I stop by the white house around the curve. I'm not warmed up, but I want to get a photo of the patch of yellow flowers in the morning sun in front of the house. I take the shot, stow my phone in its pocket and take off running again.
The morning is perfect. The air is crisp but not really cold. I'm sore from my mountain bike ride yesterday, but it feels good to be swinging my legs and moving down the quiet road.
"We went climbing the other day," my son whined without taking his eyes off of his Minecraft creation on the screen, "I don't want to do the same thing over and over."
My run is over and I stand in Boone's bedroom doorway sweating and still breathing a little hard. I've asked him to get dressed so we can go out in the woods after breakfast. Its spring break and we had no sitter. I conceded a sick day with full intentions of taking all three kids climbing.
I made breakfast for Bean and Ty though it took an act of congress to get Ty to wake up. If I'd known he was going to stay up all night my caveat to letting him stay would have been an appropriate bedtime for a day of running around in the woods. Boone flat out refused to eat breakfast despite my stern paternal admonition. And he doesn't see the irony in his statement as he continues playing Minecraft like he has every day since he discovered the game--or whatever it is--months and months ago.
I saw a guy on my run that might have been Harvey Lewis except he's no longer in town according to his Facebook posts. I ran the five mile loop I normally avoid because I was able to get out early on a weekday. But still, Harvey Lewis, Badwater ultra champion came and ran on my home trails. I'm so fat. I'm so not even close to being an ultrarunner.
My plan was to take Mandy to work, run before the kids wake up, fix breakfast, and they take the kids out in the woods for the day. Everything goes well through breakfast except Boone refuses to eat until everyone else is ready to hit the road.
I'm sitting under the cliff packing everything up. Kids have worn me down, Boone with his surly resistance, Lily with her dramatic energy sucking meltdowns and Ty...has been great. I want to trade him for my biological spawn today.
I'm gripped in the same disappointment and dissatisfaction I used to feel as my climbing career was fading; when I spent all of my time trying to rope solo easy routes in hope of someday being a lonely hardman able to climb anything. It was fantastical and science fiction and not realistic in any way. When I finally admitted that to myself it was easy to just walk away. Its not so easy to walk back.
I don't know who I am. I know who I was, but I don't know who or what I want to be anymore. And I'm surrounded by relics from my old lives. I feel like a thief who has robbed from the past the accoutrements I try to ply in my daily life now: bikes, climbing gear, old clothes that don't fit anymore. I'm a sham to myself trying to relive the life I once had.
I'm sitting under sunbathed rock stuffing gear into a recalcitrant pack having climbed nothing. They're kids and they've gone off to play somewhere around the cliffline leaving me to carry three packs down the trail. Those packs carry the weight of Lily's meltdown over the boys laughing when she dribbled water on herself drinking from the water bottle. The packs are heavy with Boone's negative attitude and the kids' increasing bickering. My own pack drags me down with the weight of years. Its full of old hurts, shortfalls, and regrets. I want to walk away and leave it in the woods.
I want to go off by myself and have a good cry. But the tears wouldn't come anyway. I can't feel sorry enough for myself to cry. It all seems so pointless. None of this garbage is important in the whole scheme of things anyway. I'm depressed? Over climbing?!
I don't resent my kids, but when I held their pink, writhing forms twelve and eight years ago I expected something else. Not the resistance and obstinacy. I vowed I'd never be the soccer dad of Red River Gorge climbing, but good lord do they not realize how cool it is that their dad is taking them rock climbing on spring break? They don't have to be Katie Brown and Chris Sharma, but they could possibly refrain from throwing up so many roadblocks to a good time in the woods. Maybe they could see reason.
"What are you doing?" I demand of my son as I jerk my bootlaces tight. Lily and Ty are in the car. I'm ready to go, and Boone is standing in the pantry door looking hopeful.
"I'm hungry," he whines.
Red rage washes over me.
"I tried to get you to eat breakfast AN HOUR AGO!" My voice rises in volume and intensity as my son shrinks back in passive defiance.
"And I told you to GET DRESSED!"
I throw up my hands and storm into the basement to get the packs. I fume into the musty air. I clench and unclench my jaw. I give up. I resolve to see the day through. I fantasize about being childless. I bemoan my fat middle-aged uncoolness. I resist the wave of despair that pounds onto me. I marvel that Boone can't understand the simple admonition to get out of the house on a nice day because he can start at the damn screen when it's raining or dark.
From that point on every step forward was a balance on the razor's edge of flat out wanting to give up and the bald faced determination to die trying to have a good time with my kids in the woods. By the time we reached the base of the intended crag my will had been broken. I didn't care if any of us every climbed again.
Ty and Lily were heartbroken. They really wanted to climb. I gave it my best shot. And that resulted in my bailing from the second bolt of a thirty foot 5.3. In my defense it was wet and I was self belaying.
The writing of this post has been the same exercise of swimming through spiritual molasses that my afternoon with the kids ended up being. The dog got out and chased after the chickens twice because of the kids. My head has throbbed. My heart isn't in this day anymore.
But it wasn't all bad. Driving my wife to work and then going for an early morning run was enjoyable. I was happy to fix breakfast for two of the heathens anyway. We enjoyed good music in the car and sunshine on our drama train all day. We hung out at Miguel's waiting on tasty pizza and sipping Ale-8s in the afternoon. And finally between dog escapes we sat down to a nice peaceful homemade dinner at the kitchen table with all of the windows open to let in the fresh evening air.
Right now all three kids are playing quiddich in the friscalating dusklight of an early spring evening and I'm staring at my lovely wife as she makes chocolate chip cookies simply because the universe needs them.
"I love you Boone," I held my son's shoulders firmly in my hands. We stood a few yards away from the car in Miller Fork parking lot. The other two waited on us to head home.
"You guys ruined my day with your attitudes," he nodded in agreement, "but maybe I pushed everyone too hard because I wanted to go climbing so bad," he nodded again. He turns twelve in a week. His voice is deepening and he's almost as tall as me. We wear the same size shoes. He heard the apology in my statement. It felt like we'd made peace at least.
I'm not sure if I'm ready to be the father of a teenager. He's not at that stage yet, but one day we're going to wake up and find there's no kid left in him anymore. His innocent years are almost gone. Maybe they'll find my glory days and have a grand old time.
"Are we gonna get Ale-8s?" Lily called from Gump. I had promised.
"Yes!" I replied. Boone grinned back at me and we headed for the car together.