This summer, my five-year-old daughter and I went camping. We drove, hiked and camped throughout Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. My husband told me to bring a gun; I brought my courage instead.
We sought the wildest of places — forests, meadows and rivers where we wouldn’t see another human being for as long as we wanted to. As we drove off, I would pull out a map and plot us a path into the swaths of green … National Forest land.
I grew up a Girl Scout, and a camp counselor myself, so I’m ashamed to admit that it took me 31 years to go camping alone. What changed? I read Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. And I became mother to a daughter.
When many of us become mothers, it constricts us, making us more afraid. In some ways I doubt I will never be a “free spirit” again. Legitimately, as mother to a daughter, I have so much to fear.
Least of these is the wilderness. Chances are low that my daughter will be one of the three people killed by a bear, or one of 25 people killed in a landslide this year. Her chances of being struck by lightening are 1 in 1,190,000. Meanwhile, her risk of being killed by a gun is much more likely: 1 in 25,000. Her risk of being sexually assaulted is 1 in 6. And her risk of being physically abused by someone she loves is 1 in 3.
Maybe instead of teaching her to be afraid, I should practice teaching her to be brave.
Won’t it take courage for her to leave a situation that makes her feel unsafe? To stand up to bullies, and to stand up for herself? To only allow people into her life who will love and support her, rather than hurt her? To say no when she means no?
So when lightening flashes, we set up the tent. When our feet slip we keep climbing. Sometimes the greatest beauty is only possible to see from the top of the mountain. And the wild is the least of our fears.
In the forest, my daughter learned that magic is real. She watched tiny hummingbirds hover over little purple flowers. She walked barefoot through clear mountain streams, let the water wash over her bare feet. She collected flowers, crystals, desert sage and spruce. She learned to recognize yarrow, and the kinds of mushrooms that are safe to eat.
More importantly, she learned that her legs are strong, her arms are strong, her heart is strong. She learned how to feel afraid — afraid of thunder, afraid of spiders, afraid of falling, afraid of the dark — and to do it anyway.
It’s scary to be the mother of a daughter in this world. But I don’t believe that the answer is to try and protect her from all the scary things. My dream is to fill her with the awareness that she is strong enough to face her worst fears. My wish that she will take every breath knowing that she is brave enough. Because in this world, being brave is her only chance.