She said it would be easy. She promised I would love it. I did not.
My daughter, newly ten-years old, stood on the ropes course platform across from me in a red helmet, the green of the forest swirling behind her. Between us was a long row of wooden pegs dangling from ropes. For this part of the adventure course, I needed to cross on the wobbly wood and reach the rope on the other side. I looked across at her, twenty feet across. Eden gave me an encouraging smile and a thumbs up.
I put my foot out on the first peg. I hadn’t expected the peg to move like water, and flip upside down, leaving my foot dangling in the air. Gripping the ropes above me, my other foot followed suit and also found itself air borne. The next thing I knew, I was hanging from my harness like a suspended cargo container, staring up at the bottom of the pegs and the tears collecting on Eden’s reddening face.
A bushy bearded forest millennial came to my rescue and eased me down. “This challenge gets people—happens all the time,” he empathized, as he lowered me to the ground.
Eden met me at the base of the course. By then, she had stopped crying.
The areas of my body that had been suspended near the harness were starting to burn and throb. I was thinking of the peaceful picnic table in the grove of trees and the trail mix we had packed. “I’m sorry, hon,” I said. “That was really hard. I think you’ll have to go on without me.”
Her face crumpled. “No, I can’t. You have to try again.” She looked away from me, her face a mixture of disappointment, embarrassment, and concern. “You can’t give up.” Her voice was now steady, direct, and frankly, maternal. “You just have to try it again.”
This, of course, was my mantra to deliver, not hers. I was the one who coaxed and encouraged, who knew how to persuade.
I looked at the ground, shuffled my feet, and tried to move my shoulders. “I don’t know that I can, Popeye,” I said. “I really don’t think I can.” The truth is I really didn’t know if I physically could get through another fall, let alone survive the humiliation of another rescue.
Her arms were crossed, her hazel eyes unwavering in their gaze. “You can.”
I shook my head. I let out a long breath of resignation. Kicking the wood chips, I muttered, “I’ll try it. One more time. I can’t promise that I’ll finish though. Okay?”
She nodded. A slight smile emerged at the corners of her mouth.
We climbed the start wall of the course again. At the top, I asked a guide what I needed to know about the pegs. He chopped the back of one hand into the space between his pointer finger and thumb to show how people sometimes wedged their feet in between the peg and the rope for balance. My feet hurt just watching his demonstration.
Eden nimbly raced across the pegs and shouted, “You can do it.”
I stuck my foot in between the first peg and its rope and tried not to show the pain shooting through my ankle. I braced, looked down the row of pegs, and wedged a foot alongside each, one stinging step after another. At the end, I pulled myself up beside her and fell on Eden’s small frame in relief. She held on to my arms to steady me.
Then she divulged that the saddle was the next obstacle. The saddle that someone had to hold for you in order for you to even climb on, then fly over a deep ravine, balanced on two ropes, and hope you slid close enough to the dangling rope at the end to pull yourself to the platform on the other side. If not, you sat loose on a saddle hundreds of feet above the mountain stream.
Again, my daughter waited patiently for me. I reached for the rope and grasped it just as I felt the saddle moving backwards. I pulled myself to the safety of a narrow shaky platform held together with a few nails. Everything is relative.
Next was a rope ladder that you had to let go of with your hands in order to reach the higher section that moved to the next level. There were more pegs, slats, and skinny shaky boards. There was a skateboard in the sky between two trees with one rope to hold for balance. For each challenge, I followed Eden’s steady climb. She waited, without complaint, for me to catch up at each landing, carabiner secured, hand on her hip. “Way to go, Mommy!” she said after each challenge.
No one told me that it would end with a leap off a 40-foot platform. With nothing to hold on to. All the way to the ground. Just faith that the harness would catch on the way down and slow you down just before you slammed into the jagged forest floor. Along the way I had heard other climbers murmuring about the “leap of faith.” I didn’t know what they were talking about.
Then I knew. I stood at the top hugging the tree trunk, considering what it would take to get a ladder truck up the mountain. I wondered how long this might take and how much this would cost. I looked back, weighing whether I could go backward through all the challenges. Then I looked at my young daughter on the ground, her helmet a small red ball. Strong, confident, anticipating. Already becoming the person I would someday have to learn to depend upon.
I gripped my harness.
She waved to me. “You can do it, Mommy!”