TBR List Declutter, Issue 41

Tangent: The Best Defense

My cat, Owen, turned eighteen this past February. He’s starting to look like a bit bony and a little scruffy, he sleeps even more than he used to, and sometimes I’m sure either his eyesight or his reasoning power aren’t what they once were. But he also plays enthusiastically with the laser pointer and wakes us up by racing up and down the hallway at 2:30am, sounding a lot like a tiny horse on our wood floors. He’s elderly, but he’s spry, and even veterinarians are surprised when I tell them Owen’s age.

At his age, Owen has had a lot of adventures. He’s lived in four different states and ten different houses, he’s traveled cross-country by car thrice, and he’s been both a sidekick and an only cat. San Diego, with its ample sunshine and mild temperatures must have seemed to him an ideal setting for a quiet retirement.

Until he met Fluff Face.

Fluff Face is a big Maine Coon that, from our perspective, belongs to one of our neighbors. From Fluff Face’s perspective, however, it’s the neighborhood that belongs to him.

For the first month we lived in this house, we saw Fluff Face lounging on driveways, skulking around bushes, strutting atop fences. My children tried a few times to befriend him, even giving him the name “Fluff Face,” but he preferred to keep to himself.

During the same time, Owen got into the habit of walking around our new house, yowling mournfully. It was an awful, deep-throated sound, different than the noises we’d heard from him before. He would yowl late at night or in the early morning, wandering through each room. He would also yowl while eating his canned food in the late afternoon. Most times I could call to him, “Owen, you’re okay, buddy!” and he would respond with a plaintive meow and then go lie down to sleep. We couldn’t figure it out. Was he in pain? Did he miss the old house? Had he just lost his marbles?

Then the other evening we heard a awful caterwauling coming from outside. I found Owen with his tail puffed out, staring through the glass patio doors into the darkness and making a kind of coughing sound. I turned on the patio light, and right on the other side of the glass sat Fluff Face, growling and hissing at Owen.

Owen’s wandering and strange behavior suddenly made a lot more sense. He was trying to defend his territory against this external threat. Thank goodness he’s long-neutered and did so by yowling rather than by spraying. Knock on wood, of course.

After that, we’ve let our formerly indoor-only cat out on supervised visits into our fenced backyard. We make sure neither Fluff Face nor rattlesnakes are out there beforehand, but then we let Owen mosey out so he can sniff every inch of the perimeter, sit on the cement edge of the flower bed staring regally into the middle distance, and then fall asleep in the sunshine.

It must be a good defense. Since Owen started going outside Fluff Face hasn’t been back. My spouse and I have also been squirting Fluff Face with vinegar water every time we see him in the yard, but I’m sure it’s Owen’s diligent defending that’s keeping our yard safe from Fluff Face.

Visual Interest:


IMG_20180502_060843 (1)

Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.


Titles 531-550:

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Perpetual Pilgrimage

When someone asks where I’m from when my husband is around, he jokes, “She’s from the United States.” It’s easier than listing the many places I’ve lived.

All of my life, I’ve moved every few years, and all of my life, there has always been the expectation that, one day, I would stay in the same spot and that place would be home. Every stop along the way was just a place to be for a bit on the way to this home.

As I approached my mid-thirties and realized that I was still moving every few years, I started wondering when I would discover this “home,” this place where I just belonged.

During the year we’ve lived in Massachusetts—which still feels as alien as any place I’ve lived—I’ve come to a realization: I no longer believe that “home” is a fixed place.

This weekend in church, we sang Peter Mayer’s “Blue Boat Home“, in which the earth itself is the vessel in which Mayer sails. A portion of the lyrics:

Sun, my sail and moon, my rudder
As I ply the starry sea
Leaning over the edge in wonder
Casting questions into the deep
Drifting here with my ship’s companions
All we kindred pilgrim souls
Making our way by the lights of the heavens
In our beautiful blue boat home

I give thanks to the waves upholding me
Hail the great winds urging me on
Greet the infinite sea before me
Sing the sky my sailor’s song
I was born upon the fathoms
Never harbor or port have I known
The wide universe is the ocean I travel
And the earth is my blue boat home

For years I’ve thought that the “winds urging me on” were the U.S. Navy or my husband’s job or some pathological need in me to avoid intimacy. But I don’t think so anymore. Those were the excuses to move, but not what propelled me forward.

“I was born upon the fathoms/Never harbor or port have I known.” I thought this was something unique to me and other perpetual travelers, but it’s true for everyone, even those who never venture out of the town of their birth. We’re all searching, we’re just searching in different ways, “all we kindred pilgrim souls.”

We also sang a hymn by Shlomo Carlbach, Return Again:

Return to who you are.

Return to what you are.

Return to where you are

Born and reborn again.

My eyes welled up as I sang: this was just what I’ve been feeling lately.

I love moving—I crave moving—but I’ve always thought of myself as a wanderer or a nomad, traveling about aimlessly, following opportunities or whims. But I’ve come to see my travels as part of a larger pilgrimage, not towards a geographical location but towards myself. Changing locations, I get to see myself against a different backdrop. Each new location yields new insights about who I am and what I am. It even gives me insight into where I am: I’m here. No matter where I go, I am always here.

I am always home.

Why Put a New Address on That Same Old Loneliness?

jeans for men

Image via Wikipedia

On the way up to Maine this weekend (my first time in Maine), I was feeling intractably out-of-place, sort of fundamentally alienated, when we came upon Portland. It seemed like a cute little city. I looked up the population in our road atlas.

“Just over 62,000,” I reported to my husband. “That might be a nice-sized city for us. Maybe we should live there next.”

I’ve always moved from place to place. As a child, I didn’t have a say in it. As an adult, I have more of a say (except maybe for this last time when circumstances pretty much gave us the boot out of Utah), but I keep trying on new places like I’m shopping for a pair of jeans. I try one pair after another, looking for one that fits or at least that feels right on me. Even when I find some that seem to fit, they inevitably stretch or I lose or gain a couple of pounds or have a baby and change shape in some subtle (or perhaps not so subtle) way, and I find myself questing again.

When I was a kid, my mom used to buy the Levi’s Shrink-to-Fit jeans. She’d put them on wet and wear them around the house until they shrunk to her particular shape. Looking online as an adult, I find articles that suggest that, with a little time, these jeans can be the best-fitting jeans of one’s life.

This seems like a reasonable idea, but I’m still hesitant. It’s quite a commitment, wearing wet jeans all day, dyeing anything I sit on (or anything that sits on me) indigo blue. And what if I put in all of this effort and they still don’t fit? I’m back to square one plus I’ve had all of that extra discomfort and wasted time. Although according to what I’ve read, I could just wet them and wear them again until they feel right.

I have a great deal of trepidation and longing around finding a place where I fit in (we’re back to talking about geographical locations again, in case you hadn’t caught up yet). I’ve known for years that this moving around habit I have is just a distraction and that this sense of alienation isn’t dependent on geographical location. Perhaps my perseverance is misplaced and rather than continuing to try new places, I should just give one place a try for a long-ish time. But it feels like such a risk to stay in one spot and wait for the fit to come with time. What if it never feels right? When do I decide to cut my losses and get out?

Driving across Nebraska, I looked out the window and saw houses in what seemed to me to be the middle of nowhere. Even in the middle of nowhere, there were people. I was perplexed by the idea that there are people who call this place home. Maybe they were born here, or maybe they’ve moved from somewhere else, but for whatever reason, they’ve thrown their lot in with Nebraska.

I’ve never had that. I’ve never had a place I’m from, and while it feels dangerous to put down stakes, you’ve got to die somewhere, right? Why not Nebraska, or Ohio or Massachusetts or Nova Scotia or Alaska? Or Bhutan or Fiji or Russia?

In Maine we saw friends we’ve not seen since we moved from California and met their friends and family for the first time. I’m sure I was a real treat to be around in this existential funk. At least I didn’t drink too much. Instead, I did my best to just let myself feel uncomfortable. I noticed the beauty of the water, the smell of the sea on the breeze, and the little frogs that I hope I didn’t smash as they hopped across the road in the glare of my headlights. I noticed these things and did my best to let them be foreign and to let myself be foreign among them.

It was a nice trip.

On the way home, just as we crossed into Massachusetts, a song by Magnolia Electric Company/Songs:Ohia came on and asked, “Why put a new address on that same old loneliness?”

Good question.

I can’t outrun it, so I might as well just hang out. Maybe it will be gone once my jeans dry. If I can wait that long.

Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’; Keep Them Boxes Movin’

The title of this post is a reference to the theme song of the television show Rawhide. I’m not sure I ever saw the show myself, but my parents sang the song quite often when I was a kid, mostly when they were trying to get all three of us kids out the door.

I just thought of the song when I went to put a title on this post about moving in.

Which we did on Monday.

The day went much more smoothly than I would ever have dared imagine. I enjoyed a very pleasant walk by myself from the hotel to our new house a little after 7am. I’d just measured and cut the shelf liner for the first shelf when I heard the rumble of the moving truck outside. I stashed the rest of the shelf liner and supplies and met the movers at the door. After showing them around the house and naming the rooms for them (dining room, tv room, toy room, girl’s bedroom, office, etc), we all got to work. I avoided heavy lifting and instead got to cross off numbers on the inventory sheet as items came off the truck and tell the guys where to put things in the house.

Soon after we began, the neighbors brought over some sodas and a bowl of apple slices. They tried to get me to let them bring a chair over for me, but I insisted I preferred to stand. I cannot stand the idea of sitting in the shade while the poor movers are lugging all of my worldly possessions (way more than I actually need, by the way) into my home in the hot sun. I still feel like a slacker just standing there, but I feel like less of one standing than I would sitting.

I like chatting with movers. These guys were local, but they’d done a fair amount of traveling in the past. Movers and other military “brats” generally share my broad knowledge of the United States, and it’s interesting to get different perspectives on the places I know. For example, the one guy talked about how great the food was in Utah.

“Really?” I asked, incredulous. “So, you like fry sauce?”

Turns out he went to—and liked—a couple of steakhouses in Salt Lake City. I can agree that there are some good steaks to be had in Salt Lake, but I wouldn’t say I was ever really impressed with the food we had while living in Utah. It was clear, though, that he’d not been there since before the Olympics. He talked about how unnatural it was to eat a steak and not be able to wash it down with a beer, a reflection of the even more restrictive liquor laws in Utah before the Olympics came through in 2002. To be honest, I don’t find the current alcohol laws in Utah to be that much different from the laws in Massachusetts. We still have to go to a special store to buy even beer. There are just more of those stores around than in Utah, they’re not run by the state, and they have wine and beer tastings pretty much constantly.

At any rate, this is some of the kind of stuff I talked about with the movers before my husband and the kids arrived with the car and the rest of our possessions from the hotel room.

I handed the clipboard with the inventory sheet to my husband and went back in the house to cut the rest of the shelf liner out before the kitchen cupboards became entirely boxed in. When I got back out to the driveway, my son was riding his tricycle around the garage, my daughter was sitting on a chair crossing off numbers on the inventory sheet, and my husband was supervising the children and directing the placement of items.

By 12:30, the movers were done and on their way.

I spent the afternoon unpacking “just one more box” until it was 5:00, and we’d missed lunch. We went out for burgers and hot dogs (ketchup and fries are vegetables, right?), then came back home to do a few more hours of work to get the bedrooms in shape to sleep.

Then we all passed out, exhausted, with the night sounds coming in through the windows and the ceiling fans keeping us cool.

I woke up stiff and sore the next morning (probably should have accepted that chair), but I worked out most of the kinks with some yoga, then got to work again.

As much of a pain as moving is, there is something quite satisfying about unpacking boxes and breaking them down, and flattening and rolling packing paper.

And while this wasn’t the way I’d anticipated starting off the year following my Happiness Project, it seems appropriate to start the new year with a new home in a new place.

I just hope we get to stick around for a few years now. I really like our house, and I’m not in the mood to move again anytime soon.

Week 43 Review: Smoothies to Spare

The packers come tomorrow.


We’ve been eating down our inventory in our cupboards, fridge, and freezer in preparation for our move. Which means there’s room in my freezer for these:

Oh, dear, you say. What on earth could those be?

They are, dear Reader, frozen green smoothies.

I’ve been making double smoothie batches for the past two weeks so I would have (more than) enough frozen smoothies to serve my green-veggies needs while we’re on the road and the first day or two after we’re in our temporary digs at our destination (until we can find organic produce and stock the fridge there). I’ve tested it out, and if I put one in the fridge the night before, it’s a nice green slushy by morning. I think the smoothies taste even better in slushy form than they do fresh, actually. I’ll line these up in the cooler and they can serve as ice for the other perishables. As I diminish the supply of smoothie ice packs, we’ll replace them with zipper-lock baggies filled with hotel ice.

I am a little anxious about food. Particularly, I’m anxious about having safe, healthy food that will keep me feeling not crappy. But, as you can see, I manage it fairly well through careful planning. I also have 60 servings of powdered green veggies drinks to get me through those long, veggie-free days. And, of course, I will take jerky. And wasabi peas. And chocolate Pirate’s Booty. These are road trip staples, and should provide all of my caloric and nutritional needs for the week-long trip across the heartland of the United States.

For the kids, we’ve got granola bars and fruit leather and bunny crackers, instant oatmeal and canned soups and cut-up cucumbers and bell peppers. And my son loves my slushy smoothies, so he should be set for green veggies. I’ll pick up some freeze-dried peas (over my husband’s protests at the cost) to supplement the kids’ diets, too.

Sure beats hard-tack and salt pork, almost as much as driving interstate highways in a minivan beats breaking trail in a covered wagon.

Oh, and to update the Happiness Project, I’ve been hugging people a lot this week, and I’ve been doing a great job of telling the people I’m with (mostly my kids) that I’m happy when I’m happy. So far, so good.

Existential Angst and the Cross-Country Move: Week 42 Review

Salt Lake City

Image via Wikipedia

The last week of Service Month passed with my doing very little service. There were a few random acts and I made a point of staying to help clean up after the farewell party my friend hosted for us, but my real focus this week has been on trying not to freak out about this move.

And by “freak out” I mostly mean being scared into paralysis by the idea of moving yet again.

On the one hand, I am very excited about the move. I’ve been in touch with the homeschooling community out there and have received dozens of warm, welcoming, helpful replies. I’m excited about all of the thriving groups and opportunities for homeschoolers in the area. I’m excited for the road trip and the thrill of crossing state lines and seeing my country unfold before me. I’m excited to live among green plants and trees and moisture in the air again. I’m excited to experience a New England fall in a few months. I’m excited to view empty apartments and homes for rent. Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved walking through empty dwellings and then, when I drive or walk by months and years later, the thrill of knowing what’s inside of those houses and knowing that relatively few people share that knowledge.

But there’s the flip side of that excitement: malaise and exhaustion. A sense of, “this again?”

After spending the better part of a decade out west, I’m not excited to learn the streets in a former colony again. I’ve been spoiled here in Salt Lake where the address of a building tells you exactly where it is in the city. Roads into towns in New England resemble the spokes of a wheel. They’re not straight and for the most part, they’re not numbered. They make no intuitive sense. I’m not sure I have the energy to get lost over and over, which is the fastest way I’ve found to make those roads make sense.

When we moved to Utah, I hit the ground running, socially speaking. I joined clubs and service organizations and started planning play dates for my daughter almost the moment we arrived. Now it’s three years later and we’re leaving. I can’t help but have a bit of a sense that all of that work and energy to build relationships was somewhat pointless. And then if I’m really tired I get to thinking, what’s the point of developing relationships at all? We’re beings with finite lifespans. Nothing lasts forever.

Luckily, I have an optimist on one shoulder countering the pessimist on the other, so I can’t help but believe that there’s some point in interpersonal relationships beyond momentary amusement. But even so, I find it somewhat difficult to work up a lot of enthusiasm for the same targeted approach to relationship building that I engaged in when we moved to Utah. I don’t like socializing for socializing’s sake. I want it to mean something and to have a chance of leading to something lasting. Three years doesn’t feel like long enough. But then, how long is long enough?

More than anything, I feel exhausted by the number of possibilities available to me. I know, waa-waa, the whine of the middle class. But as I look at the map of our route cross-country, I can’t help but think how people all across the country make their lives in places I’ve never even seen. That’s without even thinking of other countries, which is just completely overwhelming. I could live anywhere. And while that seems like it would feel like freedom, it feels oppressive to me. If the choice is left to me, what if I make the wrong one? And if there isn’t a wrong choice, then what’s the point of making any choice at all?

Someone I spoke with suggested that the malaise I’m feeling is a defense mechanism. The alternative is to feel sad about leaving, and since I’m not quite willing to feel sad about leaving (I don’t know why exactly, but I know I’m reluctant to feel the sadness…I just want to put it off), I’m covering that emotion over withboredom and exhaustion.

That seems like it makes sense. But knowing that doesn’t really help me.

Maybe once the movers get here and we have some more forward momentum I’ll feel more energized.

Lousy at Keeping Secrets

Map of USA with Massachusetts highlighted

Oh, my goodness. We're moving to a state smaller than I've ever even imagined. (Image via Wikipedia)

The first Christmas after my husband and I graduated from undergrad (before he was my husband), I bought him a leather jacket. This gift was perfect for him, not because a leather jacket is inherently awesome. Even back then the idea of an entire garment made of the skin of a dead animal was a little unsavory to me.

What made this jacket a perfect gift was the way I set it up.

“I think I’m going to get a leather jacket,” he told me over the phone. He was in North Carolina and I was in Ohio. He’d started grad school down there and I was still up living with my mom and working at a crappy local newspaper. I would be moving in with him after the first of the year, but since graduation in May, we’d been doing the long-distance relationship thing.

“You don’t want a leather jacket,” I told him. “It’s totally impractical. It’s not that warm, you can’t wear it in the rain, it’s expensive.” I went through all the reasons he shouldn’t get a leather jacket, and I convinced him he shouldn’t buy one.

Then I went to some leather store at the mall and bought him one.

It was really nice. It was a longer jacket with a zip-in quilted lining. I was so excited that I’d bought it for him and that I’d set it up so he wouldn’t even suspect that’s what I’d gotten him. All I needed to do was keep it a secret for about a week until we saw each other and I gave him the gift.

I am notoriously bad at keeping secrets. I don’t gossip, so I have that going for me. But when I have a good, exciting secret, I have a compulsion to share it with those closest to me. My not-yet-husband was (and is) my best friend. Keeping a secret from him proved too much for me. Despite my best efforts, I was sabotaged by myself.

Talking on the phone with him a few days before his visit, I was silently congratulating myself that I hadn’t said anything about the jacket. Then in a moment of silence I said, “Man, but when you see your jacket—oh, crap!”

Since last Friday, I’ve been sitting on some job news. I did OK while I had posts lined up ahead of time. But once those ran out, I just didn’t know what to say. In my post about Ann Packer’s The Dive from Clausen’s Pier, I mention that my process when writing is to start with an image and write around that and let the story unfold. With blogging, I set my brain to the topic at hand and then sit at the computer and let my brain roam free, gathering disparate elements and connecting them in, I hope, an interesting and compelling fashion.

This process is not conducive to secret-keeping.

All that’s been on my mind this past week is the job news. I wanted to wait until we had a set date for leaving before I broadcast a message about the job. The only way I could do that was not to blog at all. As you may have noticed, I’ve been blogging daily, but the posts have been fairly uninspired. It’s amazing how much it hampers my creativity when the only thing on my mind is the thing that I’ve decided not to write about.

Now since other people aren’t as hung up on forward planning as I am, and because the longest I’m able to keep an exciting secret is about one week, I’ve decided to modify my original plan and just blog about it, finally, when my husband signed the official offer. That happened today.

In two weeks (give or take…have I mentioned I don’t do well with uncertainty? Would someone please let me schedule some movers already?), we’ll be moving to Massachusetts, kids, cats, VitaMix and all. I’ve got some great (I hope) “planning a week-long cross-country road-trip with kids and cats” posts coming up, as well as some glowing, tearful posts about how much I love Utah, warts and all, even as I’m so incredibly excited to be moving back east again. I fear that “Service” as a topic may have been abandoned for the month, unless you consider finding someone to take my houseplants “Service.”

And just for the record, my husband still wears the leather jacket, fourteen years later. It will be coming to Massachusetts with us. It was an awesome gift after all.

The Long Goodbye

“All of this is new to me,” my husband was telling my daughter. They were walking behind me on the trail. I watched the dirt and rocks as they passed beneath my feet. “This is a part of the world I’ve never seen before.”

My daughter said something I couldn’t hear, but it must have been about our uphill climb because my husband answered, “Well, sometimes when you want to see new places you need to work a little to get there.”

It was a fair amount of work climbing the trail.

It was more like a narrow gully, carved out of the side of the hill by snowmelt. A serpentine crack ran down the center of the trail followed the path of the springtime waters, although the path was dry and hard this morning. Our destination was a place called The Living Room, a group of rock formations that resemble couches and chairs and tables set at the top of a ridge and overlooking the valley. The view, we had been told, was incredible. That’s what interested my husband and I about the hike. But the furniture rocks were what got our daughter out of the house that morning.

The trail was uphill the entire way there. I felt a layer of sweat growing between my body and my son, who was tied to my back in a baby carrier.

We all wore our sun hats, although my son removed his and beat me with it then dropped it on the ground about every five minutes. When we took his hat away from him, he began pulling the elastic doodad that adjusts the size of my hat. He would pull it further, further, further, then release it so the plastic holder on it snapped me in the back of the head. I finally removed my hat, preferring sunburn to a headache.

“When we get to The Living Room, we’re trading jobs,” I told my husband. His back is large enough that the baby can’t reach his hat while riding on Daddy’s back.

We’d been walking for about a half-hour, with three water breaks along the way. The path up to now had led us through scrub oaks, but as we rounded a curve, the trees thinned out and revealed a wide view of the valley below and the mountains beyond. There were the Oquirrhs and the Wasatch ranges, both snow-covered. There was the Kennecott copper mine and the Great Salt Lake and all of Salt Lake City spread out below us. From this perspective, we could see the curvature of the earth.

I took a deep breath as I looked and realized two things:

that I was saying goodbye to Utah, and that I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Utah.

But, I reminded myself, we’re not leaving yet. We don’t know when or even where we’re going. We just know we’re going to need to leave once a job finds us. I felt grateful that I could luxuriate in this long goodbye.

A portion of the view.

Around the curve, the path followed the top of the ridge upward. On one side was a declivity into the canyon broken only by scraggly, sparse shrubbery and wiry grasses. On the other, gravelly, sandy, gray soil and then a crumbly dirt-and-rock wall.

After a couple of minutes, we arrived at a spot where there was a gap in the bare shrubs on the left revealing an unencumbered view of the drop. The path wasn’t flat in this spot, but rather tilted towards the precipice. On the right was a hill of loose soil and gravel leading to a rocky outcropping.

As someone not exactly thrilled with heights, my inclination was to move as close to that rocky outcropping as possible. But when I stepped up towards it, the soil and gravel shifted under my feet. I knew I was safer closer to the edge, but I couldn’t bring myself to walk there.

“I don’t think I can go any further,” I told my husband.

We backtracked a short way and chose a rock to sit on, have a snack, and regroup. While we were there, a couple passed by from the direction of our destination.

“Did you guys go to The Living Room?” I asked.

They had.

“How much farther is it?”

“About ten minutes,” the man answered. “You’ll follow the ridge, go down into the canyon a little, then back up that other ridge,” he said, pointing across the canyon. I noticed that the other ridge had red soil and rocks. The one we were on had gray.

We thanked them, and they headed on.

After some discussion, we decided that we’d press on. I helped my husband put the baby on his front, and I held our daughter’s hand.

“I’m glad we’re going to The Living Room,” my daughter said as we started walking again. With my son off my back, the higher winds up on the ridge lifted my dampened shirt from my skin and gave me goosebumps.

“Well, even though I felt nervous, I knew it was safe,” I said. “And when I saw how enthusiastic you were about it, I knew we should give it another chance.”

“What does enthusiastic mean?” she asked. I defined the word for her, and we spent the next several steps chanting, “Gung-ho! Gung-ho!”

Then we reached the narrow spot again.

“Honey, could you hold my hand?” I asked my husband. I held his hand with my left hand and my daughter’s hand with my right, and we proceeded on. I got past that first rough spot by staring at the trail and not letting my eyes stray to the drop. Safely past, we continued on around the bend.

As the path began to dip into the canyon as our fellow traveler had described, the trail became narrower and brought us closer to that drop-off again. This time the swath of firm soil was even narrower. I dug my feet into the sandy soil, my back to the drop, and found I couldn’t bring myself to move.

“I can’t go any further,” I told my husband.

“It’s OK, honey,” he said. “Just keep walking. You’re safe.”

“No, really,” I said. “I can’t move. Oh, honey, I can’t move, I can’t move!” I was nearly crying and quickly becoming hysterical.

“OK,” he said. “We’ll go back.”

He instructed our daughter, still holding my hand, to turn around and start back the way we’d come.

“I can’t turn around,” I said. “If I move my foot, I’ll fall.” I could feel the drop looming behind me. I felt certain it would come after me even if I didn’t move towards it.

I was still holding onto my daughter’s hand, but I realized I was no longer doing it for her safety. If I held onto her, I feared I’d either pull her into the canyon with me or keep her stuck with me, paralyzed by fear. The only answer was to let her go.

I let go of my daughter’s hand.

Freed, she turned carefully and took a few steps back down the trail.

“Slowly!” I called after her, even though she was going slowly. She stopped and looked back at us.

My husband instructed me to get down on my hands and knees. He let go of my left hand, walked around me, and took my right hand, which he held as we, together, crawled past the spot that had me so frightened. I looked over and saw my son hanging nearly upside-down from the carrier on my husband’s chest, smiling at me. I stood up, apologized, declared myself stupid for getting so scared.

“Don’t worry about it,” my husband said. “It’s a really steep drop.”

“Yeah,” I said, “but there was no danger. People are walking back and forth along the trail all the time. Dogs are running, people are mountain biking. People walk it at night. I don’t know why I can’t get past it.”

Our daughter chimed in. “Mommy was scared, but I wasn’t, even when I wasn’t holding her hand.”

When she realized we were headed back to the car, she started to cry.

“I wanted to go to The Living Room,” she cried.

“You guys go,” I told my husband. “You take the kids and go to The Living Room.”

“But what will you do?” he asked.

“I’ll wait on that rock we sat on before,” I said.

“But how will you get past that one spot?”

“I’ll get past it, even if I have to crawl. I’ll be fine. You need to take her up there. She wants to go. I know it’s safe. I don’t want my fear to hold her back.”

So, they left, and I headed back to the rock.

As I sat there, tracking their progress across the canyon to the other ridge, I realized that this was the purpose of my parenting: to stay out of my children’s way. They are unhindered by my fears and shortcomings.

I need to stand aside so they can go places I can’t bring myself to go.

My family are that blue dot left of center.

“How did you like The Living Room?” I asked my daughter when they returned.

“It was great! There was a chair with a long bottom and a rock that looked like a table.”

“Cool!” I said, as we all started down the trail again.

“Mom, do you remember when you broke down?” my daughter asked.

I smiled.

“Yes, I remember when I broke down.”

“I didn’t break down,” she said. “I was braver than you. I wasn’t scared at all.”

I realized that Utah wasn’t the only thing I was giving a long goodbye.

“I know you weren’t, honey. You were much braver than Mommy.”