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Experiencing the Seasons of Motherhood While Walking in my Favorite Woods

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

By Liz Michalski

The first time I stepped into the wooded trail near my house, my oldest was starting preschool at the tiny yellow building nestled at the base of the hill. We’d spent every day together for the past three years, and we both struggled with the separation.

“Take a walk,” advised the preschool director, shepherding me toward the door. “We’ll call you if we need you.”

So I did. I walked and walked. Some days my daughter needed me and other days she didn’t but the woods and the hill were always there as touchstones, a place to gain perspective. A challenge and a solace.

Still, I surrendered things to those woods.

First, the extra pounds I carried from two pregnancies. I lost them pushing an all-terrain baby jogger as my youngest kicked his legs against the seat, already anxious to get out, to be moving under his own steam, to be old enough to join his sister at the school below.

A pair of lime green sunglasses went next, the ones I put on to hide my tears when that baby became a preschooler and attended his first day of class.

I waylaid a favorite hat. A pair of gloves. And then my sense of self.

Before my kids were born, I thought I knew the kind of parent I would be. Capable, loving, but independent. “Mother” would be one tag among many, equal but no less important than “writer,” “wife,” “adventurer” and “friend.”

Then motherhood arrived.

I lost — or I let go of — all those other facets of myself. Work, friendships, and recreation became ancillary, squeezed around the schedule of the two beings I adored. I scribbled sentences during naps, at red lights, and late at night when everyone was asleep because motherhood left no time for hours-long writing sessions. I rescheduled evenings out and coffee dates and weekends away because nothing else in the world was as interesting as what was going on at home.

I still walked, of course. Sometimes with a friend, but more often with the kids after school, to burn off energy, to teach them about nature, to give them room and space to breathe. And then one day I looked up from the path and everything had changed.

The trail that led past the horse farm and wildflower meadow was gone, replaced by houses. And my preschoolers were teenagers who no longer wanted to walk with me, talk with me, hold my hand. The certainty that I’d felt — that I knew them as well as I knew the forest path — disappeared. They had secrets. They stood differently and they talked differently and they no longer had that familiar, salt and fresh air scent. They smelled wild and sharp and unfamiliar. They rolled their eyes when I spoke. They no longer called me “Mama.”

And if I wasn’t Mama after twenty years, who was I? I didn’t know. I didn’t recognize them, either.

I rescheduled evenings out and coffee dates and weekends away because nothing else in the world was as interesting as what was going on at home.

I bought a new pair of sunglasses to replace the ones lost to the woods. Now their dark lenses hid my tears on the mornings when my teens slammed doors and swore under their breath, when we fought and yelled, then drove to school in silence.

I finally had time for writing, friends, adventure, and I wanted none of it, not unless I could rewind the days and hours to the morning I first saw the little yellow schoolhouse at the base of the hill.

My friends took me hiking. They talked about seasons, how trees change color and lose their leaves but are still there. Even in winter, the trees are alive. Spring comes and the leaves grow and the tree is the same, but different. I wore my sunglasses and nodded, thinking that seasons might work for trees, but when we were standing in the kitchen, arguing over curfews, my teenagers were more like devastating forces of nature — tornadoes, earthquakes, blizzards.

I stopped going to my woods; I stopped hiking altogether.

And then one day, at the end of a long winter, the sun poked through the gray clouds and my friends insisted I come out again. They took me to a new place. They brought snowshoes. There were no hills, no forest. No preschool. Just a wide-open field. Snow had fallen the night before, and the meadow was perfect, flat and white and stretching out so far I could almost see where it touched the sky. I took off my sunglasses and squinted. At the edge of the field, where it met the trees, there was a luminous shimmer of green.

The leaves were coming back.

Before me, there were no paths, just open space. A blank sheet of paper waiting for me to write out who I wished to become.

I put on my snowshoes.

I took one step.

And I began again.


Liz Michalski is the author of Evenfall and a contributor to Writer Unboxed and Author in Progress. A former reporter and editor, Liz lives with her family in Massachusetts, where she loves reading fairy tales and, sometimes, writing them. Darling Girl, her second novel, is out May 3rd, 2022.