parenting Weekly Update

Lessons from a Bushcraft Class

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.

The day I became a helicopter parent.

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.

Keep on,


Weekly Update

Path of Resistance

I received a message from one of my friends, joking that for the next mom’s morning out, we should do a swamp walk. Attached to her message was a link.

I was intrigued. Coming from Minnesota, I had never heard of such an activity, and it sounded like a bad idea, because…..alligators?

I clicked on the link. It detailed how you can sign up to be led on a walk through the swamp. Not on boardwalks, but in the water. The particular one I was looking at was rated 5/5 difficulty and was a 5 mile adventure through “a couple inches to a couple feet of water.”

My brain lit up. It sounded like something I was capable of. I love spending time outside, and a swamp walk sounded so… nature-y.

The stars aligned: I was somehow able to convince life insurance actuary husband who is healthily fearful of alligators and snakes to approve of my participation in such an event. AND, I was able to find a babysitter. So, I registered. Shockingly, none of my friends were interested willing to risk their lives.

So last Thursday morning, under the pink skies of sunrise, I found myself driving to the swamp walk with a considerable amount of anxiety.

I had already tried to talk myself out of it the day before, the survival-motivated side of my brain arguing that my allergies could be COVID and I should definitely not go and infect other people.

As I drove, my brain continued to bring up other valid arguments against attending: being unable to find the remote parking lot, alligators, snakes, not being able to keep up with the group, but mostly- the highest fear- was spending five hours, doing a rather intense activity, with a group of people I didn’t know.

As I ran through a list of the worries on loop, it occurred to me that often, when I am facing something I feel a lot of resistance towards- something that scares the crap out of me- it usually means I am on the right path.

I’ve encountered these moments before jumping off the diving board, before entering a room full of people I don’t know. The seconds that lead up to giving a speech, the pause before the gun goes off at the start of a race.

For me, these moments are marked by a racing heart, flip floppy stomach, and sweaty palms. I do not enjoy being in these moments. In fact, I almost despise them. I would completely despise them if I didn’t know, if I hadn’t learned, that these moments typically occur right before something great happens.

Usually, pushing through the resistance brings me to new places, new people, the opportunity to try something new. And almost always, I leave with a sense of accomplishment.

Maybe, these moments that I try to avoid should be sought out.

And so, as I turned off on a remote dirt road, lined by tall skinny cypress trees, hitting approximately 5 potholes per second, I ignored the voice in my head that said, “This looks like a spot you could get murdered.” And instead of following the voice in my head, I followed the dirt road, to a parking lot filled with the friendliest nature geeks you’ll ever meet and a disgusting port-a-potty.

The thing I had feared most- awkward moments with strangers- didn’t happen. I forgot that nature people are some of the most down to earth, hilarious, and friendly people.

We slogged through the water, stopping to look more closely at snail eggs, swamp apples, and the Lincoln Log cocoons of bagworm moths. We found a turtle, watched a water moccasin slither away, noticed a hawk feather, and then the hawk above, camouflaging into the tree, watching us curiously.

It was 5 hours of wonder, and it left me more refreshed than a massage. There is something about spending time surrounded by the color green. I left with muddy feet and new friends. It turns out, swamp walks are really good for the soul. Maybe just my soul?

Whatever it is for you, here’s to following the path of resistance. I’d highly recommend you give it a try. Safely. With other people. Because, as my mom reminded me, even the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s nuns) go out in pairs. Which is precisely the motherly advice I’d expect to receive after walking through a swamp containing alligators and snakes.


PS- I didn’t take any pictures in an effort to remain fully present. But you can check out this website for pictures and learn a bit more about “Wet Walks”.

Weekly Update

The Healthy Vacation

Three years ago, for Chad’s 30th birthday, I surprised him with a trip to Hilton Head, SC- just the two of us. This was back when we lived in MN, and the warm weather was so welcome. It didn’t hurt that they have great golf courses.

We went for a long weekend. The trip was amazing and we vowed to return.

Realizing that we only live 8 hours away now, it got put on the bucket list for 2021. Now living in FL, we visited for the cooler weather. Chad did his usual thorough research and found a reasonably priced condo on the ocean. Despite my concerns that there might not be enough to do, we booked for a week.

Given the length of this trip, I righteously appointed it as a, “healthy vacation,” vowing to eat well and continue exercising. I packed my running shoes, carrots and apples. I also packed a family size bag of peanut butter m&m’s. I will let you judge what my actual intentions were.

Each morning, I stepped outside in my running shoes to witness as the world quietly woke up. The sand of Hilton Head beach is firmly packed, providing solid ground for running. It took a minute to fall into the rhythm of the run- waiting for my jagged breath to sync up with the rhythm of the waves whooshing in, shortening and lengthening my strides to avoid stepping on jellyfish, all in the pinky purple morning light.

The sun rose as a big ball, hazy. Murky air surrounded it, giving the sky a pastel effect. Endorphins collided with beauty and peace; the best sort of outcome you can have with a run.

I ended each run by taking off my shoes and wading into the ocean, cool salt water enveloping my legs.

It was a heavy on nature kind of trip. We watched in awe as hundreds of tiny crabs emerged from holes in the salt marshes, waving their arms, and skittering back to their holes whenever they detected a threat. We caught, out of the corners of our eyes, jumping mullet, in the otherwise calm pond waters. We watched from our deck as a large pod of dolphins swam by, catching their dinner and occasionally stopping to play.

One day, we came upon a beach of horseshoe crabs mating. The female crab was buried under the sand, while multiple male horseshoe crabs attempted to attach to her so they could fertilize the eggs once they were laid. *

I explained to Avery and Alice what was happening. Chad shot me a look. It’s the same look that he gives me when I let the girls jump from a spot that is a little too high for his actuarial risk calculations, or when I pick up a millipede and ask if they want to hold it.

“Do you really want to use horseshoe crabs for your explanation of the birds and the bees? Five males on top of one female?” he asked, good protective father that he is.

“Fine,” I replied, “maybe you are right. I just thought it would be funny if the girls look back on life and remember that I tried to teach them about the birds and the bees with horseshoe crabs.”

It was the kind of vacation that left tan lines and chipped toenail polish. It was the towels out to dry over chairs, sand in our sheets, swimsuits count as underwear kind of vacation. The type where days meld together, sunrises becoming sunsets, days less governed by clocks, and more governed by whims. The kind of vacation where nothing was perfect and that is why everything was perfect.

By the end of the trip, my brain had also taken on the pastel effect; a little murky, but with beautiful subdued thoughts. I watched as Chad typed, “Stock Market” into his phone and wondered what sort of food they served at this market. When I saw the financial graphs and arrows appear, when I realized he was still existing in the non-vacation world, at least partially. And I was fully submerged: only concerned about my next meal, wondering about the food at the elusive restaurant, “Stock Market.”

We left relaxed. A week had been the perfect amount of time- long enough for our brains to fall into the lull of the ocean waves, long enough for endless bouts of family giggles, long enough.

When it was time to go home, we sleepily piled into the truck at 5am with sun kissed skin, a trunk that was packed to the brim, and memories for a lifetime.

And if I’m going to be honest, by the time we pulled into our driveway 9 hours later, we were exhausted. Already in need of another vacation.

But I think that is just how it goes when you travel with kids.

* Horseshoe crabs have been around, relatively unchanged for 445 million years- yes, they were here prior to the dinosaurs. They actually are not part of the crab family and are more closely related to spiders. Most importantly, in my subjective opinion, they are one of the ugliest creatures to inhabit the earth. You’re welcome, for yet another nerdy fact.