When I first came up with the idea of Outdoor Book Club, I had a very specific target audience in mind: women like me: Mid-to-late 30s and 40s, women who, in their younger days, were pretty bad ass. Women who remembered what it was like to be adventurous, to take risks, to know the triumph of getting out of their comfort zones. Women who flirted with men they didn't know, drank drinks with scary sounding names, women who swam naked at night on the beach.
Where have these women gone?
We're sitting on the sidelines of suburban soccer games and our lives. We're waiting for meaning and fulfillment in the carpool lane at the local elementary school. We've grown up (and out) from our adventurous selves. We've started families, got respectable jobs and now spend our days trying to be amazing and thin and beautiful and smart and funny and kind and perfect, all the time.
All that pressure keeps us quiet. It keeps us pinned down to lives where meaning and satisfaction and a sense of purpose is always just out of reach. It makes us small and scared and unwilling to take risks. And scariest of all, that pressure dribbles down and does the same things to our kids.
When did we decide leaving our kids for a weekend would ruin them?
When did a soccer game or a neighbor kid's birthday party come to overrule time spent with other women, bonding, growing, learning from each other? Learning how to take risks, learning how to love the outdoors again, remember what it was like to fail at something hard over and over again, until finally, through hard work and persistence, you succeed?
It's when we quietly started using them as an excuse to play small. It's when we stopped letting them have their own lives, their own secrets, their own existences beyond their mothers.
Your kids do not need you as much as you think they do.
One day they will grow up and move on and not need you any more, and that is kind of AWESOME (sad too, but that's not the point I'm making here). Your kids are on LOAN to you; they have always belonged more to the world than to you. Your most important job is to love them enough to prepare them with the grace and grit they need to thrive in a world that won't give a crap about their insecurities. They will be better people if you're NOT there every second of their lives, cheering them on and making them feel entitled to your (and thus the world's) constant love and attention. How do you think our grandmothers grew up to be the strong, wise, awesome women they are today? Certainly not because their mothers came to every quilting bee, I can tell you that.
You are a grown-ass woman
Which is why I'm not going to patronize you and assume you don't know the difference between taking care of yourself and neglecting your kids. There is a balance, and I trust you to find it. You'll make mistakes, and we all know it's part of the process.
There is so much beauty, so much adventure in you. There is so much about you that I want to know more about — that's great that you love your kids, but what I really want to know about is why you ran away from home that one time in high school, or how you fell in love with a drummer, or what it's like to live with a chronically ill husband. Everyone loves their kids. What I want to know about is your pain, about how I can help, how you want to be better today than you were yesterday. I want to know about who you are at your core. I can't get that while sitting next to you on a folding chair at a band concert; it needs to happen on a ridgeline or next to a surging river or around a campfire under starry skies.
In junior high I was a huge fan of the hair band Motley Crue. They had this song called "Girl Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)" and I think about this song every time a woman tells me she feels guilty for asking her husband or the grandparents to watch her kids while she goes away for the weekend. I want to sing this song to my girlfriends trapped in their minivans, clutching thier ziplock bags filled with sliced oranges:
We could sail away
Or catch a freight train
Or a rocketship into outer space
Nothin' left to do...
Girl, don't go away mad;
Girl, just go away.
I'm telling you point blank: Girl, don't go away mad — at yourself, your husband, your bank account, your boss or whatever it is that's keeping you away from adventure. Girl, just go away — to a rocketship, a hiking trip with your college girlfriends or a writer's retreat across the state line.
When you get back, tell your kids stories. Talk about the struggles you overcame and the people you bonded with. That will be worth a hell of a lot more than the two hours you spent standing in the cold while they ran up and down the field. And how much more relaxed will you be because you've stepped away from your everyday life, you can put all that day-to-day bullshit and anxiety into some perspective?
There will be time for concerts and games and cleaning the house (I'm also looking at you, Ms. No Kids But Chained To My Job). I get emails from older women all the time who want so badly to go on adventures, but their doctors say it's just not a good idea. You think you have time, but you don't. The outdoors is calling you. Find that girl you used to be and bring her to life once again; there's a campfire and a starry sky that have your name written all over them.
Jill Hinton Wolfe