I was in the Badlands last week with my 14-year old, a rising high school freshman. It was quite a week.
I remembered sometime in the middle of the trip that I’d gone to the Badlands when I was six months pregnant, exactly 15 years before to the weekend. I insisted on sleeping on the ground and going about my business as usual, just with a thicker sleeping pad and a sturdier set of trekking poles. Back then, I was just trying to process how impending motherhood would fit in with my preferred lifestyle.
And last week, I was just trying to process how motherhood would fit in with my preferred lifestyle.
I learned a lot, about both him and myself, which is still unspooling. It wasn’t my ordinary “go smell gross and have absurd experiences” kind of trip. It was quieter, less unbounded. My usual intention on my trips is to shine a light into the natural world and the tendencies of humanity at large. This one turned the flashlight into the corners of myself, my parenthood, and my insecurities.
If the Badlands trip 15 years ago was about how to keep my self while trying to produce someone else, this trip was about how to surrender parts of myself and my own best-laid plans to provide space for the development of my son’s true self. He is not me; he prefers hotels with glass elevators to tents, and air conditioning to cool breezes. And yet, like me, he is obsessed with animals and wildlife. He just doesn’t want to sleep next to them. We did a bit of both.
He was open to my kind of experience, but oddly, I struggled to find the energy to show him. Our cruise through the Badlands also reminded me, gently, that I’m still recovering from some upheavals and pain. The last 18 months has seen the death of my beloved grandmother and the illness and death of a good friend. Other friendships ended, which while necessary, was painful.
I spent the first part of the week in a panic because I wasn’t feeling the way I usually feel about being in one of the country’s great natural areas. I had gotten used to doing this a certain way, but this trip decided to show me a different part of myself this time, and taught me — again, gently and slowly — that when you allow death to make you TOO panicky about living life, you get tired. The white rocks and the prairie dogs kept whispering at me to step back a little. I heard them, finally.
Not every one of my trips is a thrill, but they are always, always, a lesson.