of your former self to improve your life and also continue to be healthy and safe….I hope I can figure out a way to do the same.
I think you eloquently put what many of us experience.
In my twenties, with a female friend, I backpacked through South America for nearly six months. At a time before the World Wide Web existed and everyone having email and mobile telephones, and even common-place international land phone lines.
We did many things then that I wouldn’t even consider now; I don’t even drive five miles without ensuring my tyre pressures and fluids are good and my phone has good battery life.
I’m not sure it’s an age thing so much. We accumulate much (not just things but memories and relationships and responsibilities) that we feel less able to lose. Also we live in a far more risk averse society (speaking for where I live, but I’m sure it’s similar in many parts of the US).
Now, I’m at an age where I’m trying to jettison the baggage of time and concentrate on the things that really matter.
Maybe in another 25 years, I’ll be in that carefree state again.
thanks so much for your thoughts on this. Makes me realize sometimes it’s just the acceptance of who we are today that makes it ok, and the decision to let loose later on can be made at a later time. I think having that to look forward to can help calm fears now that we’ll be compromising forever on risk, trying new things, etc….
This post has really made me think about my entire life. Fear is an emotion that has dictated my behavior from the beginning. I grew up in an environment that always contemplated the “what ifs” before attempting anything. The “what ifs” were always negative in nature and usually prevented me from trying new things or venturing outside of the carefully drawn lines of my life. So, I was never adventurous or daring and I daresay missed out on many wonderful opportunities. Although women tend to rely upon their husbands/partners, and I do to a great degree rely upon mine, my husband is a risk taker and always encourages me to do the same. He is not reckless but he is also not crippled by senseless fear and “what ifs”. Much to my delight, now that my nest is empty I am also a risk taker and much more self-reliant. Of course, I am now in the position of trying to play “catch up” to make up for the previous fifty plus years of cowering in my hole. Don’t be so hard on yourself Robin! Women are hard-wired to protect their offspring and be naturally cautious. I think you will become less cautious the older your son becomes. And you will soar once again.
Chris, this has to be one of the nicest comments I have ever had…thank you so much. I get what you are saying and you are right, I do have a tendency to be hard on myself about all this…maybe I have become a little too serious for some reason over the last few months, and think about it way too much. I think too much responsibility will do that to us. It’s liberating to hear how much you are flourishing with the help of your husband, pulling you along…and am encouraged that should happen to me as well! Soon I hope!
Robin, we are SO much alike — are you sure you weren’t adopted?!? 🙂 Or maybe I was!
Fear is something I’m really REALLY good at — from a young age, growing up at my house meant I had to be hyper-vigilant about everything. My parents were anxious people, and had a (frankly) crappy marriage, and being an only child in the middle of it made me feel like I had to be the grown-up. I had to make sure everyone stayed “happy,” had to figure out what might piss my dad off when he came home, or whether the chore I had just finished would satisfy my mom enough. As I grew, I also had to figure out how to comfort my mom when she cried, and how to hide the intense anger I had for my dad. When I left for college, I literally put them both in a room and said, “In a few weeks, I’m not gonna be around anymore. So the two of you’d better sit in this room face to face and figure out how you’re gonna live in the same house ALONE, without me to negotiate everything.” I spent my 20’s trying to break free of all that — the death of my high school love, cross-country adventures, living in the city solo, jobs. By 27, I realized I couldn’t live my life based on what I wanted to AVOID (i.e., the fear, all the mistakes my parents made, marriage — ’cause it obviously doesn’t work, and even kids). I had to start figuring out what I actually WANTED, as in wanted to move TOWARD.
So I let my guard down, and I met a great guy, and I got married, and I realized I really did wanna be a Mom, even though I feared passing on that “minefield terror” to my kids.All of that was more of an (emotional) adventure than I could’ve imagined. A good therapist helped.
Now I find myself trying to get back to my “adventures” — this time stretching my wings from a comfortable home base rather than fleeing a place that felt more like a prison than a home. BUT…but…but…There is a part of me that is still scared, guarded. I open up with my kids…but probably not as much as I should or could. I’ve shared more of myself with my husband than with anyone else in my life EVER…but…I still hide. Even from him.
I swing between feeling like I”m back where I was when I was fleeing home at 22, and knowing that YES, I have clawed and climbed and struggled a long way since then, and I am worlds away from where I was then. But…there’s always the BUT. I’m very very GOOD at BUT.
But…like you, I have moments when I feel my strength, when I feel how far I’ve come, when I realize I’m a darned good Mom, and I have managed to heal a heck of a lot more than I have hindered, in myself and in others. We just have to learn to be good at realizing THAT. Little adventures (like yours) give us a chance to do that.
Keep doing what you’re doing, Robin. I feel like I’m walking with you every step. ((HUGS))
Tina, wow, I’m just in awe of your story…and the fact you were so in tune to this feeling of needing to AVOID even back then. I’m not sure I ever really summed up and concluded I was like this until the last few years. I am so happy to know more about you, and have a partner in crime to share these fears and struggles with, and so hope we can meet in person one of these days! xxxx
Really interesting post — and comments.
I have always been a “balls to the wall” kind of woman — not in any stupid crazy way but always up for adventure. I married a man who is SUPER risk averse and it’s a real challenge sometimes to deal with his many fears…His mom was 49 (!) when he showed up and his parents were not in good health and did not have a lot of money, so it does come from a real set of experiences.
My family is the opposite; my 84 yr old Dad is driving to DC this week (from Ontario, alone) to go sky-diving with my 34 yr old half-brother…I recently drove 5+ hours alone from Tucson to the Grand Canyon where I slept in a tent for 4 nights. No big deal, but when I blogged it many readers were awestruck. The campsite was jammed with people so I didn’t really lie there awaiting an axe-murderer. I even stepped on a tent peg while barefoot (ouch) and had to go get a tetanus shot. I’m very accustomed to doing stuff on my own and often prefer it to having someone wringing their hands over me.
I have no kids, so that has not been a factor. I did have a hip so damaged it needed total replacement last year so now, at 56, I am finally getting back my mojo and physical confidence. Without it, life is too dull.
thank you so much for your comment. I love that you are happy and willing and able to do all this and have a family (your Dad!) showing you how to do it. I’m amazed by your Grand Canyon story! Love to hear examples like yours that show me I can change…I will change..when the time is right. I think that time needs to be soon!
This is a great post! My son is 8, and I have also come to realize that I am a different person because of him. Not worse, not better, just different. Including in the cautious way. He is away at sleepover camp for the first time right now and what I have realized is that I put an awful lot of pressure on myself when he’s here because I feel so responsible. I have heaped the pressure onto myself since the day he was born. I over-analyze our interactions wondering if I have done the right thing, I rush home to make sure he eats by a certain time because god forbid he should eat late and then get to sleep late! Now that he is away, I realize how tense this all makes me, because some of that tension has dissipated. My husband and I can eat when we want, no pressure. I don’t have to drop everything at 4 to go pick up my son. I used to be so much more spontaneous! With this distance, I can see that I am taking away some of the pleasure in just having him around. But it’s so hard to turn it off and go running fearlessly across the stones, isn’ it?
Hi there! thank you so much for your comment. So great to hear of another new friend w/an 8 year old boy! So is he an “only”? Mine is, and yes, I have this need to cater to his every need and sometimes you wonder if the pressures are created by him, or just by our own standards. How terrifying for you to have him away–I’ll bet he’s having a great time right now though–and I’m glad you have had the time to step back and find yourself as a person again. it’ll be interesting to hear how things may change when he is back home?
It’s great to “meet” you!
Yes, my son is an only and that may be part of the issue – no other kids with their own needs to balance.
I’ve heard from the camp that he is doing really well, happy, fits in, etc but I can still find things to worry about (is he cold at night? Is he scared of the thunderstorms when he’s sleeping in a tent?). But he’s really in his element so I shouldn’t worry.
The other day, we went with his friend (boy, also 8) and his mother to a pool. I kept saying “be careful!” and she kept saying “go for it!” It gave me a different perspective. I hope I can back off a bit, both for his sake and mine.
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When I was young, I used to drive everywhere in my little yellow 1968 Volkswagen convertible. I drove in snow and ice, I drove into Brooklyn or to LaGuardia to pick up packages for my boss, I drove from Connecticut to Virigina with my roommate in her little Karmenghia convertible, sharing the driving with her, and I loved it. Now I hate driving. I only go around the neighborhood, never on the highway. I’m too afraid of getting into an accident. I think I am a careful driver (I’ve never had even so much as a parking ticket in nearly fifty years if driving!), but there are so many crazy and impatient drivers out there. I wish I weren’t that way. Oddly, I love long road trips with my husband where he does all the driving.
Thanks for your comment, and I love your story about driving. Interesting you trust others more than yourself. I cringe a bit too when I think about the driving in the snow I used to do…from VT to Maine, and all over New England. I don’t know why I’m thinking about this, but reading your comment brings to mind a newspaper story I read a long time ago about an elderly couple who used to drive around all the time and their motto for staying safe was was “no left turns”, ever, and that kept them safe for many years. Funny. I should look that old story up…inspiring.