Avery took a Bushcraft class this spring. Each Saturday morning, we showed up at a nature preserve, where Mrs. Becky taught a group of 5-9-year-olds survival skills.
When talking to my sister after the first week of class, I mentioned where we had been. I told her that the kids learned how to spell “HELP” out of logs so they could be spotted by a helicopter if they get lost. We both laughed uproariously. I envisioned Avery lost in the aisles of Target, spelling “HELP” out of lip liner.
I couldn’t help but wonder what I had gotten her into. But she loved it, and it was time spent outdoors, so I considered it a win.
Each week, I watched as the group of kids gained comfort and familiarity in the wilderness of Florida. The kids learned about plants that they could eat, plants with medicinal purposes, how to build shelters, and how to make a reservoir for water.
And then came knife skills. I don’t consider myself a helicopter parent. I think I’ve said it before- I’m more of a free-range, entertain yourself, kind of parent. But on that day, I was a helicopter parent. Miss Becky started the day by educating the kids on “the blood circle” (no one should be within knives reach of where you are cutting), and “the triangle of death” (never cut in the triangle between your legs, to avoid slicing your femoral artery and bleeding to death). I was particularly amused and terrified by the terminology.
I was even more terrified when Avery unsheathed her knife and tried to carve a stick. But she survived, despite nicking herself in the triangle of death.
On the final day of class, the kids learned how to use a striker and a ferro rod to make a spark and start a pile of monkey hair (nest-like material from palm trees) on fire.
When Miss Becky showed the kids how to do it, it looked easy peasy. But when the kids tried? Well, it wasn’t easy. A significant amount of pressure needs to be placed on the striker and ferro rod to create enough amount of friction to create a spark.
Avery tried, and tried, and tried. She tried for 30 minutes (it felt like, but maybe it was more like 15). It began to seem an impossible hope. And then, finally, she got a spark. Magic.
The key to lighting the monkey hair on fire is that a large enough spark hits just the right place at just the right time.
Avery and her classmates kept striking their rods; sometimes, lucky enough to throw a big spark but never lucky enough to start the monkey hair on fire.
It was hot, and the work was challenging. One of Avery’s classmates commented in despair about how he would never be able to set his monkey hair on fire.
His mom smiled and said, “It hasn’t set fire yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t. “
And it hit me as maybe the best piece of advice I have ever heard.
Sometimes, in challenging situations, or when I am learning a new skill, my brain changes the narrative of “If I keep trying, it will happen” to “this is impossible. Because I haven’t succeeded thus far, I never will, so I might as well give up.”
When I was eight days overdue with Avery, my brain changed the narrative to, “I will be pregnant forever.” When I was depressed for a year, my brain said, “This is how the rest of life will be- no matter what.” When I pitch articles to a dream publication- my brain whispers, “You haven’t done it yet, and therefore, it will never happen.”
It’s hard to believe that fire is possible when you’ve only ever seen a spark.
None of Avery’s classmates started their monkey hair on fire. And most of them left feeling a little defeated because they didn’t know what the adults knew. The adults knew that it was dang impressive that these kids were able to make a spark, given the strength required. And that someday, probably soon, their muscles would get a little stronger, they’d understand the feel for it better, the monkey hair would be in just the right spot, at just the right time, with a large enough spark.
For those of us who had been there, done that, the fire wasn’t an impossibility. I hope Avery comes to know that sometimes amid despair, we forget that sparks lead to a fire.
Just because it hasn’t set fire yet, it doesn’t mean it won’t.