This post originally appeared in Wolfparents.com
Simon and I were sitting in the shade of a magnificent boulder and looking out over pristine Heather Lake in the North Cascades. Suddenly, I heard my 9-year-old’s voice from above.
“Hi mom!” called Cameron, "Look at me!"
I stood up for a clearer view, and there he was looking down at me from the top of the boulder, about 20 feet of sheer rock between us. I could barely see his curly head silhouetted against the sky, but I knew he was grinning.
“Wow, Cam! That’s amazing,” I said and snapped off a couple of photos. My heart had already started beating a little faster, but I didn’t want him to know that. I wanted to trust that he knew his limits regarding the massive granite rocks that had broken off the mountain above us.
I had said it loudly and clearly, “You can go up, but make sure you know how to get back down!”
“Yes mom. I promise!” he had said.
Now, after the time for photos and congratulations had passed, I circled to the other side where, ostensibly, he had gotten up and knew how to get down. It was sheer and rough, with a very small and steep ledge half way down.
Against my will, my heart started beating even faster. Cam appeared above me and very much beyond my reach.
“So how are you going to get down?” I asked evenly.
“Don’t worry, mom.” Cam laughed.
I looked at the rock and then below the rock where smaller jagged boulders rose up from the brush. It was not a good place to fall.
My heart was really racing now, and a sour feeling of panic rose in my throat, "Cam, what have you done?" I could not stop the words.
“It’s okay, mom!” Cam said confidently, “I can do it.”
I could not understand why he wasn’t cowering in terror. He was so high!
Simon began laughing hysterically.
“Not helpful,” I said.
“Cameron!” I called more weakly, "You promised!" My little experiment in managed risk and was backfiring, and I didn't have a fallback.
Many years ago, at the ice caves a little further up the road, I had helped Cam when he had ventured too far up a steep snow bank. I had climbed up and held his hand as he worked his way down.
Now, peering up at him atop this impossibly high place, I knew I could not help him this time. He had ventured beyond my capacity to solve the problem.
“Cam!” I called. “Can you really get down?”
Simon was still laughing, and Cam was too. How could they laugh at a time like this?
“It’s not funny!” I said, feeling like an unwilling participant in a comic dialog that gets repeated every summer as countless parents coax their children down from high places.
Cam sat on the boulder and stretched out his foot, feeling for a place to put his heel.
“Stop!” I screeched, realizing that he was about to descend facing away from the rock, clearly not a wise choice, in fact a ridiculously wrong choice.
“Just stop! You can’t get down that way.”
“Yes, I can. You’re just making me nervous.”
“NO! I called. Stay right there. I’m going to get help.”
I took off down the trail, not sure what I was looking for, but doing what I always do when I’m in trouble, turning to my community. In this case, it would be my fellow hikers, mountaineers, people who might have rope or skills or something that would help me get my son out of his predicament.
Around the corner, I came upon a tent. We had passed it earlier and hadn’t seen anyone, but this time I saw a young woman in her 20s. I stopped.
“Hello," I said tentatively, "I’m not sure what to do.”
She looked at me quizzically.
“My son climbed a boulder, and he can’t get down.”
The woman smiled, “It’s okay, I’m in the army. I can help him get down.”
A soldier! I couldn’t believe my luck. “Thank you!”
I wheeled around and led her quickly back to the boulder, making nervous small talk and hoping that Cam was still there on the rock.
He was, and he had a tremor in his voice this time.
Rachel, my new best friend, a survivor of boot camp and all things army, climbed part way up the rock and guided Cam to turn around so he was facing the boulder. Then she placed his hands where they should be.
She put her hand on his foot and helped him find a niche for his toe. Gently, she encouraged him. "It's okay. Trust me. You won't fall."
Simon, still laughing uncomfortably got the camera and snapped some photos. Unable to speak, I turned to the lake. My knees felt weak and clumsy. I could not imagine being where Cam was now.
Then Cam was on the ground, and I had my arms around him and my hands in his stiff curls. He was safe… for the time being.
I didn’t know how to thank Rachel, but she brushed it off, explaining that rappelling was part of her training. I nodded. Intellectually I understood that for some people, scrambling up and down boulders was nothing. Younger more athletic people had physical confidence, a sense of balance and agility. To people like Rachel, the boulder was small, manageable, within their skill set. Cam was going to be one of these people; on the other hand, I was not.
However, I had made this happen when I started bringing the kids in the wilderness, a world of adventure, challenge, beauty, and danger. How much easier it would have been to let them stay in the weird blocky mountains of mine craft. Now I had to accept that they would embrace physical and mental challenges that I would not choose, and that I would have to let them go.
The kids and I sat for a while, looking at the lake, the massive cliff with its waterfalls, the snow, and the hikers circling the far side.
“Cam,” I began. “Do you remember what we talked about before you went up?”
"What did I say?" I was back in full mom mode now.
"You said I should know the way down if I went up.”
“And what happened.”
“Not true. Something happened. What?”
"I don’t know.”
“Yes, you do. What happened?”
“I couldn’t get down.”
I jumped on this hard won opportunity. “Yes, and what did you learn?”
“That sometimes it’s harder to get down than it is to get up.”
“And what does that mean? What will you do next time you want to climb a boulder?”
“Not climb it.”
“Because you won’t allow me to.”
I sighed. “Any other reason?”
“Because now I know how to get down.”
This post originally appeared in Wolfparents.com