I wasn’t raised to swashbuckle.
When I birthed two boys, it did not take long for me to realize I was going to have to learn how to do so. As they dove off of staircases, thinking they could fly like Buzz Lightyear; received concussions trying to clamber out of their crib; and split chins open on seemingly innocent coffee-table corners, I realized that adventure was in their blood. And I’d better “man up” or risk being left behind.
This was not an easy task for the youngest of six daughters. When young, I loved to dance, to sing and to play dress-up. I could just barely hold my own in a baseball game with the neighborhood kids. “Boy” stuff was not my forte.
At the time I came to the “man up or get lost” realization, I was still married, so I thought my husband would be able to help a bit in the adventure area. He loved fast cars, boxing and heavy metal. Unfortunately, heights, mud pies, roller coasters and daring adventures were not so high on his list. But still, he liked to camp with the boys and roughhouse. Those activities helped expend some of my boys’ seemingly endless energy and satisfied their need (I swear it’s inbred in boys) for the tactile—if they’re not coming into bodily contact with something every so often, they act as if they’re going to explode.
As with many moms, I tended to defer the heavy adventuring to their father. It was “guy stuff.”
When my boys were small, one of their favorite books was Pirate Mom. In it, a mother is hypnotized to believe she is a pirate. It brings a comical twist to everything from PTA meetings to a visit from the mailman. I still remember their gales of laughter at her swashbuckling antics. “She is not acting like a mommy!” my youngest would exclaim.
If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll remember that I took my boys on an adventure shortly after my divorce. As a fairly newly single mom I was trying to help my kids celebrate our fresh start after a couple years of grief. It was new territory for us, as they thought of me more as chief cook, dishwasher, chauffeur—and perhaps checkbook balancer. Rather staid, unexciting stuff.
When we hit the shores of Costa Rica, however, the tides started to turn–literally and figuratively. As we greeted our driver at the airport, my boys looked dismayed as they realized he spoke little to no English. As I reached into the recesses of my mind to dig up seven years of Spanish classes and the practical bits my ex’s family had taught me, they looked relieved. And puzzled. As the driver and I chatted away, I could see the begrudging beginnings of respect from my teenager—who, these days, is more used to seeing me as the old fogey than a competent world traveler.
When I zip-lined thousands of feet above the rainforest floor with laughter instead of screams, the puzzled look returned. But with the slightest hint of a smile also. “Oh, I come from this,” I could almost hear him thinking.
When we slid down a waterfall together into an icy natural pool, we all came up sputtering—but laughing. We were no longer just nagger and naggees (Clean your room, do that homework, say “please”) but partners in crime.
When they were asked to hike up a succession of waterfalls in the middle of the jungle, white water rushing at them and the sounds of strange animals around us, they panicked. This was, perhaps, too much of adventure in their minds. But, it was my eldest’s thirteenth birthday and I knew the best gift I could give him was a sense of “can do”. As he tried to scramble up the banks, I held him firmly and told him, “The only way through it—“. He interrupted me, “I know, Mom—is through it.” I held his hand and got him started. And he finished—all the way up 10 waterfalls.
I saw a newfound respect from my sons. I know they’ve always loved me but they have not always seen that a part of their daring–their desire to conquer the unknown–comes from me. Our little excursion allowed them to see a side of me I’d not really used in my repertoire as a mother. And what a shame it was probably one of the first times they’d seen it. They had not been around for the single gal who hiked trailheads in the Rockies during business trips. The twenty-something who rather foolishly went skinny-dipping with her college girlfriends in the Mexican surf after a night of dancing. The teenager who dove off of a cliff.
I made a promise to myself after that trip. More adventures together. More bonding via doing, rather than just talking—something males seem to come to naturally.
When they look for a mate later in life, I hope they remember their mother was no princess. And look for someone who can be a true partner in life, with a sense of adventure and courage.
I may still insist camping is a three-star hotel, but I will not back away from a reasonable adventure. Of this they can be sure.
As we munched on live termites at the end of our waterfall hike, we commented on the fact that they taste like spearmint. And they do. In that moment, I realized that at least for a week, I had become Pirate Mom—a termite-eating swashbuckler.
What? You’ve not tried live termites? What do you mean, you bilge rat?
All the coolest pirate moms are doing it.