Our family’s August adventures took us to some amazing places in the American West, including Yosemite National Park and its famed Bridal Veil Falls. This trip with my husband, Jason, and our two boys (ages 10 and 12) was inspired by the fourth grade pass called Every Kid Outdoors, that allows all fourth graders in the US – and their families – free access to all of our National Parks. It was our second time having a fourth grader, and our second time exploring some of the oldest and most amazing of these Parks. (More about our adventure two years ago is here.) Not being in Covid lockdown mode, we decided to fly this time around, instead of driving 8,153 miles!
Three weeks with our kiddos was admittedly intense. Full of all the ups and downs of parent and kid emotions, exhilarating discoveries, laughter, whining, tears, challenges, and excitement. In many moments, our trip reminded me just how much parenthood pushes us to be more of so many things. More than we might choose on our own. More patient. And also more frustrated. More sleep-deprived. And also more energized. Stronger, too. And inevitably more fearless.
Thanks to Laura Vanderkam’s book, Tranquility by Tuesday, and her chapter entitled “Three Times a Week Is a Habit,” I decided to commit to sitting down alone and writing at least 3 times a week while I was traveling. Today I’m sharing with you one of my day’s reflections, after our journey to Bridal Veil Falls.
The Marriott Fisherman’s Wharf hotel room door just fell closed, leaving me inside a vacuum of welcome silence. Tween bickering is on mute for perhaps 10 blessed minutes…
As I think back to last week’s Yosemite adventures, I’m transported to a windy road that took us on our first drive into Yosemite Valley. I was passenger-side, while Jason down-shifted the windy twisty turns, daydreaming for a few minutes about what this trip would be like sans kids. No fights to break up. No screaming like Yetis out the rolled down windows of our rental car. And no “I want!” and “Can’t I have?” to say no to again and again and again. Can anyone blame me for this imagining after two weeks of 24-7 extreme parenting?
I snapped out of my daydream as we crossed through the tunnel that opened up into the spectacular view of El Capitan, breathless and pointing at every marvel Mother Nature left for our viewing. We parked when we got to the base of Bridal Veil Falls, the first “point of interest” marked on our Park Service map – a paper that felt like my security blanket each time we ventured into the unknown of a new National Park.
Our blue rental Nissan joined a long row of cars full of equally excited tourists from places as far-flung as China and France. And we did a balance-beam walk along a muddy puddle-filled pathway to the trailhead. 0.5 miles to the falls? That’s nothing! An easy start to our day. Or so I thought.
Minutes later, I found myself following our boys as they scampered over some small rocks in the stream that ran down from the waterfall’s remnants. Clearly not on the Park-formed footpath to Bridal Veil Falls, but no matter, this was easy going. “Just like Rock Creek in DC,” I told myself as my foot found its way to the next dry rock. And the next. And the next.
“Wait. Where are you going?” I asked my boys, a bit puzzled, as they continued their upward climb. Innocently, I assumed they were crossing the rocks to get back onto the path. Not to aim for the bigger boulders that lined the cliff face en route to the top of the waterfall. “Come on!!” they non-responded.
“Put your right foot there, on that rock. Then pull yourself up!” came the first of many instructions, guiding me and then Jason quite literally skyward on giant boulders for the next hour or more. What with all the years of playground climbing, Agility Center birthday parties, and school field trips to rock walls, was it any wonder they’d encounter the “Real Thing” and immediately barrel forward? And skyward?
Thanking myself for my daily yoga practice and praying for Jason’s safety when the look of terror on his face had the capacity to scare us both, we climbed. We climbed through narrow crevices where a pink-and-white Nike shoe had gotten left behind. And we climbed past the family of four with kids a bit younger than ours who had decided they’d gone far enough. We climbed until all the rocks were slippery and the air glistened with the mist coming off the falls.
Higher and higher. Breathless and wet-faced. Colder. Upward. Our children leading the way. So close to the falls tumbling off the cliff’s edge. So far from the bottom and its lengthy row of parked cars.
Knowing already that I’d need an Aleve when (if!) we made our descent, I breathed in the cool mountain air and gave thanks to those same unruly tweens who had so disturbed me just an hour before. Thanks to them for pushing us to heights – both figuratively and quite literally – that we as parents would never in our right minds have gone without them. Gratitude for the view of this magnificent waterfall and view of the Valley we’d never have had if they hadn’t been with us.
“Our family is really unique,” my 10-year old informed me as we stood in the mist, perched on a boulder. “How many parents with kids do you think climb up here?” he inquired. “One in 10? Nope. One in 50? Hmmm,” he continued to speculate. “Probably one in 100!” he finally concluded. He beamed at having instigated something magical and at his parents’ willingness to follow along.
Was this trek an example of recklessness (there were signs, of course, warning us not to do exactly what we were doing) or of bravery? Probably a sizeable helping of both, to be fair. Bravery and a bit of recklessness are, after all, the key ingredients of parenthood.
(Alas, my kids just walked back into our hotel room. So thus ends my Bridal Veil musings. And yes, of course, the singing, laughter, and whining has all returned…)
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave