This week, I crossed something off of my bucket list–visiting the Grand Canyon. This spectacular natural wonder of the world did not disappoint. Even on a cloudy day, it was an amazing sight to see. I never felt so alive and so small at the same time. I was excited to take in this beautiful place and it was fun to find the points where the Colorado River flowed through the rocks. I was the first one in my family to spot the bridge that leads to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon. I viewed it all from a safe distance behind railings and rock walls. It was my husband’s idea—God bless him—for all of us to take a mule ride around the rim of the canyon. At the time (in the safety of my home office), I thought it was a wonderful idea. It wouldn’t be my first time. I rode both a mule and a camel in a desert in Israel so I didn’t think twice about doing it again. I was wrong. So wrong! Our journey started out with a kind, but fast talking and heavily accented cowboy who explained how to handle the mule. Hold the reins like an ice cream cone with your less dominant hand at the base of the mule’s neck with one hand and hold the saddle knob thingy with your other hand to maintain your balance. Pull the reins left to go left and pull to the right to go right. Pull back to stop. Use the mule motivator (a whip-like strap) on his behind to make him go a little faster. Easy enough? At least, I think that is what he said. He spoke so quickly and there was no test to take prior to mounting Tin Man–a handsome, milk chocolate colored, 5 foot tall mule. When you add me to the equation, I was over 10 feet off the ground which already made me nervous before we even left the corral. I can’t drive a stick shift, so how am I supposed to handle a mule? Still, I was game. I went over the safety instructions in my head and again with one of the ranch hands before we ventured forth towards the rim of the canyon. It was a foggy day and I basically let Tin Man do all of the driving. After all, the cowboy said mules have a master’s degree-like training when carrying passengers. I took some comfort that one of us knew what they were doing. The Tin Man was a mule of all heart–taking great care not to go too fast while keeping up with the rest of the tour. My son and husband were in front of me while my daughter (riding the diva mule named Cher) was lagging behind. “Are you okay?” my husband yelled out to me. I informed him I wasn’t speaking to him right now as I was concentrating on my balance, my breathing and my fast brewing, impending anxiety attack. And then we arrived at our first stop at the edge of the canyon. I’m not typically afraid of heights, but there I was two feet away from the Grand Canyon with no guardrail or rock wall between us. I didn’t care if my mule had a master’s degree from Harvard! I couldn’t get it out of my head that one false move and we would both be goners. Once this negative feedback loop was in my brain, I could think of nothing else. The guide informed me that all stops would be like this and I asked for the nearest taxi cab back to the corral. Does Uber work out here? I had seen enough. Thank you very much. This tour was over for me only a quarter of a mile after it began. I dismounted the mule and waited for my ride–a Polaris 4×4 to come and pick me up. Before dismounting, I apologized to the guide, my family and fellow tour mates and to Tin Man. I let my mule know it wasn’t him…it was me. I had stepped way too far from my comfort zone and hit my breaking point. The Grand Canyon was on my bucket list. The mule ride–terrifyingly close to the edge of the mile down depth of the canyon–was not. I realized I didn’t need to have this experience to make my life complete. Funny, I remember having the same inner conversation with myself in Israel as many of my friends rappelled down the side of a mountain. No thanks! To my chidren’s credit, they stayed on the tour with my husband and had a great time. I waited patiently back at the ranch for their safe return. They came back exhilarated. Several people on the tour, including my husband told me it was a wise decision to go back. If I was having a panic attack seeing the canyon through the fog, imagine what it would have been like when the skies cleared! I think it is good to know our limits. I would have preferred to know my limits before I got on the mule. But that’s okay, at least I can say I tried.
I don’t know why I thought it was a good idea to bring my then 3 year old daughter and 6 month old son to go shopping at the mall at 5 pm. This revelation came to me many times as I sat on the floor of the omen’s department at Sears. I sat quietly and watched Jenna throw a massive temper tantrum while the baby slept in his stroller. I just wanted to get in the car and go home, but I was paralyzed because there was no way I could carry her kicking and screaming, push the stroller outside and carry several large shopping bags. I was determined to hold my ground. There was no freaking way Jenna was going on the carousel. Not after the meltdown she had at the shoe store 10 minutes beforehand . I told her if she behaved herself, we would go on the carousel She didn’t keep her end of the deal –refusing to try on sneakers she desperately needed and tried to make a break for the merry-go-round by running out of the store unattended. She could scream all day if she wanted to. I was not giving in. But then, I realized I was sstuck-stuck at Sears, 50 feet from my car. I couldn’t push the stroller, carry her kicking and screaming in my arms along with all of the shopping bags. So, I just sat on the floor and remained perfectly still while she screamed and cried and carried on. People at the check out nearby couldn’t help but look over at all of the commotion. As the older moms walked by us out the door – to what I considered the Promised Land, they nodded, smiled knowingly and remarked that I was doing the right thing. “I remember those days,” one said to me. “Let her cry it out,” another advised. She only screamed louder as members of the Mom Solidarity Squad walked by us in united support. But no one offered to actually help me. And just when I thought I would have to spend the night at the department store–an angel appeared before me. An angel with a plan. “Come on. Let’s go.” she said. “I’ll push the stroller, my son will take your bags and you carry your daughter. We will get you to your car.” I blinked back tears of joy. I was getting out of Sears! For a brief moment, I considered the plan wondering if I was a terrible mother to let a complete stranger push my son in his stroller to our car, but I saw no other option and I wanted to go home. Ten years later, I still remember that woman and her act of kindness. I can’t walk into Sears without thinking about her and wondering if I remembered to thank her for helping me in my time of need. If it wasn’t for her, I might still be there.
In the seventh grade, I had a best friend and we did everything together. She was my lunch buddy, my gym partner, and my partner in crime. We did school projects at each other’s homes and went roller skating almost every Saturday night. We laughed at the same movies, quizzed each other with those origami paper fortune telling games from the ’80’s (remember those?), and mastered Pac-Man. We were pretty much inseparable over the summer. She was everything a best friend should have been. And then in eighth grade, it all changed. Within the first few weeks of school, she ignored me completely and began to hang out with a new set of friends. She partnered with someone else in gym class and sat at another table during lunch which I considered to be the ultimate betrayal. Pretty soon, it became clear to me that–without warning our friendship–was over. She had moved on. Thankfully, I had a great group of friends who I am still friends with to this day through Facebook. We weren’t the most popular or most athletic group of kids, but we had each other’s back and that is what is most needed in high school. As my daughter starts high school this year, she is having a similar experience. She recently asked me if I thought it was okay that she didn’t have one best friend. Without hesitation, I reassured her that it was absolutely okay. She has lots of friends and tends to float between groups which I think is fantastic.