The climb has always called me.
From the time I could walk, I felt compelled to lift my feet off the ground.
In my yard, there lived a great apple tree. Her branches beckoned from the first day that my parents allowed me to toddle out of their arms. By four years old, I was swinging from her limbs.
When I got a little older, I looked to larger heights.
I grew up in house with an array of gables, and of course I scaled them all, with or without my parents’ permission.
As the world expanded beyond my yard, I was met with taller trees, and I’d be damned if I let those gargantuans intimidate me. I was made to conquer. So I climbed every one that would hold me.
I was little, but fearless.
Fearless that is, until the day I reached the tip-top of a lofty beech outskirting my brother’s baseball game.
I remember standing beneath that tree. I looked up through the branches while the forest obscured the sunlight and planned my route. I was sure I could make my way up without issue.
And I did.
The warm sweet smell of foliage mingled in the late summer wind as I made my ascent. Budding branches gently scraped my arms, offering an enlivening sensation against my skin. Birds tittered around me, unaccustomed to human company. I assured them that I was a temporary inhabitant. Only there to prove I Could.
Soon, the branches thinned, and I met the crest. It was then, as sunlight bathed me in reality, that I realized I’d gone too far.
You know how they say, “never look down.” Well. I looked down.
The world suddenly began to swirl in a way I never expected. For the first time, I wasn’t experiencing a moment of triumph. For the first time, I was afraid I’d never get my feet back on the Earth.
And I was alone.
Or so I thought.
Back on sure ground stood my parents. They were very used to my wanderings. Never worried much about my inclination to climb, because I typically knew my limits. Knew to come down when I’d reached my high point. But when they saw me swaying at the top of that beech, they knew I’d gone beyond.
My mother has told me this story from her point of view a million times. How she looked up and saw her six-year-old, swaying some forty-odd-feet off the ground. How she felt completely immobilized. Utterly vulnerable. She sent my father up and watched with bated breath as he guided her baby back in arms-reach.
I can’t tell you how humbling it was to have my father climb up and rescue me. I’d been so sure of myself. My parents had always given me the independence to follow any path that willed me. I thought I was ready. Thought I could handle the height. But it wasn’t until I looked down that I became frightened.
My father didn’t climb up to carry me down. He climbed up to show me how to make my descent. One branch at a time, he guided my feet through the thick, and back to solid ground.
It’s wonderous to watch our littles so fearlessly take on the world, but my God, there’s a helplessness in it all. We want so badly to allow them the freedom they crave, and of course we have to gift them that. But in the same breath, we have to be ready to guide them back when they’ve gone beyond.
We talk so much about our children being coddled. I know I do it myself. While I’m still the climber I’ve always been, still scaling, still pushing limits, I find myself frightened when I see my children testing theirs. But I have to allow it.
It’s not until they are out on the thinnest limbs, that they will understand that their own strength is enough to hold them. And their will is enough to bring them back to sure ground.
Even though my father guided me down the tree, it didn’t take away the fact that I’d gotten myself to that spot. And eventually back down.
I’ll never stop climbing. I love the scrapes. I love the burn. I love the rush. I love the view. And even though now when I’m more my mother looking up while my children are scaling heights much loftier than I dared, I won’t deprive them of their conquest because of my own fear.
They have a calling that has to be answered.
All I can do is stand and watch. Allowing them to reach beyond their perceived limits, but always ready to offer the tools to come back down.