Alvin said something sweet to me on Sunday morning (just after I made him waffles for breakfast, which tends to have this effect). We watched American Sniper the previous evening – I guess he was utterly convinced by Sienna Miller’s captivating performance – and he said that after I went to bed he was thinking about how lucky and grateful he is to have Carys in his life (and thankful to me, too, for setting up the conditions that allow him to have Carys in his life) because he never realized before he was a parent how much he would have missed out on if we hadn’t had her.
I was browsing around on the interwebs last night – I started out by wondering how old Carys really needs to be before I have to find somewhere to build her a climbing wall, and from videos to blogs on building climbing walls to adventuring in general with kids I stumbled on Meghan Ward’s website and her post on How an Adventurer Becomes a Parent. It got me thinking about my own journey along this path which, I think many of our friends have been surprised to learn, actually did not have an accidental beginning.
Alvin has wanted kids for as long as I can remember, but always in an abstract way – “yeah; I’d love to have a kid so I can play football with him/her,” not “yeah, I know there are going to be a lot of years of diaper changes before I can play football with a kid but I’m up for it!”. I have never particularly enjoyed being around children and he knew when he married me that he might have to forgo this particular pleasure in life. It all seemed so depressingly final – as Meghan says, this is one of the few decisions in life on which there really is no turning back.
Whenever we discussed it he always said he would be ready when it happened, but could we just get through ski season first? Then six months later it would be the same thing, but could we just get through bike season first? In the Spring of 2013 I finally confronted him and told him that if he never told me he was actually ready now then I was certainly never going to pull the trigger myself so the default outcome would be that we would never have one. To which he responded “well I’m ready now, then.”
I pondered for a few months, and had rather fewer nightmares about babies than I’d had over the preceding years and decided that while I loved my life and didn’t really want to change it, that being afraid of what might happen if we had a kid was overall a pretty sorry reason to not do it.
So I came off birth control in August of 2013 figuring I probably had a year to play with given my now ~ahem~ advanced age and actually it turned out I had about two weeks. Or a month, depending on how you count. I was hiking the Haute Route in Switzerland right around that time and we never did figure out if it was the ‘goodbye’ or the ‘welcome back’ event that precipitated the life change.
And here we are, 15 months into this little experiment, and I was out hiking with a friend over the weekend who asked how being a mother has compared to my expectations and I had to say “actually it hasn’t been that bad so far.” I know we have been exceedingly lucky that Carys is pretty easy-going and mostly sleeps through the night, which helps a great deal. While it can be frustrating to not be able to do what I want to do when I want to do it, for the most part if we plan ahead enough we’re able to still do big adventures (like hiking from Breckenridge to Aspen, and the Tour du Mont Blanc – more about that trip in the near future).
And the thing I was worried most about – how not to fuck up the kid – has mostly become a non-issue since we discovered the RIE approach to parenting. I don’t expect that we’ll get it all right because we won’t, but when Carys comes and sits on my lap when I call her and undoes the velcro so I can take her shoes off, or safely navigates stairs – both up and down – on a regular basis, or turns around and looks me in the eye before doing something I’ve asked her not to do, I see what a difference it makes to treat her with respect. Some people comment that I speak to her “as if she really understands,” which isn’t exactly right – I speak to her that way because she really understands, and while she may still choose to test her boundaries it’s not because she doesn’t understand what those boundaries are.
Sometimes I do resent the missed opportunities, especially related to travel – recently I had the opportunity to take a position with my company for which I could have lived anywhere in Europe for six months. If we didn’t have Carys I would have left a freezer full of meals for Alvin and said “See ya!”. Now I can’t leave Carys…or bring the nanny…or figure out reasonably-priced childcare options in Europe that ascribe to respectful parenting approaches…so the opportunity passed me by. And now I’m comfortable with long backpacking trips carrying her, she’s soon going to get to the point where she wants to walk instead. Just as you get used to how things work they change – and not always in the way you want. But so far it’s been better than I expected and I’m hoping the trend continues, even though I don’t know exactly how we’ll keep on adventuring through these next couple of years.