by Lisa Nelson
It’s late afternoon when Jason and I arrive at the crag. Looks like rain, but we have decided to hike up the sleep slope to get a few pitches in before dinner anyway We’re exploring a new area in our home state of Colorado, and Zane, or 14 year old son, doesn’t want to leave the van. Arguing seems futile. The weather looks like shit and the hike looks like work, enforcing my decision to let him stay. Besides, our van is “home” many weeks out of the year and he is able to entertain himself quite well. Lately, getting him excited about climbing and spending generous time in the outdoors has become more and more difficult. When he was small, I looked forward to a time when he could “keep up with me”. Now that he is physically able to do just that he wants nothing to do with climbing. Last weekend he stayed home from a weekend trip for the first time. All went well. I climbed without distraction for two whole days and Zane got to hang out with friends. This has been a summer of letting go and realizing he is his own person.
It seems my life has always been about balancing climbing with motherhood. Although I know there was a time when Zane was not with me, I just can’t remember it anymore. I love being Zane’s mom and have no desire to trade lives with the 20- something climber living out of the back of a truck. But I love to climb, and I want to climb well. In my journey of balancing climbing with being a mom, I just wish I had met more women like me. How great it would be to have another family to go to Indian Creek with and trade off kids so the moms could rock those towers! Zane is not new to travel. He’s probably clocked more time in Indian Creek than most adult climbers, traveled all over the Western US as well as Peru, Thailand, Spain, Australia and Mexico. We usually spend several weeks, if not months, roaming the country in our van. Spending time together this way, without material distractions makes us a strong family and gives Zane a different perspective on life. We have been home schooling for the last three years, which allows us endless flexibility.
Today at the crag, Jason and I talked about going to Lotus Flower Tower next summer, one of many places I have dreamt about for years. Already I am thinking about how I can make this possible. My immediate family is busy and hard to pin down for childcare, so perhaps a camp. He will be 15 so there are lots of options. Better start planning and saving now, though.
Each summer Jason and I try to do one big trip together, but this takes lots of planning and coordination. Although I feel very lucky to be able to have those adventures to look forward to each summer, I often go into them feeling totally under prepared, both physically and mentally. I find it hard to train for big days like Half Dome when I usually need to leave the crag early to cook dinner or to entertain Zane. Finding both partners and time is always a challenge. My lead heads a continual roller coaster. Parenting often leaves me so completely spent mentally I couldn’t imagine getting it together to lead a hard climb. But I’m realizing motivation will go a long ways, even if I haven’t been able to properly train, and in the end determination plays a bigger part than preparation in the success of my big of adventures.
Over the years we’ve managed to experience many wonderful places; Elephants Perch, La Esfinge in Peru, Big Walls in Yosemite and Zion, The Incredible Hulk in the Sierras, several peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park, The Black Canyon. Yet even when I am in the backcountry or on a big wall, I’m concerned about being unreachable – a constant reminder that I’m first and for most, Mom.
I feel so blessed to be living this life. I relish the adventures I have had because I have worked so hard to get them. The memories of those trips put a smile on my face and fill my heart when I’m frustrated with parenting and everyday life. I meet many women who have given up climbing to be a mom and when I hear them talk about how they used to be a climber it makes me sad. While their husbands are off on climbing trips, they are content to stay home with the kids, finding other physical and emotional outlets. I guess my life would be easier if going to the gym and scrapbooking filled my bucket. My big adventures are why I can’t stop being a climber and I listen longingly when other women talk about first ascents in far away countries.
I’m happy we choose to live our life a bit differently and want that to be an example for Zane. Even more than teaching him Math and Language Arts, I hope to teach him honesty, responsibility, and how to be happy in life. I want him to know the satisfaction and joy of working hard and digging deep to achieve a goal. I know he sometimes misses his friends in Ouray and part of him longs for “normal” life, complete with TV sitcoms and Kentucky Fried Chicken. He is doing great, however, learning and growing like me. When I watch him socialize with the other climbers and hear their comments about what a great kid he is, I’m proud of him and proud of me. I’m doing it, and doing it well. I’m happy and raising a great kid, balancing the two things I love most; being a mom and a climber.
Tips, tricks, and ideas to make it easier:
*Pick areas that are kid friendly. This will be age dependent, of course.
Western areas include:
Ten Sleep Canyon
Red Rocks (single pitch stuff)
International places include:
Rai Lay Beach in Thailand
El Potrero in Mexico (single pitch stuff)
Grampians and Arapoles in Australia
Gandia and Sella in Spain
*Go easy on yourself. Do your best, but don’t beat yourself up if you’re having a bad day. I continually remind myself that I climb because I love it, not because of a grade.
*Don’t give up if you have a bad climbing outing involving children. The great thing about kids is that they change. What seems impossible (like taking a 2 year old to Indian Creek) will be fine down the road. At every age there will be both easy and hard times.
*Don’t push the climbing – gradually build on it. I would be psyched if Zane loved climbing like I do, but we have never “forced” him to climb. Bribed? Yes. The first time he climbed the Flat Irons we hid skittles in the cracks! Get creative and try to incorporate favorite games into this great learning experience.
*Climb in a party of three whenever possible. This will make it incredibly easier on everyone. Since you’re either belaying or climbing with a pair, three people allows a nice break when needed. This way I can enjoy time with Zane, reading or playing.
*Bring lots of entertainment to the Crag. Zane has a bag FULL of goodies…books, art supplies, hula hoops, juggling rings, juggling rings, poi, throwing knives, even those evil handheld devices. We recently added a unicycle and a mountain board to his bag of tricks.
*A two way radio has been a great investment. If Zane wants to wander down to the van early, I can still connect with him. In Thailand, we took one up on a multi-pitch. He thought it was a blast to talk to us while we were up there.
*Own a van. We own a campervan and although it’s not a cheap vehicle it has been our most treasured investment. I would sell my house first! This one thing has been the biggest reason we are able to live the life we do. Our life would just not work with a tent.
*Get out with the gals. Make sure you have time to yourself, away from the husband and kids. It’s great for me to be on the sharp end with no distractions.
*Have time alone with your significant other. We plan one trip together each year and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
*Be OK with a bored or grumpy kiddo. They are not going to be happy 100% of the time regardless of where you are. I would rather Zane be bored in a beautiful place than sitting at home in front of the TV. Downtime leads to creativity.
*Lastly, relish the time you have with your children in these spectacular places. Some of my best memories are of hanging out in the van at camp with Zane at Indian Creek or Joshua Tree. There is no house to clean, no laundry to do, we are just spending time together. As he grows up, I cherish the memories we share and look forward to making more.