It was the end of a long holiday break, and we were trying to squeeze those last few relaxing chunks of time from what had seemed an eternity on day one. The kids were busy, as they often are once they reach the age of driver’s licenses, jobs and “significant others” in their lives.
With four walls closing in on us at home my husband and I decided to visit a park about half an hour away, to hike a trail we haven’t hiked before. We needed to be outside, to soak up some sun and escape the house. When the air is crisp and the sky is a cloudless blue, there really isn’t anything more stunning than a winter day in California.
Hiking boots laced up and water bottles filled, we took off for one of our almost-empty-nest adventures, leaving chores and errands for another day.
When we arrived at the trailhead my husband took a map and we started to plan our hike. We still had a few hours before the sun would begin to set, so we chose a loop trail that would take us high enough for a stunning view of the area, yet be short enough to get us safely back to the car before dusk.
Always cautious. Always planning ahead.
We walked in silence for a while, quietly savoring the fact that we’re comfortable enough to embrace the quiet. After a while, my husband broke the silence with a comment about the view off to the side of the trail.
And that’s when I noticed.
I’m not looking around.
I am so focused on the trail right in front of me that I’m missing the view.
So I forced myself to look up and around and savor the adventure and wow — it’s such a beautiful day, such a gorgeous view. We kept hiking along the trail, passing others here and there with a friendly nod or “hello.”
But I almost immediately went back to looking down. To worrying about the rocks and ruts and uneven trail right in front of me or just below my feet.
So I stopped for a water break, and forced myself again to look around.
Beautiful, yet not perfect.
The years-long drought in California has left towering trees dry and creek beds empty. Recent rains have brought back green grasses, but the long-term effects of drought are still very evident.
I turned around to see the path we had taken up this hill. It was steep and covered in a patchwork of uneven soil, horse tracks and mud. It wasn’t obvious to me as we walked that path just how very difficult it was.
But we did it. Cautiously, carefully and continuously we climbed that hill.
You don’t always realize where you’ve been until you turn around.
Isn’t this the case with life? We trudge along over obstacles ranging in size from pebbles to boulders. Push ourselves through the murky parts when parenting is tough and relationships are cracked. Past broken friendships and milestones reached, straight through our kids’ childhood, which seemed to expire quite a while before we were ready.
Shouldn’t we look back once in a while? See where we’ve been, gain perspective on the road ahead? Not to wallow in the past, but to acknowledge it and more forward?
These feelings hit me in the quietness on that trail — that our 20+ years of parenting hadn’t always been a smooth path. That as hard as you try, your kids need to grow at their own pace, learn valuable lessons for themselves, to fail or stumble on the path — or even get lost for a bit.
Sometimes you need to look back.
Up ahead on the trail? A leafy, tree-covered walkway with towering pines on one side, sturdy oaks on the other.
I might have missed it if I hadn’t stopped.
I spend a lot of my time being cautious, living in this moment here rather than looking forward or back… and fretting about it, too.
I waste time being worried about stepping too far off the path, of stumbling or getting lost.
I’m just looking down.
It’s time I started looking up.