Thursday, October 28, 2010

Going Bananas

I am afraid of heights. I realize this isn't news to my friends. And not news to my husband and family. I've hiked up mountains, rode on a ski lift (once) and now rock climbed up a wall very high in the air. That being said, nothing prepared me for my experience today.

Have you heard of Go Ape? The new hot ropes course out of the UK with zip lines and rope bridges high in the air? Well they just opened up the first version of this in the USA and its right here in Maryland, just outside DC. Acting like a monkey, you hook in to a harness and jump on a Tarzan rope or climb ladders onto tiny platforms. When I launched this year long "overcome this and that" project, I knew inside a trip to this place was going to top my list. Sure I took Project Adventure in high school. Twice in fact. I somehow convinced the administration to let me out of boring sophomore gym. I loved it. Walking trails in the forest and getting across a mini tight rope. But this took heights to a whole new level. After a safety lesson, I was whisked into the forest to the "stations."

I would say I am a pretty up front person when it comes to talking about my fears. But how do you take those irrational fears and apply a rational approach to overcoming them? How can you control your darkest fears? What happens if they actually came true? Today I physically placed myself in a controlled environment on a ropes course with a mind filled with uncontrolled emotions.

Guess what? I survived. Perhaps this is not a surprise to others out there. But certainly a surprise to me. And I have to be honest and say that I actually kind of liked it. Not all of it. And not while I was doing most of it. Station 3 was the highest and scariest experience of my life. The first step before taking the zip line down through the trees was frightening. But I also have to admit, my favorite part was the moment right after I stepped off the platform. You know why? Because there was nowhere else to go but down and nothing else to do but try and enjoy the view. And I did. Well not the first time. But definitely on the following zip lines. That's right, there was more than one!

Fear is a funny thing. You spend hours, days, years consumed with thoughts of things that scare you. Some of those things can happen, like getting stung by a bee or catching a cold. Others are less likely to happen such as being attacked by a killer shark in the ocean. Especially to those of us who aren't regular deep sea divers or surfers off the coast of Hawaii. Take my fear of heights. How many dreams have I had about accidentally jumping out of a plane or falling off a cliff. Sure I fly often and hike when I can. But we take precautions to protect ourselves. Sometimes, though, in our attempt to protect ourselves, we in turn put up a fence around things that make us feel anxious or fearful. Over time, this fence turns into a wall and often expands the fear into irrational barriers. I learned today that it was time for me to stop putting up barriers in my mind and start, one day at a time, to take down walls that only hold me back from growing into the person I am meant to be.

What can I say? October has come and gone. And now I have photos of me dangling from a rope above the forest floor to prove my success. I challenged myself and I met that challenge in a new way. While I admit that part of me hours later is still shaking a bit inside, I am also in awe of my encounter and reveling in my own courage to take the first leap of faith.

If any of you monkeys out there want to face your fears head on and join the fun, check out the discounted rates on November 14th where proceeds from Go Ape benefit a non-profit organization for at-risk kids.

November is on the horizon and I must be off on my next adventure in a flower shop. Until then, however, I think it may be time to go get something to eat. And for some reason, I am starting to crave a banana. Go figure.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Like a Rock

Do you remember the first time you watched Wizard of Oz and Dorothy went from the black and white world of Kansas into the colorful world of Oz? Like stepping out of an airplane in a new country. Welcome to my experience with rock climbing.

I have goals in life. I like to think of myself as willing to try new things. Definitely not boring but certainly not a risk taker. I used to do unexpected things. I've backpacked through Western Europe, lived in the Middle East, drove cross country and camped out in the Western U.S. for a summer... you know fun, "live like you mean it" activities. But somewhere in between working a full time job and since starting a family, I have become a little dull around the edges. Let me be the first to say that my children and my husband are the most important things in my life. I am proud of who I am, what I do and the choices I have made. That being said, sometimes you get so covered in layers of diaper changes and melt-in-your-mouth teething cereal that you lose sight of your daring side. I have to be practical now and reliable and responsible. No drag car racing or bungee jumping for me... or so I thought.

Today was a whole new day. I entered the world of Earth Treks in Rockville, MD. Now I had no idea what rock climbing was about. No idea what it would look like. I knew it was an indoor gym of some sort with rocks to climb. Boy did I have no idea what I was getting in to. I entered the door, met my good friend Josh, and walked into what looked like the interior of someone's mouth. That's right. I felt like a dentist walking into a life size set of gums. These huge peach walls with their curves and ripples towered above me covered in these multi-colored hand grips and foot rests along the way. Each route taped in a different color and labeled for difficulty at the base. You might think the numbering would start at 1 or even 0 for the beginner level. But rock climbing is an activity that marches to its own beat. Numbering begins at 5 and then levels are added in increments such as 5.1 or 5.2. These would be "easy" climbs whereas a 5.9 or 5.10 would be for the most skilled climber.

After receiving my harness, we walked to the beginner wall, which I might add is 40 feet in the air!!!! I thought rock climbing would be a series of rock hills to climb up with large flags at the top. Sort of like hiking but on rock. While there are grooves within the rock and archways on some paths, most of the climbing goes in one direction.... up.

Despite very sore hands and a few attempts, I made it to the top of one of the beginner problems labelled 5.3. "Problem" is the term used to describe the trail one selects to climb. You have to solve the "problem" by figuring out which hand grips and foot rests to use within that trail to reach the top. Needless to say, I did look down a number of times and scream for my life. I am certainly still afraid of heights after my first exposure. However, I never thought I would make it to the top of anything, relying on someone else supporting me by a string. Call it rope or what you will, its still a string tied to me and someone else through a series of knots, and I was hanging by it. I am in awe of this subculture of rock climbers. Not only is it a physically demanding activity, it is a mentally demanding activity. I have shaken off what has become my comfort zone for some time and entered the world of vertical pegs. A bit tired and a bit shocked but very inspired.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Thinking of Mom

I am in the midst of planning my goal to overcome my fear of heights this month. I am looking into a day of rock climbing to grease the wheels and test my ability to master heights I control at my own speed. I am also working on a day of ziplining and rope bridges at this new outdoor wonderland that recently opened up in rural Maryland off of Rock Creek Park. This adventure will be more of a two to three hour extravaganza where you harness yourself in and go through a forest like park. Other than a simple safety talk, you are free to roam and explore. Supposedly trained professionals will be there to assist you if and when you get stuck. While somewhat comforting, this scares me. How will they know when I get stuck? How long will it take someone to reach me? Maybe its best I don't know the answers to those questions.

I am also still working on bike riding. My next lesson should include pedals and the outdoor environment. I think once I can master both my own balance on a bike and riding without falling off and hitting someone else, I may be ready to actually ride a course or take a leisurely stroll through a bike trail at a local park. Stay tuned for this excursion coming soon.

But the main reason I haven't blogged in almost two weeks is that I am actually starting to feel my age. You know how when you turn sixteen and you get your license and you are legally able to go driving without parents present how you feel so invincible? And then you go off to college and realize no one cares what time you come in at night or if you make it to class? And then you get into your twenties and realize you can move anywhere, choose grad school or move abroad and as long as you can support yourself, your family seems to support you? Something to me about hitting thirty and, perhaps, its also about having kids at the age of twenty nine and thirty one has something to do with it, seems to have turned the page on invincibility. When you have others relying on you, and I don't mean for dinner plans or long weekends out of town... but for clothing, shelter, food, toothbrushing, cuddling, pushing a swing, those are some of the most rewarding and parent-like experiences once can experience. At the same time, some of them can be frightening. What if they don't like the songs I sing at night, or my voice? What if I pack her something she hates for lunch (thats good for her) and she wishes she got something else. Despite that fact that this is totally normal and realistic for a toddler AND a teenager, its still pressure.

Also, I guess I started looking around and feeling thirty two. I have always thought of thirty two as this ancient year. A year when I have wrinkles and a life of stories. You know, that grandparent feeling of having lived a full life and having everything figured out.... who you love, where you live, what you will "be" professionally. What I realized was thirty two is a life of possibility and ending at this stage in my life would truly be a life cut short. When I launched this project and this blog, I received so many responses from friends who knew I had lost my mother and their main comment was, "I never realized how young YOU were when you lost your mom." What I started realizing in these last two weeks was how young SHE was when she died. I have always put my mom up on a pedestal. Someone who never smoked a cigarette. Never spoke a bad word. Never raised her voice. Always loved her job as a middle school English teacher and then a stay-at-home mom. And definitely had it all together and all figured out. Now, I have started to realize just how unsettled I am in my life. Sure I have a wonderful family, a loving husband, two sweet and kind children, an interesting job, a great community and the list goes on. But do I have it all figured out? NO! No idea what I will "be" someday. No idea where we will live next and by next I meant in two and a half years when the residency ferris wheel turns into his real job. No idea if I will move abroad. Or open a flower shop someday.

No. Thirty two was a life of opportunities that ended unexpectedly. With conversations never finished. Books half read. A nursery just set up for the first time in five years. Dinner left on the table. A gas tank filled halfway. Piles of laundry waiting for the washing machine. And three very little children waiting for their mom to just come home and tuck them into bed.

So I apologize for not writing sooner. Forgive me for my grieving along the way. Something I am sure that was bound to happen. Something healthy and natural for the child who never had the chance. On and up I will go. I always get up and move on. But for today and perhaps for a little while, feeling thirty two may just make me feel a little heavy in my shoes for a bit. And I guess perhaps it should.