I never realized how similar my mother and I are until I forced her onto a raft for a three-day, two-night float trip on the Upper New this past Fourth of July weekend.
My mom never shies away from a challenge. Never mind that she hasn’t slept in a backpacking tent, or that she’d only been rafting a handful of times, or that she’d never pooped in the woods or made a meal on a camp stove or went multiple days without a shower and a mirror. Never mind that I was asking her to step completely outside of her comfort zone, away from text messages and Facebook and even a means of telling time. She wanted it, and more importantly, she wanted to learn. She wanted me to teach her how to set up a tent, how to pack a raft and seal a dry bag. Although I insisted on j-stroking the raft myself for 20 miles (from our put-in near Prince to our takeout at Cunard) and letting her lounge like a princess, she always asked questions, demanded to help unload gear, and stubbornly insisted that she had enough energy to help with dinner even as her eyes fluttered with fatigue from the past week’s non-stop action.
“Coffee,” I said. “Lots of coffee.”
While that may be true to a certain extent (FYI, my new favorite brew comes from Bald Guy Brew out of Valle Crucis – stay tuned for his story in the September issue of the magazine), I didn’t have much in the way of an answer for her. My schedule is always jam-packed, down to the very last second of every day. For better or for worse, that’s how I like it. I inherently bite off more than I can chew, dismiss sleep for sunrise shoots, and say ‘yes’ to any and every opportunity to explore new places, meet new people, and have a good time.
My best friend once told me that I have a fear of missing out. At first, I was offended, quick to put up the defensive front and deny her accusation. But as I was driving last Sunday, eyeballing my mom with envy as she slept in the passenger seat, I realized that my friend was right. I am afraid of missing out. Yes, I was exhausted from the summer heat, from j-stroking a 16-foot raft loaded with gear by myself, from organizing the use of that raft and the gear my mom needed, from endless hours on the road, from the wheels in my brain already churning with the coming week’s responsibilities … but in the week that I’d spent with my mom, we’d done so many things, accomplished so many firsts for her! We’d toured the foodie scene in Asheville, cooled off at the base of Harper Creek Falls, watched the clouds pass lazily over the Linville Gorge, met some inspirational folks in Valle Crucis, and spent three full days on the river with some of my favorite people. And the best part? We were only one week into our two-week travels!
But the fact that my mom was able to sleep soundly in a car (I was even cranking The Notorious B.I.G. and she didn’t seem to notice) was enough to finally put into perspective what my friend was trying to tell me: I can do anything, but I can’t do everything. While that’s easy for me to sum up in a neat little phrase, it’s a lot harder for my restless being to admit, accept, obey. Here I’d gone and worn my mother into the dirt, so much so that she, who rarely sleeps in the car, was now passed out, mouth open, unaware of my blasting old school hip hop and windows-rolled-down-despite-having-a.c. white noise.
Yet, as I sat there drumming my fingers on the steering wheel, fretting about how I’d taken my mother from the comforts of her home to the passenger seat of my too-crammed car, another thought came to me: she’s an adult. She chose to tag along. She knew I wasn’t living in the lap of luxury. She knew I was living out of a camper. What’s more, I hadn’t heard her complain once. Despite having undergone spinal surgery in the past year (something with herniated discs and fusions and hardware), she never so much as uttered a grunt during the seven days I’d been dragging her through trails and up mountains and down rivers. She’s a tough cookie and, like me, she’s afraid of missing out on life.
And so, Mom, in response to your question on how I do it, I think I have a more appropriate answer. You.