Uncrossable Chasms. Invisible bridges.

Here's what I've learned about uncrossable chasms:

1) There is always an invisible bridge.
2) That does not make the first step any easier.

The scariest part is not the crumbling edge, nor the wind whipping up from below, nor the unfathomable depths to which you might fall if you're completely wrong about all this.

No, no.

The scariest part is after you've stepped forward, and your weight shifts juuuust enough that you cannot get back to that uncertain edge that looked kinda shady earlier, but now seems like a way surer bet than some invisible bridge.

It is mighty hard to feel comforted by an invisible bridge. Although I have yet to arrive at a chasm which has no bridge, that first heart-in-throat step never gets easier. And after I cross, I exhale mightily, give thanks for safe passage, and swear on everything I hold sacred that I will never ever ever cross an uncrossable chasm EVER AGAIN.

Yet, predictably, here I am at another chasm. We're moving to Colorado sometime in the next six months. How? No clue. In a practical sense, there is definitely no bridge. We don't have the funds, we don't have a landing place, and there is no Trader Joe's there.

But doors open. Bridges appear. You just have to believe in them.

The subject of invisible bridges brings us, of course, to Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade, the best of the series (and not just because Sean Connery).

What I love about this perfectly-captured crossing of an uncrossable chasm is Indy's face after he says it's a "leap of faith." He's clearly wishing this were not a PG-13 movie so he could more colorfully express his opinions about faith.

Yet, despite his skepticism, he steps. And once he lands, he believes all right. But belief is not the same thing is faith. Faith is the closed-eyes, clenched-fists, deep breath step forward; belief is the "See? Told you so" safe landing.

So, in looking across this chasm, I think of other chasms I've crossed. Some steps have taken longer to land on that invisible surface, but every one of them landed. Eventually.


Traditional, Schmraditional

I remember in high school getting hooked on late-night reruns of thirtysomething. Recently I thought, hey, I actually *am* in my thirties now. I bet I'll get a lot more out of that show. 

I made it through maybe a season and a half and then I had to stop. Because-- really? These are your biggest problems, Hope and Michael? A frustrating remodel? And really, Nancy? Elliot isn't responsible enough? 

I would possibly sell my soul for the problems in that show. Because we have all that regular stuff-- errands and money and homework and cancer and the kids and whatever else traditional spouses and traditional families scuffle about. But then with the bonus family comes some bonus crap, too. 

Let's take this weekend as an example. We drove out to Fresno and back; our less-than-24-hour blitzkrieg to California left us plenty of time for a family meeting today, before Miss L's flight back to her mom's. Meeting about-- chores? TV usage? Normal kid things?

Nope! Our meetings start with things like "So, your mom says you want to come here once a month instead of twice. Is this true?" 

There is no road map for this. No guiding light. There's not even a TV show.

Although they did try. 

Every single person sludging their way through a blended family frappe is doing it stone blind. 

You know how they say that 50% of marriages end in divorce? That percentage shoots up to 70% for marriages involving stepkids. And I don't think that statistic is a big shocker to any of us in those marriages. 

I am incredibly lucky. I have an amazing, wonderful, loving husband who is willing and nimble enough to navigate this minefield with me. I have a cool kid who's staggeringly adaptable to whatever new curveballs this hard-won family of ours throws her way; I have a cool stepkid whose common sense and levelheadedness is rising like a phoenix from the sheer insanity of her life. 

I have all of these things, and it's still damned hard. Not all the time. Not even most of the time. But it's no thirtysomething, I'll tell you that.

Know what though? I wouldn't trade it. The happy is happier when it's harder won. And those thirtysomething things that unseat regular families don't faze us for a heartbeat. At a certain level of crap deflection, you start feeling... well, kind of badass.

So to all of you folks out there with non-traditional challenges, or who are raising non-traditional families in non-traditional ways? Keep rockin it, guys. We're awesome, you know. Those dull cookie-cutter families got nothing on us. 


Kid Snippet

The kids like to mess with our electronics. Regularly, without anyone knowing, they change our ring tones, our contact names, and each other's passwords. It's a friendly kind of rivalry.

Tonight, Miss L called Dan from her Mom's house, looking for Miss G. Turns out Miss G changed the passcode on her iPod last weekend so Miss L can't access it. Her mother has grounded her until she can unlock the iPod, because this has happened multiple times now, and she feels Miss L is being irresponsible, and doesn't want to deal with calling tech support on principle.

Miss G is at youth group during all this. After she gets home, I ask her if Miss L called her yet. She says yes, but she never changed the passcode. Well, she did, earlier. But then she changed it back and didn't change it again. So it should be the old passcode still; Miss L just forgot what it was.

It was a typically bizarre/intriguing kid cross-section.

Questions going forward:

Will Miss L still continue letting Miss G use her iPod, or will she cut her off?
Will being grounded teach Miss L to be more responsible? Or, failing that, teach her to not mess with other people's passcodes in order that her own passcodes not be messed with?
Will Miss G ever learn what a boundary is? EVER?

Only time will tell.

Stay tuned.


Dead Poets

As part of our aforementioned Cry Movie Marathon, the girls and I found our way to Dead Poets Society over the weekend. (On an unrelated note, is anyone else vaguely unsettled by the apostrophical lack in that title?)

Robin Williams gives those private school boys all kinds of soul-thrilling advice. Carpe Diem! Seize the day! Dare to make your lives extraordinary! Suck the marrow out of life! Look at things differently!

And most importantly, but left unsaid: find your voice.

"O Captain my Captain!" *sob*

So all of us who watched this movie when we were impressionable teenagers-- we've all (technically) become grownups. Can we watch it now with cynicism? Think to ourselves "I'd get that teacher fired so fast if I were paying that tuition!" or "Damn that Robert Sean Leonard and his irresponsible obsession with acting when his dad has worked so hard to send him to med school!"

I can't. I can't not love this movie. Maybe because I was a teenager when I saw it, ripe for rebellion. Or maybe because some themes are universal and ageless, fanning that half-forgotten spark in all of us. Leading us to dare hope that we can live authentic lives instead of trudging the status quo. Encouraging us follow our dreams, to not give up on our passions. Even for those of us who have continued on to dull grey jobs as customer service reps and bankers and however else we're paying our bills.

Maybe movies like this remind all of us that we do have dreams and passions, even if they're resting for the moment. Or for the last decade or two. It's surprising how easily they're forgotten, when once upon a time they took our breath away. But dreams are forgiving little suckers, just waiting for you to pry them out of deep storage.

Just waiting.


Zombie Legs Hot Springs

Dan really likes to take us out on vigorous adventures, which the other three of us love/dread. We like playing outside, but simultaneously fear Dan's notorious sandbagging.

Our trek out to Boy Scout Hot Springs was the typical mixed bag. Dan told me exactly what to expect (six miles round trip; 80' climb somewhere along the way) and yet I was still totally unprepared. I think maybe because the beginning was so deceptively easy. Five minute drive from our house to a well-packed dirt road. A few minutes later, we're on a lovely sandy walk...

...pretty scenery...

...more pretty scenery...

...Miss L even found heart-shaped glass...

And then, right when I was feeling really confident, BAM.

The cliff.

"Don't worry, honey! It's easy!"

For those who may not be aware, I have a problem with heights. I also have a problem with panic attacks. Climbing is really the perfect marriage for these two quirks.

Know what though? I did it. I just focused on finding good holds instead of on the fear (or the cold sweat or the nausea) and did it. It was pretty freaking amazing, actually.

View from the first ledge.

Unfortunately, the initial sheer drop was just the tip of the 80'. There was lots more down-climbing and scrambling to be had.

Funny, it looks way less terrifying in photos.

Dan had the bright idea of having the kids take photos of me climbing. You know, because I'd never remember it otherwise. Reluctantly, I handed over my (brand-new, been used approximately three times) camera. You know where this is going, right? One kid handed the camera to another kid, and someone (we'll never know who) dropped it.

Final pic of the day. Or, you know. EVER.

Good thing no one told me about the camera till after my adrenaline levels dropped a little.

So, you won't be able to see the other deathtraps we clambered down, namely slick limestone waterfalls with no holds to speak of, just some slightly moldy, more-than-slightly frayed rope to hang on to for dear life. Three (or was it four?) of those little numbers.

But you won't see any of the pretty stuff either, like the rich greens of the moss limned in pale mineral deposits dripping down the canyon walls. And pictures couldn't convey the heat radiating from the seeping stone formations, much welcome in the fading-sunlight/late-afternoon chill, or the slight salt smell that reminded me of California coast.

It was magical. Can't say for sure that it evened out the terror completely, but definitely magical.

If you're anything like me, all you want after a long, stressful day is to soak in a screaming hot bath and let the world disappear. The cool thing about a hot springs hike is, you get to do just that.

The less-cool thing is, you eventually have to climb back up everything that set your teeth on edge. Only this time, in the dark.

It was a little nightmarish. Not because I was scared (it's actually much less scary when you can't see how far you could potentially plummet to your death) but because my legs were so exhausted from the long scramble up the sandy hillside, I could no longer trust them. And you really, really need to trust your body when climbing.

With only one minor freakout while clinging spider-like to a rock (which consisted of me yelling "I'M FREAKING OUT!!" and Dan appearing next to me in approximately four seconds, saying "Hello, I'm Dan. I'll be your rescuer today!" and me saying "Oh my god I love you so much") we made it back to that first cliff. And up and over it, too.

On the sandy final leg, my legs started acting really weird, doing this funny kickback with every step. I felt kind of... well, zombie-ish. Jerky and uncontrolled.

"Does anyone else have zombie legs?"

No one else had them. Then, after about 15 more minutes of shuffling through deep sand, Miss G spoke up.

"Mama? My legs are like... kicking."

"I knew it. Zombie legs. They're contagious. Let me know if you start feeling hungry for brains. It's best if we decapitate you early on. You know, to prevent suffering."

(I really do talk like this to my kid. Generally she just glares in response. I suspect somewhere, way waaay down, she thinks I'm funny. Maybe.)

Miss L caught them too, a little bit later. I promised her the same mercy of proactive beheading, and she seemed appreciative.

We made it back to the car all in one piece (if we don't count the camera), renamed the hike to something more evocative, and cheerfully swore to never go there again.

It was the perfect way to start the new year.


One Word

Last year, I stumbled upon Ali Edwards' theory on replacing the usual complicated New Year's resolution with a single word.

I don't even remember the last time I made a resolution, but this one word thing really appeals to me. In choosing a single word, and granting it your focus, I have no doubt that word pervades your life in powerful ways.

So, last year, I tried it. My word for 2011 was Abundance. I wrote it on the dry erase board perched on our bedroom door so I'd see it both coming and going.

Dan added 'healthy' and a tiny self-portrait. Miss G added the rest.

And we did have abundance this year. An abundance of calm. Of deepening love and gratefulness for each other. Of happy and family after several frustrating years achieving little success at either. Of unexpected windfalls and lucky breaks and cancer-free blood tests. An abundance of fresh goals and refocused clarity.

And, because God's hilarious, we also had some quirkier abundance. An abundance of road trips, for example. An abundance of dogs needing homes, not all of whom we could adopt (oh, Natasha....). An abundance of houses needing remodeling, an abundance of cars needing repairs. An abundance of really, really boring articles to write.

But overall, I'm calling the year a success. Enough to try it again this year. My word for 2012? Prosperity.

Dan insisted on including 'positive.' Miss G helped me decorate.

Prosperity. Noun. A successful, flourishing, or thriving condition. Especially in financial respects; good fortune.

I'm tired of uncertainty. I mean, of course we never know what's next exactly, and I'm a fan of serendipity anyway, but this constant unknowing about work, which then determines our constantly irregular finances and constantly changing schedules and life plans-- I've just had it. We've built our foundation on rocky soil here, and while our core has grown strong in spite of that, our potential for future growth remains severely limited.

One of my bosses, whenever one of us complained about our personal lives, would answer (not unsympathetically) with: "You always have an abundance of what you tolerate."

I'm done tolerating. I'm ready for some bushwhacking with a machete. Ready for accomplishment. Arrival. Bloom. Expansion. Good. Growth. Increase. Plenty. Success. Thriving. Victory. Wealth. Well-being.

Prosperity, and every one of its synonyms.

What's your word?