What would Hands-Free Mama do?


Yesterday, I woke up after a twelve hour migraine and found myself halfway up a mountain.

That’s what a lot of my post-headache days feel like.

Except yesterday, not only was the migraine real, so was the mountain. Unfortunately, so was the moment of, “How did I get here?”

I called ahead to my husband, who was bounding ahead of me up the trail, “Who’s idea was this?”

At first, he thought I was just being cranky. To be fair, I’ve been cranky a lot lately. We’re two and a half weeks into a three week break from school, and I’m remembering why I chose a career path, back when I was still able to work. Having a job is probably one of the biggest things you don’t appreciate until it’s gone. And it’s not just the financial independence or the sense of the professional accomplishment. No, what I miss is–I’m being completely honest here–time away from my family.

“But you write,” people say. “That’s a great career.” Yes, I get to follow my heart and work in my pajamas (of course, I did that before as an anesthesiologist). And I love it. Right now, I don’t even mind not getting paid for it. As long as I get to DO it. People think writing is something you can do whenever you want, but those who are parents understand that you can’t even go to the bathroom when you want. Why would you be able to string together complex sentences? So three weeks without writing is like cutting myself off from oxygen. For a similar time frame.

I know I’m lucky. I try to be grateful for all the wonderful things I have, but resentments creep in like…like headaches. Wonderful blogs like “Hands-free Mama” remind me to slow down and take life at my children’s pace. To watch the world through their eyes, where everything is new and magical. To actually live the life of gratitude and attention I practice in my mind.

Sometimes, the pace of a six-year old who whines mile after mile that she’d rather be having more “device time” is enough to make the best mother cry. And I am not the best mother. (Otherwise, my children wouldn’t spend so much time playing Minecraft. I know, I know.)

We flew home from Utah on Friday. I vaguely remember promising my son we’d find “a hike” when we got home. But I really couldn’t remember when we decided the 5+ mile hike at Hanging Rock, NC, was a good idea. For one thing, it was longer than anything we’d ever done, even in Utah. For another, I was still hungover from the migraine I got on the flight back from Utah. I barely remember getting home from the airport. I took my drugs, went to bed, and waited, and waited, and waited for the pain to go away. When it finally did, I waited, and waited, and waited for sleep, because the drugs make my head itch. But whatever, at least it wasn’t pain. (See, gratitude in action!!)

So halfway up the mountain, I woke up not because of a miraculous clearing of consciousness, but more because of  acute pain reaching me from my lower extremities. (What? I’m wearing hiking boots? Why on earth would I do that?? I must have been on drugs.) And all I wanted was a reasonable answer to my question: What was I doing there?

“It was your idea,” my husband answered.

 “Really?” I insisted.

There must have been something in my voice. My daughter glanced at me sideways and flinched. Uh oh, she clearly thought. Yelling Mama is back.

That’s right, I thought. And Yelling Mama wanted out of her cage. She wanted to holler at the trail for throwing huge boulders in her way, and at the boots for pinching her feet, and at her body for not being strong enough to get her through one simple hike without pain. She wanted to yell at her children for bouncing with enough energy for thirty puppies and singing SONGS when people were suffering in the lonely misery of their own rotten heads over here, and would you please stop being so darn cheerful? Most of all, she wanted someone to blame. She most certainly did NOT pick this trail, or this hike, not today, not ever, not in her wildest dreams, even back when she used to hike 8 or 10 miles as a matter of course.

She wanted to scream at herself to stop WANTING her old body back, the one that could have done this without complaining, and without anyone’s help, thank you very much.

In the end, she was rather proud of herself for only letting out a mild snarl or two at the people staring at her cage.

Then she apologized, and hugged her children, and promised not to yell anymore.

And she put one tired, aching foot in front of the other, and made it up the damn mountain.

And made it down, with her husband’s help.


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