Early in March, I was speaking with my mom on the phone to let her know we had cleared a Sunday in our schedule to celebrate her birthday together. My mom has six kids and we had arranged for four of us to free up our schedule along with our respective spouses and significant others. My mom is in Kenosha, Wisconsin, just over the border from Illinois. I asked her to think about what might be fun for her to do. She could come down to Chicago; we could go up there. We were leaving it completely up to her. It was her 60th and we wanted it to be special.
About a week later, I missed a call from my mom and about dropped the phone when I checked the voicemail. “Hi, it’s Mom, I was thinking for Sunday that we could go to lunch and then maybe I had this idea that we could go rock-climbing, so if you could look up some places to go rock climbing nearby I thought we could do that, ok? Bye.”
I had to listen to it twice, just to make sure I heard it right. Rock climbing? When I said, come visit Chicago, I was thinking we would go to a museum, or spend some time at Navy Pier, shop the Mag Mile, if we were really feeling crazy. Rock climbing? Don’t get me wrong, my mom’s in reasonable health and to be honest, I don’t often think of her as all that old, but rock climbing? Was this a joke? I wondered if I should suggest other things in the hopes of talking her out of this activity.
“What’s the matter,” she retorted, when I called her back the next day, “do you think I’m too old?” I quickly realized that I had asked her in a way that showed that I had doubts. This was not a joke. My mom wanted to mark her 60th year on earth by putting on a harness and scaling a wall. I hung up and went to work on finding a place for us to have an excursion.
Sunday the 13th (just a few days before my mom’s actual birthday), we met at Slice of Life in Skokie. My mom, my three sisters, two of their boyfriends, my wife, and me all sat around the table. Jamie, Jenny, Natalie, Phil, Alex, Rose and me all chatted about this and that until Jamie asked, “So what are you guys doing after this?” Jamie found out later about the gathering – I had neglected to fill her in on all of the plans.
When we filled her in that we were headed up to Adventure Rock, (www.adventurerock.com) near Milwaukee, she asked, “Have you ever gone rock climbing Mom?”
My mom assured us that she had a lifetime worth of experience climbing all kinds of rocks outside and was quite confident in her ability to scamper up walls. Scamper? I immediately had an image in my head of some kind of a large rodent that had my mom’s face scampering up the side of some cliff out in the wilderness somewhere. It made me laugh. We poked fun at the idea of scampering for the rest of meal, paid the bill, and started on our way up to Adventure Rock.
Adventure Rock turned out to be pretty great place for climbers of all skill levels. There were all kinds of ropes and clips that climbers could use. There were many walls of all sizes. As we put on our harnesses and got a quick lesson in how to use the ropes, I gazed up to the top of a 20 foot wall, and drifted off for a second. It occurred to me why I wanted to talk my mom out of this in the first place. I’m afraid of heights. I get dizzy standing on a chair to get the blender down from the top cabinet. I’m terrified of high places. My mom, on her 60th birthday, was about to school me on a rock climbing wall. More accurately, just about everyone in Adventure Rock was about to school me.
I remember for my 25th birthday, I was working with someone who had the exact same birthday as me, only she was turning 19 that day. She was in college, full of hope, life, and excitement. I was 25, getting my first grey hairs, and full of my quarter life crisis. Cliché as it may sound, I felt old, wondering if I would ever experience those blissful days of youth again. Since getting old, though, I have tried a variety of things from running races to taking chances at work to traveling to exciting places in order to challenge myself. By staying challenged, I have felt less like I was aging and more like I was living.
I can’t speak for my mom, but I sensed that she was looking for such a challenge when she clipped her carabineer to her harness and scampered up about a dozen different walls. She made it look easy, not surprising, though. After all, it was her birthday, but who would have guessed it was her 60th?