A pregnant lady in a bikini stands at the shoreline, her gorgeous tanned belly stretched to capacity, a leash looped around her wrist. The muscled dog at her feet holds himself back, ready to spring toward the waves rolling in and away. She casts her eyes down at the phone held in both hands, its spell cast over her.
I say aloud, to no one but myself, or maybe the pelicans skimming the surface of the water, How sad.
But as soon I say that, I think about what my kids would think of the lady at the beach with her dog and her phone. Not sad at all. Not even a drop of sadness, Mom! Just the way it is.
Last night, thirsty, I pressed a glass against a plastic lever on my refrigerator. Electricity and metal pipes that run under asphalt and concrete filled it with cold water. I did not go to a stream, bend down, cup my hands. On another plane, an ancestor said, how sad.
I have had the unplugged beach, and its restorative power. I want my children to know what it feels like to sit at the shore alone with their thoughts, to get lost in their heads, to share their thoughts only with themselves or the ocean or the birds, not the connected metallic world contained in their hands.
But who am I to judge, a hypocrite who dictates these words into my phone as I sit on the beach watching her, watching the dog, thinking about how I’m going to type it up later and press publish.
If ever a political junkie needed to get clean and sober, now is the time.
I’m addicted to watching the tragi-comedy of the election cycle on CNN/FOX/MSNBC, and it’s taking its toll on my mental health. Sure, it has helped my exercise routine: the horror show helps me stay on the elliptical for an otherwise interminable 30 minutes. But last night I had to apologize to the lady on a recumbent bike next to me for my loud grunted outbursts while reading the closed captioning of Donald Trump’s “press conference” — where reporters aren’t miked, his “answers” are how much everyone loves him, how “amazing” everything is, and how much he loves everyone. BLARGHFF!!!
That stuff poisons my soul. It piles up in stress and disgust and unease. Today I recognized that my spirit needed a work-out that could not be found on a machine in front of a screen, a fix that only the calm of nature could provide.
I needed to take a walk.
“Go outside,” my baby group leader counseled us fifteen years ago, as we exhausted new mothers expressed bafflement with babies who couldn’t be consoled. “Stepping outside is like a reset button for a baby.” It worked. And it works for grown humans, too.
I needed mountains and trees. I needed to run, panting until my chest hurt. So I went to my local State Park. When my shoes touched dirt paths that were still drying out from a recent downpour, I felt my reset button pressed. So simple.
The outside worked its magic. It created space for me to feel gratitude.
Gratitude for purple flowers popping up in patches along the path.
Gratitude for rotting logs with peeling bark.
Gratitude for vines climbing a tree.
Gratitude for a burst of yellow when the path emerged from shade into sun.
Gratitude for the bend in the path, that concealed where it would lead.
Gratitude, even, for the discomfort that had pushed me to get here. The reset let my mind roam. I thought about words I might write. Sights triggered happiness-boosting memories of earlier hikes here, playing hooky from pre-school, and leaf races in the creek.
When it was time to walk home, I came across something special and temporary – a “Yarn Bombing” in honor of Women’s History Month: a bold explosion of beauty, color, creativity, whimsy, fun, collaboration, generosity, education, history, values and remembrance, created by local artist/writer/actress/activist/mom/craft-goddess Michelle Villemaire. Each tree honors a different woman in history, from Sally Ride to Sacagawea. And each blanket will be donated to the Downtown Women’s Center when the installation is over.
And who did I happen to see? Michelle herself, fastening a blanket around a “Little Free Library.” Community wrapped in community.
All this goodness came from getting myself outside: out of my house and my car and my TV and my Facebook feed and my head.
But I’m not naive. I know things are not always as simple as “a walk makes everything better.” Problems get thorny. Days get dark.
But the premise holds true: there is always a reset button, there is always a clean slate to be had. It begins with a step outside, a deep inhale of fresh new air, a cleansing exhale, and another step forward. Maybe alone, maybe holding someone’s hand, maybe a little of both. One foot at a time, one step after the other. We can’t know how our journey will unfold, we can see just enough to take our next step. We walk forward, and sometimes beautiful surprises pop up to greet us on our way home.
Mother’s Day has been a bit of a fiasco in recent past. Police helicopters and lost children and whatnot. (Father’s Day hasn’t fared much better — we had a lifeguard-rescue-from-riptide situation two years back. Where was I while my progeny fought for their lives? Reading a book on the sand facing away from the sea.)
The biggest dramas now are our “disagreements” about electronics in my home. My kids and I do not see eye to eye on what constitutes a reasonable amount of time spent on screens. They would like full access 24/7, without interference. Their dad and I would like to see their eyes sometimes. Rather than risk an argument this Mother’s Day weekend, my request was to go camping.
It’s not that I love camping. I don’t. It’s that I want to be with my family away from the lure of iPhones, and laptops (mine included) so badly that I will sleep on dirt. Happily. Whatever it takes.
We don’t camp a lot. We’ve got some basic equipment — sleeping bags, a tent, the trunk of our car — but we’re pretty inexperienced at this. Added to the circus this year is Maria, our new daughter I’ve told you about.
I told her we were going camping this weekend.
She said she’d like to go. And then: “Que es camping?” What’s camping?
My Spanish is pretty good, but I don’t know “tent” in Spanish. I fumbled through explanations and pantomime. I think I told her camping is sleeping outside, under material, in a bag. And she still wants to come! We must be pretty fun.
We will show her what camping is: eating hot dogs and s’mores until you’re sick, playing games, cuddling in the cold, seeing a true night sky when the rock you are lying on keeps you awake all night, rising with the sun, and having only each other and the great outdoors to entertain us when we wake up.
I look forward to the whole thing, and give thanks that it’s only one night.