What About the Kids? Confessions of a Thru-Hiking Mom

“But what about the kids?”

I had just finished my excited announcement to my father-in-law as we sat across his well-worn dining room table. He was a joyful man that I, after 14 years as his daughter-in-law, had come to respect. I listened to his words vibrate off my inner eardrums. You see, he was not the first nor will he be the last person to ask that very same question. I was planning to walk from Mexico to Canada by myself, leaving my 10- and 6-year-old behind. How is that possible? Should that be allowed?

Here is my attempt to answer some of the questions about hiking a long-distance trail while being a mother to young children.

What Solidified Your Decision to Solo Hike?

Growing up I was a ballerina. I hit my prime dancing alongside my icons with Pacific Northwest Ballet.

That was me and I was that.

After the stage no longer held my heart I gave it to my husband instead, as we grew our family through the foster care system. We welcomed 34 children into our home, but were only gifted the opportunity to adopt our daughter and become legal guardians of our son.

That was me and I was that.

Then I found myself burnt out. Bitter and uncertain of who I was. We moved in a converted short school bus and began to run away to find our family. Yet what I found was a stranger in the rearview mirror—not sure what worth I held if I were not a ballerina, a foster mom, or a bride.

That began the calling of the PCT. In trepidation, I asked my husband if he could fathom me walking on my own. He smiled and said he would bus alongside me as my personal trail angel. That is when I knew I could do this.

I am going to spend time alone to figure out who I am once more.

How Do I Feel when People Show Concern About Leaving My Children?

I wish I could paint a picture, or create a scent, or describe an experience to encapsulate what happens within myself when I hear the question: “What about the kids?” Perhaps it is similar to the coping cycle of grief.

Denial: I am not just leaving my kids. I am always there for them, and throughout their lives. In at-risk situations I have proven to them that I am here.

Anger: How dare they ask about the kids? Is it because I am the mom? If the tall one decided to hike the PCT sans family, would they dare ask him about his fatherly duties?

Bargaining: It is it that long. They will be my trail angels. I will see them often as they hike some days with me. I am not really leaving leaving them.

Depression: I am not strong enough to do this. My mental game is dependent on those I call family. Without them I am nothing.

Acceptance: I am going to hike the PCT. My life is my journey. My trail is my trail. And that is beautiful.

Who Will be Taking Over My Role While I’m Gone?

I would like to introduce you to my secret weapon; my beloved tall one. When we found out that we could not have biological children back in the early days of our marriage, it was my husband who suggested foster care. With each and every placement that entered our home, it is my tall one they all call dad.

That perhaps is the most beautiful thing about our family. We are a family; all of us. He is deeply entrenched in the battles our children face with special needs and uncertain futures. He is the one who holds my hand when it is too weak to grasp on. When I take my first steps on the trail, the tall one will be there, as he always has been, with my messy, instant family.

What About the Children?

I saw a quote on some mom blog or Instagram that stated: “Do something they can brag about.” When meeting new friends or catching up with familiar faces, it is my children who always seem to pepper into the conversation about their mom hiking the PCT. I blush. I shrug. I explain to the confused looks what they are referring to. Because my kids are bragging about me. It does not matter who they encounter; give them five seconds and somehow the tale of their mother and the PCT is told from the whisper of young hearts.

When I sat them down to present my idea to them, I would be misleading if I said my announcement was not met with doubt. Mostly because they think a wild animal will eat me. Then again, I do believe there is a bet between my parents and my siblings of that actually happening. Overall, though, they want me to go. They are proud.

I do not know if this is the right choice to leave my children and husband to trek the almost 3,000 miles to Canada. I know if I did not start walking I will never find out how far I can go. What about the kids? Well what about them?

They seem like they are going to be just fine.

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