We went on a bike ride to the forest. It’s not far from our house but I’d never been there—Ian and the kids always go without me to ride their bikes and play tag. It isn’t the kind of terrain appropriate for my regular set of wheels, however now that I had a bike of my own, I could join them. When the gravel gave way to dirt and fallen branches, I realized the forest was smaller than I imagined it would be—one side clearly visible from the other. The tall trees blocked the cold wind that stung my face on the ride over but the clouds, scattered and heavy, still loomed above us. A network of trails criss-crossed through the trees and I followed Ian around to a clearing in the middle where the kids dropped their bikes in a place that was obviously The Spot.
Everyone quickly dispersed into the thick of the ferns and branches on foot, leaving me alone on the path with their abandoned bikes and helmets. I felt like the new girl at school when the bell rings and everyone else disappears into their classrooms, while you stand alone, staring blankly at a hallway of unknown doors. Seriously? I thought. I’m finally able to come here with them and they just run off? I shook my head to try and push away the anger and feelings of abandonment. Then I began to loop around the trails as though that was enough for me—like I didn’t want to run around with them too.
I turned a corner and grief tugged at me. It’s like the devil on your shoulder whispering all of the reasons why this experience isn’t good enough. But as I listened to the kids playing, I started to relax. They interact differently with one another when they are inside a space that isn’t as safe and predictable as home. I took solace in the fact that I was nearby—that I could witness it.
“Mommy, come here!” My daughter yelled, thinking I was just as much a part of her game as Ian. It seems silly that I have to tell myself they aren’t purposely leaving me out—that this is just how they play here—but grief does that. Then I realized that what I was experiencing was what I always wanted: For my family to feel free to be themselves—to play, run, climb and jump without any sense of guilt that they were taking away from my happiness.
But negativity has been a theme for me lately. It’s been unsettlingly easy to slip into a dark mindset where everything feels sharp and uninviting. Anger seems to be my default emotion and the waves of jealousy are swelling higher than normal amidst the storm brewing inside of me. It’s an edginess that drains me of creativity and has me second-guessing my value. All of it with an underlying frustration that I often pass off as a joke by rolling my eyes and muttering “If only it weren’t for these useless fucking legs.”
Things that don’t usually get under my skin have settled in and propped that skin up with sticks to form a little tent city. I know they’re there—I don’t want them there—but I can’t seem to kick them out. And I know I’m not the only one. Everyone is tired and uncertain about what the rest of 2021 looks like. Oddly—and unfortunately for you—it gives me a sense of comfort to think that maybe more people understand than before. But we just have to keep going. Keep telling the devil on our shoulder to shut it and look for the joy with where we are at—put ourselves into the game.
When I made it around to my daughter she wanted to race.
“How about Hide and Seek instead.” I suggested. A chorus of agreement came at me from three sides as everyone descended on me. “OK. I’ll count.” I closed my eyes to count to thirty. I couldn’t hide—I’m now and forevermore “It”—but I turned away from the negativity and played on my terms. Because while it wasn’t perfect, I was in the freaking forest playing hide and seek with my kids. That in itself was something I haven’t done in almost 5 years. Small victories.