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  • Jennifer Zill

A Holiday Challenge During Challenging Times

Updated: Apr 1, 2023

My three kids are at the age where they are more independent and involved in their own friends and activities than ever before. Therefore, at 50, I am experiencing freedom from them that I have not had in over 10 years. I actually have chunks of time in my day and weekend that are not filled up with the flurry of kid’s activities morning until night,

All this freedom is a little strange, but it has forced me to examine who I was before kids and how much I have evolved since then. In some ways, I have grown tremendously…more patience, more empathy and less selfish. Other ways, not so much. I have lost sight of some of the things that make me happy, like being outside. Not outside at a park, or watching a soccer game and cheering my kids on. No. It’s the kind of outside I did as a kid and a young woman. Getting lost in the woods, getting dirty and loosing track of time kind of outside. That to me is freedom. The time and space to loose myself in nature, without worrying about a single person but myself. The deeper I go into the woods; the further I go from my kids finding me (HA!) but also closer to finding myself than probably anything I have done before.

The other day I was running errands with my family and we drove by a bike shop. On a whim, I walked in. There were rows and rows of shiny bikes, but those didn’t interest me. I was eying the kind of bikes with the big, bumpy tires just aching to head out into the woods and get dirty. I left the shop with a kind of excitement I had not felt in a long time. After doing some research, and talking to some friends who mountain bike regularly, I decided to buy the first “toy” I had purchased that did not include the word “appliance” in it.

I was beyond excited and at the first “break” in the family schedule I loaded up the bike into the minivan and headed into the woods.

Thank God nobody was with me. I crashed, I fell, I wobbled and I scraped the heck out of both knees. I got up, then fell again and almost cracked my new helmet while narrowly missing a tree. All of this and in my first 15 minutes! To put it bluntly, I failed miserably, but you know what? It was the best 15 minutes of fun I had on my own in 15 years. The best part of all? I got dirty…very dirty. The kind of dirt that does not come out even after two showers and multiple washing of clothes.

I got dirt in my eyes, my ears and in my mouth. Every inch of me was covered in wet, sticky mud and gravel. My new bike was covered as well. However, each layer of mud that covered me simultaneously exposed a layer of myself that has not been seen in some time. The fearless one, the brave one, the kind of person who only looked far enough into the future to see the next bend in the trail, and nothing beyond that. The kind of person I would want to hang out with and spend some time getting to know. Not the harried, burnt out version of myself that living in this time of uncertainty had turned me into on most days.

I emerged from the woods a new and better version of myself that did not get washed off despite multiple showers and laundry that followed my first ride. Yes. I was changed, altered and bettered somehow in that ½ hour in the woods with my new toy.

Even with more independence from my kids, the reality is, life in the times we are living is still busy, hectic and overwhelming on most days. There are days I plan to head to the woods, but it never happens, because somebody gets sick, or I need to go to the store, or I have to help my kids with their new version of “school at home”.

On those days, I wander into the garage and just look at my bike. I touch the seat, wipe the dust off with a cloth and grip the handle bars for a moment and remember the fun that still lies ahead of me, sometime in the near future. I also imagine the mud. The smell of it, the feel of it on my face and body and the freedom that is connected to it. Some days that is all I need to feel better, get back up and keep moving despite what is going on in the world around me.

With the holidays coming up, it is hard not to mourn the loss of some family traditions as we all hunker down at home this year. However, I challenge you to forget carving the turkey and carve out some time in the muddy woods to get dirty and lost. It may be the most “found” you have felt in months.

Wishing you all a happy, healthy and “muddy” Holiday Season!

Contributing Author: Jennifer Zill, (MA, ED. S) has 27 years of experience in the mental health field working with a variety of clients and settings to include a diverse field of expertise.She has spent the last 17 years working in a school setting as an Educational Psychologist.

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