We were winding down after a long day at the beach. A water taxi ride and a short hike brought us to within four feet of the wild ponies on Shackelford Banks. We stood there watching for at least half an hour because we could. Two small children came up and stood with us. “Do you think they will stampene us?” “No, I don’t think so.” “Do you think they will come over and bite us?” “No, they probably won’t do that either.” Are horses mean, do they like to eat people and grass?” “No they don’t.” And the closer the ponies came, the more questions the children asked. But they never wavered. They never moved. They just stood there like two little soldiers with their nerf swords ready for battle. We offered to let them stand behind us but they refused that. Happily ensconced, enjoying their fear. Not wanting to miss the viewing, they faced their doubts and trepidations.
So that’s how it happens, I thought. And we stood on the dunes, allowing the horses to surround us while they nuzzled the grass, completely oblivious to us, our fears and projections. One day you are five, playing at the beach, afraid of the wild ponies and then before you know it, you are twenty, flying to Bangkok and taking a bus to the Northern beaches, exploring Ko Phi Phi and snorkeling in and under the Emerald Caves. Still afraid and tentative but doing it nonetheless. Hiking to the waterfall that can not be found without a guide. And the water, the falls and the walk itself being so much sweeter because you did it alone. Because just like the two small children at the beach with the wild ponies of Shackleford, you’re standing tall and choosing life and living instead of backing away.
“What did we think I’d do for study abroad, Mom? Go to Europe? That’s so been there! I had to do something really awesome.” she exhaled as we were both catching our breath from packing. “Do you think I should get Deet 30% or 100%? Do I get the 60# pack or the 90# pack? Which Chaco’s are best, the ones with the toe strap or without?” And on and on it went until I was so exhausted that I thought she better get on that plane soon or we’re both going to be completely worn out. I don’t think I’m quite over it yet truthfully. Even my patient’s noticed. “Doctor B you look tired.” And I wanted to say, “Really, I am, totally and completely consumed by this departure of my daughter to Thailand. She’s leaving for 7 months you know that don’t you?” But I didn’t of course. I just said, “No, I’m fine. Thank you though.”
We skyped last night. We skyped last night for an hour. We skyped last night and the first thing she did was weep. Not cry. Crying is tears with noise. She just said “Hi, Mom.” And then tears started sliding down her cheeks. You couldn’t even really tell until she reached up to wipe them away or blow her nose in her hands. (Some things don’t change even if they do grow up and travel half way around the world.) “What’s wrong? Are you crying? We promised we weren’t going to cry on our first Skype. It’s too early,” I almost yelled into the computer. “Nothing. Nothing’s wrong. In fact everything is perfect. Everything has gone really great. It’s just daunting to be in the second week of a 7 month trip. That’s all.” So I told her, “What’s today?” “June 4th” “And what are you doing tomorrow?” “Flying to Hanoi for two weeks in Vietnam. Mom did you know that they have the most beautiful sunsets in the world there? Did you know that Mom?” Yes, as a matter of fact, I did. I looked it up for you before you left and told you that would be a good destination but you said no you weren’t going to have time for that. But now because you met two strangers from Canada you think it is a good idea and the three of you are leaving for Hanoi at 4am tomorrow morning. Well I like Canadians too or I wouldn’t have lived there for two years after college and hitchhiked all the way from Toronto to Vancouver Island. A fact I NEVER told my children until they were grown.
Better to take travel advice from strangers than from your Mom. Our small island friends believe that too. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have stood on the dunes waiting for the ponies to surround us. Ignoring the call from their Mother’s to come, to sit closer to them on the beach. Ignoring them so they could step into an adventure of their own doing, holding their fears and their nerf swords high. Stepping on the nettles and piercing their feet but not minding the pain because of the beauty.