Moving through barriers

Our climbing guide, Dustin, drove us to Ice Cream Parlor, an area of rock in the Bureau of Land Mines near Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Another guide, Evan, soon arrived, and he and Dustin set up six ropes across the rockface we would climb.

While we waited, we heard loud voices from the road below and were soon joined by another guide, Mia, leading her group of two women, eight kids under the age of 12, and two men from Switzerland. I had hoped it would be just our family and had to adjust my attitude to include this large, energetic, noisy group.

Mia started training us and selected me as the demonstration belayer. Our older son jumped at the chance to be the demo climber. As we worked together, he climbed easily to the top. When we finished our demonstration, everyone divided themselves across the six ropes, with the Swiss men at the far end, away from all the kid commotion.

Our younger son, who we generally think of as the more athletic of the two, stepped up for me to belay him while he climbed. He made it about one-third of the way up.

“I’m done,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone.

That’s fine. I’m not as goal-oriented anymore and if that was how he enjoyed the climb, fine. But when he got down, he was clearly disappointed in himself. Maybe he assumed it was easy because his brother did it on the first try, or perhaps he just didn’t reach his personal goal. That’s okay – he could try again.

I continued to belay while other kids cycled through to take a turn on “my” rope. I noticed that kids have different ways of saying they are stuck. Some literally say they are stuck, some say they can’t do it, some ask for help for where to go next. Some face the logistical challenge of where to put their hand or foot while others are battling a mental or emotional barrier. With each child, I tried to read whether they were really done or simply needed encouragement. Since I wasn’t a mom they were used to, they were more open to my coaching (as if I know what I am doing) and most made it to the top or close enough.

My husband and I each tried climbing. He made it to the top several times, and I made it to the top on my climb.

Marie climbing Ice Cream Parlor in Moab, UT

Soon, our younger son was ready to try again, and again, he made it about one-third of the way up. Encouragement from me (“Just one more step”) moved him only a few inches and not beyond whatever barrier he faced.

“Let’s try another rope,” I suggested.

So we moved to another rope. Again, he made it one-third way. And again, my encouragement moved him only a few inches before he came back down.

As I kept belaying the next child in line, Xander, a six-year-old boy who was undaunted by the climbs, casually announced that he would do all six climbs and make it to the top of each one. And off he went.

Eventually, my son tried again. Having watched so many of the kids climb, and having done one climb myself, I knew that he was physically able to make it to the top. I also knew that he would be disappointed if he didn’t. But my encouragement wasn’t quite what he needed, and I didn’t know how to support him.

He was clinging to the rock, telling me he was done. I was getting tired of this dance, even though it wasn’t about me.

Luckily, our guide Mia appeared, and her chipper demeanor was a breath of fresh air.

“One more step. There is a perfect place for your right foot. Right there. Yes! Okay, now what will you do with your right hand?” she called out cheerfully.

Slowly, he worked through the spot where he was stuck until he got to another point where he got stuck and again, he said he was done.

J-man climbing Ice Cream Parlor in Moab, UT

This time, Xander appeared. He sat his tiny frame casually on a rock next to my feet, draping his arms over his knees, and yelled up at my son.

“You can do this. I did it. You can totally do it.”

My son climbed a couple more inches while Xander turned to me and said, in a matter-of-fact voice, “He can totally do this.”

Xander continued to sit and watch while my son yelled down, “I’m done.”

I knew reaching the top would make him feel better about himself and the day. I also knew that this one success would inspire him to try the other climbs and even help him through the hard parts on his own. So I yelled up, “If you make it to the top, you can have ice cream.”

He countered with, “And s’mores too?”

“S’mores too.”

Xander looked up at me, incredulous. “Really? You will let him have ice cream AND s’mores?” Like it was so much THE absolute best treat in the world that I had to be lying about it.

I loved this kid.

“YOU CAN DO THIS!” Xander hollered up the rock. “Ice cream AND s’mores. Do it!”

Inspired, our son proudly made it to the top. When he did, Xander told no one in particular, without a hint of jealousy, “Someone’s getting some good ice cream and s’mores. Awesome.”

The right support and encouragement can do wonders, even if I was initially resistant to the person being there. Everyone brings their own wonderful surprises, and they can make a day and a beautiful memory.

Thank you for encouraging me when I think that I can go no further, for believing that I can get past any barrier, and for being happy for the rewards that come afterwards.

Living on the Edge

Taking a chemo holiday is a bit scary, with every abdominal twinge and pain making me wonder if this was a good idea.

But since I am indeed on a chemo holiday and the kids are out of school, we decided to take an actual holiday and travel to Moab, UT to visit Arches National Park and the surrounding area.

The massive red rocks, coupled with the fast-moving Colorado River, quickly changed our relationship to the earth.

Mesa and Colorado River behind Sorrel River Ranch in Moab, UT

Our city-slicker, technology-obsessed family became excited about doing anything outdoors: rafting on the river, rock climbing, horseback riding, hiking the rocky hills, picnicking in the National Parks, sitting and breathing the Utah air.

Riding horses

Hiking in Moab, UT

We became calmer, more grounded and less stressed out.

I felt blessed to be able participate in almost every activity. Since the early 1990’s, I dreamed of rafting and camping on the Colorado River. We only did the rafting part, but it nonetheless felt like a dream come true.

Rafting on the Colorado River

On another day, I was amazed to find myself actually climbing an OUTDOOR rock face, something I never thought I would experience!

Marie climbing Ice Cream Parlor

From city living, our family is accustomed to signs and fences letting us know where we can go for each activity. You walk on the path, not on the grass. You play in the backyard or playground, but not on private property. You climb at the climbing gym. Buildings are everywhere, limiting where you can toss a Frisbee, catch a ball or watch the sunrise. Fences keep us safely on the right side of danger.

However, in this area of Utah, the entire outdoors feels like a playground, with the rules set by nature rather than humans. We can walk or hike anywhere, while we respect and not trample delicate wildlife. We can ride the rapids but the water will toss our raft while we go with the flow and deal with the outcome. We can stand in one spot and turn around 360 degrees without seeing a manmade structure. We can peer into canyons without a fence to safely hold us.

Canyonlands National ParkThough the landscape is breathtaking, the freedom can be frightening. As we watched the boys run and play alongside the Colorado River, I tried to focus on their fun rather than obsess over the potentially precipitous drop into the water. However, when we visited Canyonlands National Park and its canyons, I held the kids tightly while we stood a safe distance from the edge and its steep drop.

Not us:

Not us.

Not us.


In Canyonlands National Park (Island in the Sky)

In Canyonlands National Park (Island in the Sky)

Notice my tense look and tight grip on the boys. From our vantage point, we probably missed a more encompassing view but I was not able to stomach the risk of standing on the edge.

On this chemo holiday, I am keenly aware of the contrast between staying safe and living on the edge. When I was initially diagnosed, over six years ago, I was told what to do – what surgery I needed, which drugs I would be taking, how much and for how long – and I followed those instructions. As time passed and I thankfully did better than expected, I sort of entered the Wild West of treatment, where I have more input and freedom around my treatment choices. I discuss chemotherapy dosage and schedule with my doctors. I decide what nausea meds to take. I get to choose when to take a break from treatments.

I have some really good guides to help me make my decisions. I try to remember that, even if this road does not feel well-worn, it has indeed been traveled before and is not fully unchartered territory.

Again, all this freedom can feel scary. When I feel pings and pinches and pains in my abdomen, I worry that I am stepping too close to the edge by taking this break.

But I am here. I remain conscious that a misstep can preclude a big drop and fatal fall, but I remind myself to concentrate on the view and how grateful I am to be part of it. And when I look closely, I can see that life blooms in many places, often where I least expect it.

Desert flower Cactus in bloom

Love, beauty and blessings,