“I don’t think I can do this,” I panted.
I clung to the side of the bouldering wall and surveyed the angled surface in front of me. Alarmed at the lack of hand- and footholds, I teetered at the top. It didn’t matter how high I was in the air, without a harness or safety ropes; it might as well have been 500 feet. I had to somehow hoist myself up and over the edge of the wall.
I was frozen. Stuck. Fingers and toes quivering, gripping the plastic nubs.
“Mom,” my 12-year-old son said. He had already made it to the top and waited on a slope, legs tucked underneath, calm. Watching me.
I peeled my eyes from the wall’s surface, willing handholds to appear through the force of my desire. I looked up at him, and he met my eyes with full confidence and said, “Just believe in yourself.”
An Unexpected Adventure
I had never been bouldering before. In fact, I had never heard of it until a couple of months prior, when I bought a Groupon deal for two people at a local bouldering gym.
I was so proud of myself as to be smug. As the mom of a preteen and full-fledged teenager, it can be difficult to spend quality time with my boys. To get them out of their rooms and away from their screens. To find out what we have in common. To keep our relationships flourishing as they grow into independent and confident young men.
When I found this special deal at the gym full of rock walls, I crowed with delight, for here was an activity that my youngest son and I could do together.
“Wait, is it bouldering or rock climbing?” he asked when I announced our latest adventure.
“Um, bouldering,” I said. “Why?”
“Bouldering is climbing up rock walls with no harnesses or other equipment,” he said.
“What? How is that a thing?” I exclaimed. “I thought we were rock climbing! Like with helmets and ropes and shouting ‘on belay’!”
“Nope.” He chuckled. “I can’t believe you’re going bouldering.”
“Why, are you afraid that I will be better at it than you?” I asked.
“No, I’m afraid you’re going to hurt yourself.”
This is a fair assessment. I’m in my early forties, which is not necessarily prime bouldering age. I am not known for my physical prowess or grace. I once sprained my ankle stepping out of a van at a trailhead. Before the hike even started.
So it was no surprise to me that I found myself 25 feet in the air, precariously balanced on hard, ribbed plastic (that’s what she said), with no idea how to either move up or down.
A Frozen Moment
“Just believe in yourself,” he said.
You know those moments that freeze in your memory? That even without a corresponding scent or song or word, simply appear in perfect clarity?
If I call up that moment and face it head on, it starts to fade; but if I look out of the corner of my eye, I can see every chalk-covered, dusty primary color of the footholds against the dark gray surface of the wall. The relaxed posture of my son, leaning to one side, legs tucked underneath, one hand supporting his weight, his fingers splayed. His long, shoulder-length hair, the same color and texture as mine when I was his age. The calm eyes, the same color and shape of my own, considering me behind the lenses of his glasses, like I had worn since I was in second grade.
It was like looking into a reflection of my face when I was 12 years old. The girl that I used to be lived in a home full of alcoholism and child abuse. She hid in her room and read stacks of books and shrank so much as to be invisible. She didn’t climb walls and have adventures and believe in herself.
Just believe in yourself.
What I Like to Believe
It wasn’t that he said the words at all – which was startling enough – it was his tone. Complete confidence that I could do such a thing. Tinged with surprise that I hadn’t already thought to do it. The sheer obviousness of the idea.
I like to think that he learned this idea, these words, from me – at least in part. I’m a strong believer that it takes a village to raise a child. Sometimes that village includes take-out and Netflix. But I like to believe that his words weren’t by chance, something he saw on an episode of Spongebob or read off the side of a tube of Gogurt.
I like to believe that I’ve shown him what these words mean. That in his 12 years with me, he has seen me, time and time again, plant my feet and ready my hands and gird my loins for whatever challenges I faced.
Just believe in yourself.
What choice did I have now? To climb back down? In the space of a few seconds, my son had challenged what I believed about myself. That I am strong and determined. That I never give up.
So I Did
I looked up at him. I made a decision. I felt the certainty and determination and focus gather in my core. I planted my feet and gripped those plastic nubs and focused all my fear and strength into the center of who I am.
I pushed and pulled myself over the top, scrambling and clawing and even grunting, without grace over the sloped surface.
Lying on my back for a moment, feeling my heart racing, I took a deep breath. Then another. When I got up and headed for the stairs to go back down and start climbing again, my son greeted me with a hug.
I did it for the 12-year-old girl I was and still am, and for my 12-year-old son, who never doubted for a moment that I could not only believe in myself, but knew that I would plant my feet and hands, steady and strong, and push myself over the top of a wall.