On risk, chasing dreams, and saying goodbye to my child

Guest post by Ashley
By: Matt KowalczykCC BY 2.0

My husband and I are planning our next vacation. My daughter, who will be a month old in a few days, is sleeping. And I am getting the video camera ready to go do something essential — taping a video I hope she will never see. It’s the tape of what I want my last words for her to be if I die.

Let me explain: My husband and I are mountaineers. We spend the precious, expensive vacations we have climbing the finest of God’s creations. It is an itch I must scratch (ever since I was young and my parents introduced me to it). I have heard it called a compulsion, an unstoppable urge. I embrace the famous words of George Mallory, who when asked why he would risk life and limb to climb Everest, just replied “Because it’s there.”

Our personal life goal is to achieve the Seven Summits together (the highest peak on all 7 continents, culminating in Everest). Throughout pregnancy, people told me “”It will be different now that you have a child. You won’t want to take such risks after they’re born.” And I think a part of me wanted to believe that.

But less than a week after giving birth, I was back to scratching the itch. Frequenting the forums to determine what peak would be next, bundling her up to go to the gym for my regular workouts. I realized I could not stop pursuing my life’s dream. I know some people will believe such a hobby is too risky for a parent. It’s unreasonable, has a high chance of failure and a possibility of death. Yes, I know. But I also know that it’s far worse to let dreams die.

If I stopped climbing for my daughter’s sake, I would grow over time to resent her. I would hold it against her that a misplaced sense of obligation not to die kept me from attempting to achieve. I’d rather take the risks that come with climbing and live fulfilled than not and live a resentful life. It’s worth the trade.

But how to explain the decision to risk your life to a child? That’s not so easy.

Once my husband and I decided that we are going to keep climbing, we did have to face the harsh reality — mountain climbing is dangerous. The more advanced peaks you face as you progress are increasingly dangerous. Many things can kill. On some level, you need luck to survive. And the more you do it, the greater chance you face that luck will run out.

So here I am, making a tape for her in the event I do not return. First, I want to tell her I love her. Second, I want to explain to her why her mother chose to climb a mountain despite the risks. Maybe she’s angry with me because I did something risky and unnecessary. But what I want to say is that it is necessary.

People tend to think anything not essential is unnecessary, but I want her to understand that at least trying to achieve your dreams is as essential to life as food or water or healthy love. Giving up your dreams is a death of the heart that ensues. I never want her to experience that. But I know what she’ll think: “Mom, why couldn’t your dream have been safer?”

Even if she never has to experience my loss, I know when she is old enough she will worry during climbs. And I’m not sure I can give her a satisfactory explanation. I want to say that on some level, we don’t get to pick the experiences that thrill us, fill us with satisfaction of the highest degree and make us find a stronger, braver self. I like to think that I didn’t choose the mountains; the mountains chose me. I want her to understand that climbing, for me, makes me a better mom because it helps me realize the power of myself, which makes me more able to be a capable mom for her.

Dreams are important. They are what will drive you forward, keep you going when stuff is hard and why you might have to do things along the way you don’t enjoy just to get to a point where you can do what you love again. If she is fortunate, she’ll have multiple loves in her life — a family, a partner. But she’ll also have the love she cultivates for herself by doing things she enjoys and give her a sense of power. And that is critical to life.

I want her to know that risk is worth it, absolutely, if the risk is taken in the pursuit of happiness and joy. That is what I am doing — I am chasing joy and happiness. I want her to know that even in her short month of life, she had brought me more satisfaction and pride than I imagined. My love for her is what makes me want to impress on her that risk is good and that her parents never stopped chasing their dreams, and neither should she.

The greatest thing I can give to her is the command to pursue her own dreams, whatever they may be. And to give her that, I must give it to myself first. That was what I am trying to do. That is all I can say to her. And up the mountain I go.

Comments on On risk, chasing dreams, and saying goodbye to my child

  1. “The greatest thing I can give to her is the command to pursue her own dreams, whatever they may be.”

    This exactly. I think it’s important to remember as parents that while our children are most certainly the most important things in our lives, they are not our WHOLE lives. We must teach them to pursue their dreams by showing them that we can pursue our own.

    Kudos to you and best of luck!

  2. I completely agree that life is about more than survival and that it is the pursuit of dreams and art and creativity that give our lives meaning. But I do feel compelled to wonder if you and your husband have considered not climbing together? Taking turns to pursue your dream would minimize the risk of losing both parents. While I do not think we need to sacrifice our personal interests and passions for our children, I do think that we assume responsibility for our children that needs to balance against our own desires. By having children (our choice) we assume the responsibility of their stewardship. Part of that stewardship is demonstrating incredible life-living – and it sounds like you’ve got that part nailed 🙂

    • We have considered climbing apart, and there are times we think that would work. The big thing that holds me back is that my husband is my climbing partner. Lots of mountaineers have partners when they climb – sometimes, that’s your spouse, a relative, a friend, or somebody who you’ve met through the mountaineering community. Climbing in pairs is nice because you have support, encouragement and somebody to help rescue you if need be! It’s become a lot easier to go separately now that there are so many mountaineering companies and guides, who can do just as well of a job. But I do think part of the joy of climbing, for me at least, comes from doing it with him and us getting to the summit together. There are horror stories about couples perishing together on mountains, so that’s our concern. We were actually discussing this the other night, and we reached the conclusion that for smaller climbs, we wouldn’t mind going separately. But for the big ones, we’d probably stay together. As he said, “I would not want to stand on top of Everest if you aren’t there too.” So for that particular one, we’ll go. We are extremely lucky in that we both have large, very supportive families, so we know that even if we are both gone, our daughter will be assured to be still be surrounded by love and care. So we are extremely lucky in that regard, and that makes the decision easier.

  3. You know, millions of people are killed in car accidents every year, yet most parents are willing to leave a month-old baby at home while they hop in the car to go to the gym, get a pedicure, or do something else that isn’t exactly necessary. Some parents even go on vacation together without their baby at that young an age. That’s considered an acceptable risk, and this should be, too. I think it’s great that you are being conscientious about the risks and making a video just in case. Enjoy your climbing!

    • Statistically speaking, driving and mountaineering aren’t comparable in terms of level of risk.

      I make no judgement or even comment on the original post, just wanted to point this out from a statistical viewpoint only.

      • It’s very hard to get comparative numbers (how many active mountain climbers are there?), but I know maternal mortality is very high. This website seems to imply that mountaineering has about 55 fatalities per 100k participants, while maternal mortality in the US is something like 14 fatalities per 100k live births. If we framed this as “mountain climbing is five times more likely to kill you than childbirth,” would this turn a lot of heads? I certainly didn’t conceive of childbirth as risky until I started researching it! So 5x a non-risky activity doesn’t seem that bad.

        In other words, a very small fraction of mountain climbers die in a year (0.055%). A very small fraction of pregnant mothers die due to complications in a year (0.014%). And yet we frame one as too risky for mothers to engage in and the other as acceptable.

  4. Thank you for this post… while not (yet) a mountaineer, I am an avid climber and at this moment am awaiting the arrival of my maternity-friendly harness so that I can continue to climb comfortably throughout my pregnancy. My husband is a motorcycle fanatic, another high-risk activity. Our honeymoon basically consisted of everything dangerous you could possibly do in New Zealand. Plenty of friends and family have made similar comments to us about safety and priorities, and I have tried to answer respectfully and thoughtfully but have struggled with putting my thoughts into words. You describe it perfectly. A shared passion for adventure is a huge part of our relationship, and I cannot imagine it not continuing to be a part of our growing family. Teaching our kids to climb mountains– and pursue dreams– feels like an integral part of who we are, not something we abandon at the first sign of a baby bump.

    • yay! we also had an epic adventure New Zealand honeymoon. we backpacked the Milford, rock climbed, played in the water, mountain biked, you name it. amazing. in fact, one of the woman we met on the Milford was 6 months pregnant! she was rocking only a school-age sized backpack to avoid straining her back with a heavy pack, but she was out there, knocking out mile after mile with a grin on her face 4 days in a row. she was the first out of camp each morning and frequently the last one in at night, but she was THERE. i had sooo much respect for her. 🙂

  5. My dad is a rock climber, ice climber, back packer and mountaineer. He never stopped scaling mountains. My mom used to join him, but she fell in a crevasse when I was a little, little baby and that changed her mind. But she understood what mountaineering meant to him. I remember one time when I was like 7, and my dad was on Mount Rainier, and I heard there was a storm there. I was really scared for my father. But my mom just calmly explained that while it was risky, it was what he loved. She never sugarcoated it, and I understood that if my dad died, or was seriously injured, it would be doing what he loved. So you CAN keep climbing, and your kids WILL understand!

  6. My mom is a mountaineer. Hiking, climbing, being in the wilds, the mountains… this is where she thrives. I love hiking and being in the woods and rocks and earth more than almost anything, but I don’t have the drive to climb the mountains like she does. I see the indescribable beauty and understand the passion, the need – but since that is not where my passion lies, it’s a little too scary for me to personally go there!

    I have absolutely worried about her. I know that each time, there is a chance she won’t come back. I love her so much, she’s my mom, so naturally, that IS a scary thing. Very scary. I don’t want to lose her.

    But when she is out there… my god, I can’t describe how clear it is that that is where she belongs. It is where she finds her joy. Where she loves life more than any other moment. Where she thrives. I would always advocate for safe, educated practices, but I could never, would never, want her to stop.

    I’m 24, she’ll be 50 next month – and in fact will be on a mountain on the day of her birthday. She’s still here, alive, her whole being glowing with excitement while she plans her trip.

    I love who she is, and I love who she has helped me to be. I pursue my own dreams and passions, and her examples and words throughout my upbringing have given me the sense of courage, joy, and freedom to do so.

    I loved your article, and I believe in your choices. I think it’s really wonderful that you’re making that video for your little girl. May she never see it – but no matter what, she’ll know she’s loved. I think it is so fantastic and beautiful that your husband shares your passion, and that you adventure together.

    Love and luck to you three!

  7. I LOVE YOU!!!!!!! seriously. i am also a mountaineer (and an envt’l attorney, so holla) and while i don’t have a kid (yet? ever?!), i would also want to continue to explore and have adventures afterwards. indeed, being told constantly that i “won’t be able to travel like that anymore” afterwards makes me really question whether i should have a kid. i know it’s just “talk,” but the constant bonbardment & judgment is tiring and off-putting. ….can i ask about the logisitics of you two going away for so long? do you have family watching the baby, and were they happy to do this, or did you bribe them some how?? i joke, but no really. bribes?? i am also fulfilled by these activitites in a way that goes beyond mere ‘hobby’ and i selfishly also don’t want to “wait” & put my life, my dreams and interests on “hold” until the kid is older to return to more skilled climbing/backpacking/mountain biking that aren’t necessairly compatible with a little one coming along. NO. i am literally going to print off this little gem of an essay to save and re-read in the future. rock on, girl. best of luck on your climb. i’m moseying up Rainier in 6 weeks.

    • Oh, Godspeed! Ranier is no joke. I’m aspiring to climb Ranier at some point (not solely because it’s got, from what I hear, some of the best scenery and views in the world). It’s also a great skill-builder for Denali. I don’t consider myself ready yet – I want more experience with glacial climbs first before I’ll be ready! I wish you great luck and a good challenge too!

  8. I support the spirit of this piece. That said, my feathers did ruffle a bit at the choice of words “If I stopped climbing for my daughter’s sake, I would grow over time to resent her. I would hold it against her…”. I would have releated more to a growing resentment of motherhood – not the actual girl herself. I don’t know, maybe what I see as harsh is just reality for the author. I have a 26 month daughter and just could connect with this sentiment.

    Also, when I think about it from the daughter’s perspective, my hyper emo tween/teen self would be asking more questions like “Why can’t I go too?”, “My dream is having a mom that’s alive, why are my dreams less important than your dreams?”, or “Why did you have me anyway?” – hopefully her daughter won’t blessed with same gift of emotional manipulation.

    Anyway, I can get behind the general lesson, and the honest, loving way in which the writer navigates a tough subject. Brava.

    • I didn’t phrase it as general motherhood because it’s not limited to mothers by any means. My husband has admitted that if he felt a duty to stop climbing, he’d resent our daughter as well. And to be honest, our resentment would be towards her. I’m not the mother of anybody else. I would look at her and think, “I gave up one of the great joys of my life for you, and I resent that.” I don’t think that phenomena is really that uncommon. I’ve met friends who personally disclose times of feeling resentment towards their children – although it’s not especially okay to admit to this in public. I had a period of actually disliking myself for even admitting that I COULD resent her. But my desire to avoid that is partially why I eventually realized that it is essential for me to keep climbing, lest that feeling ever develop.

      • I think in general our society too often denies/demonizes basic emotions like jealousy, narcissism, resentment, etc. I took me the better part of a decade to realize feeling these things didn’t make me a bad human – just a normal one. I can respect where your coming from on the long term resentment issue, I just can’t own it. It’s not my truth.

      • From personal experience it is also possible to resent motherhood itself while not resenting the child. Or outright hate motherhood while loving the child. It is a very odd and unsettling feeling many cannot understand.

  9. I certainly support the idea of this piece. But I find it a little difficult to support that she draws such an uncompromising line between “chasing dreams” and “safety.” I think it would be difficult for a young child to understand growing up (if ever) that her parents were chasing their dreams when they died if she wasn’t old enough to understand your passion the last time she saw you.

    • Andi, that is the point of the tape. I want her to have something that, when she is old enough to process it, she will be able to watch it. I never intended with the piece to state that chasing your dreams means disregarding safety. For a great many people, chasing your dreams can be something that poses very little risk. The piece was written from my perspective, which is what happens when your dream is something that carries a fair risk of serious injury or death (especially when you start pursuing more challenging peaks). I noticed immediately when I got pregnant that lots of well-meaning people seemed to assume that upon having a child, one has a duty to try to minimize risk in your own life to try to prevent your child from suffering your loss. And to me, that makes very little sense if minimizing risk means giving up something that gives your life purpose and meaning. It’s a potential recipe for damaging the parent-child relationship, possibly. And to me, that is not worth the tradoff of minimizing risk.

  10. While I understand the spirit of this article, and some of it’s points… I have a really hard time supporting this. My father passed away when I was 2, while boating a river with my uncle.

    What you say about luck is very true. Even skilled “risk-takers” (whatever it is you do) need luck on their side. His ran out. And I grew up without a dad because of it.

    It shaped me. It changed me. It’s left dents in me. Because he wanted to go out boating on a rain-swollen river to chase his thrill, I’m without a dad. Just know that a video is great and everything, but it will change your daughter’s life. It will change her.

    • Sure it would. But nobody is arguing that. The other night, I was coming home on the bus and a truck pulling out of a gas station almost side-swiped it. It was very scary and a near-miss. That was much closer to death than I’ve ever been on a mountain. I’m not pointing this out to argue that mountaineering is safer than driving (although it is far safer than people generally believe it to be). My point is that you (and I mean you specifically and generally) need luck when you walk down the street. When you get in a car. When you board a plane. You need luck to survive each day – certainly, the events of the last week in the US have shown that pretty strongly. So I don’t think the correct argument is about luck, in reality. Because it’s not as if luck is only a consideration when you’re taking risks. Luck is ever-present.

      My other question would be as to whether it is better to be changed or shaped by a parent’s death or by a relationship that’s marred because a parent can’t live out their passions. Would it be better to be shaped by a relationship with your parent that’s not the best because your parent resents you? I choose not to believe so. I have personally seen friends of mine who, for a variety of reasons, gew up in homes when their parents had to give up dreams of their own when they had kids (risky stuff, had kids too young, etc.) And they confirmed – it’s not too much fun knowing that your parents’ dreams died or became harder to achieve because you entered their lives. One of best friends was born to a teenage mother who was on the fast track to attend a prestigious college, grad school, etc. When she was born, her mom listened to others and decided not to go. She told me when I was pregnant and struggling with my decision “A child can tell when they are resented. A child can tell when their parents are not happy. And a child will eventually come to believe that it is all their fault.” I can honestly say that my feelings for my daughter are so strong that the idea of marring our relationship through resentment terrifies me. I never, ever want that to happen. It is a smaller risk to die, and have my daughter know she was loved beyond belief, than to stop doing what I love and give her a mother who might make her question my love. Resentment changes kids too, and not for the better. The risk is worth it in that case.

  11. I love seeing peopel discuss risk because perception comes into play. Risk = likelihood x consequence. We all see these things differently, and makes choices accordingly.

    This is a hard topic for me for a number of reasons, because I’ve seen parents die earlier than they should, and I’ve lost a friend to a mountaineering accident. But I do get where you’re coming from. I am giving up some of my more risky hobbies for my daughter, but because its not my life’s passion/work, I’m not worried about resentment. If I were to not get to go to grad school and go further in my career, I would feel some serious resentment, though not so much towards my daughter.

    I hope you stay safe and that your daughter will grow up climbing mountains with you and your husband.

  12. If it turns out the video is never needed – do you think you’ll show it to your kid when she’s older anyway? Are you going to update before every big trip? It could be a really cool chronicle – although I guess kind of morbid. Still cool though.

  13. This is a very good piece.

    I’ve just recently made a pretty solid decision to not have children of my own at all (and had multiple surgeries to make it nearly impossible to even if I wanted). Part of it was medical issues. Another part of it was chasing a dream.

    My dreams do not involve nearly the type of physical risk as climbing a mountain (that’s pretty dang awesome, though). But they do involve spending an INSANE amount of time to achieve. To the point that I would really have to choose between being involved more in my child’s life, or my career. Having to choose either of those would be extremely unfair to either me or to the child, regardless of the outcome. I’d be full of regret no matter the choice, and I’d be miserable. And what’s the point of everything, if you end up completely miserable, especially if you had the chance to prevent it?

    I do like the underlying message. Kids or no, it’s essential to chase what drives you. Even if a parent doesn’t feel resentment towards their kid, the kid can still pick up on the parent feeling resentment on missing out on something, too.

  14. I LOVE this. My parents travel regularly in Latin American countries and go out into the wilderness. I scuba dive and race cars. We love each other all the more as a family because none of us are afraid to follow our passion, and I know that if they were to pass suddenly their lives would have been well lived. I 100% agree with you on the resentment front; it’s one of the many reasons I’ve chosen to not have children at all — it’s great that you’re brave enough to do both!

    • I love your comment about being brave enough to have children. It’s an act of faith far beyond the physical risk. I don’t think enough people think about choosing to have/raise children in those terms, because ‘everybody’ does it.

      (Disclaimers: 1] I know not everybody does it, that’s why I added ‘these’. 2] Choosing not to have children is brave as well, in a different way and for different reasons.)

  15. Interesting piece. I’m still trying to figure out how I truly feel about the ideas brought up.

    As a side note (or maybe not so much a side note), I want to hear more from this author. I’ve read this piece and your piece about saying no to maternity leave. Both pieces strongly demonstrate how pregnancy/motherhood has not changed you. I’m interested in a piece about the ways motherhood *has* changed you.

    • Maybe motherhood hasn’t changed her!

      No argument that adding another (small) person that you have a responsibility for changes your lifestyle / habits, etc. Why does that addition *have to* change the person themselves? Does entering into a new friendship change you as a person? A new intimate relationship? These may change how you think of things, or broaden your perspective; One could argue that while those may change how one thinks and/or acts, the actual *person*, doesn’t change.

      • I can only speak for myself but there was no possibility that motherhood wouldn’t change me. And I don’t think it’s a negative thing to be changed by parenthood. I am a work in progress, not some static identity that can’t be shaped by her relationships. Maybe it is presumptuous to ask how she has changed since becoming a mother. Perhaps asking *if* would be more appropriate. That being said, I’m interested in the author’s point of view. That is the only point of my question.

        • Jennifer, to answer your question about ways I think it’s changed me – I’m not sure I can say! I was amazed by how NOT different I felt after giving birth. I think I was expecting something transformative, and that didn’t really happen. Birth for me was fairly straightforward and I wanted it over with. But I was one of those women who really disliked pregnancy. I sort of took pregnancy as a “means to an end” type of thing. I wanted the baby – didn’t especially like the process of getting her.

          What I can emphatically say is that I think the way I relate to my parents has changed. My relationship to my husband has changed dramatically. My relationship with my religion has changed dramatically. That is the stuff that’s changed. I’m not sure if that stuff counts as “personal changes” as much as “relationship changes.” I went through a period of feeling pretty down on myself because I was expecting this transformative experience that hasn’t really happened. Maybe it happens over a long period of time? I don’t know with certainy, but I suppose its easier to know how you HAVEN’T changed more quickly than to see the changes.

          • That makes total sense to me. It is only now, 14 months into parenthood, that I have some perspective on all the changes that have taken place since my daughter was born. And I suspect I’m not done changing from it.

  16. I just want to say congrats to the original poster. Bravo for being brave enough to honestly take a hard look at your life and feelings and do what is right for you and your family.

    I myself had the same hard thoughts with my “risky” hobby when I became pregnant. While all the books say that activity was in the “no way while pregnant” column, I just didn’t believe it. There was no statistics or hard facts backing anything up; From what I saw it was just the perceived risk of those not in the sport. Yes, there was a risk of injury. Perhaps more risk than regular activities, and definitely the consequences would be more severe. Like previous commenters have said though, we accept risks to different parts of our life everyday. Some risks we don’t even take time to think about or think of as actual risks (even though they are).
    That being said though, those social voices (in or out of your head) telling you how you are being “irresponsible” etc, can be quite loud & persuasive! However I also took that hard honest look, and I felt comfortable and confident still continuing. I felt my ability level is high enough, and I am competant enough to determine that my own personal risk was minimal. My husband supported me, and once I told my coach I was pregnant they were head-over-heels supportive of me continuing.

    So I am being the same. Bravo for finding your passion! Bravo for continuing! Bravo for finding a very sweet way to try and explain these to your daughter even when she is not old enough to understand.

  17. Cancer took my mother when I was 12… and I LOVE everything about this post. I don’t really know how to express it, but getting to read through some of your process of loving your daughter – making the tape for her, the thought and strength it must take for you to prepare for the worst, and the desire to live your life fully for her as much as for yourself, all these acts of love – is really emotional for me. I cried while reading it and many of the comments here as I was reminded just how much love there is.

    Because of my age, I don’t remember my mom with my fully developed self. The memories I have are worn and have pieces missing. It is hard for me to access fuller information about her, because it is hard to explain to those older than myself that I wasn’t as old when she died, that I don’t even know which pieces of her story I’m missing. But out of the bits I remember and can piece together with the other bits: I don’t know of any of her regrets. I know she was happy before the cancer. I know she left with as much peace as she could negotiate. And ultimately, living our lives to the fullest extent we are able to and making peace with our own mortality – because it is a thing we all have to face – seems like a strong and measured path.

    She and everyone older around her knew she might die, but at first the priority was trying to keep her alive, and when that was no longer realistic, there wasn’t a lot of time left. I could speak volumes on the ripple in my life caused by her death.

    But reading this my heart is screaming out at you that your decision is right. Everything, and especially the young girl in me who was damaged by the death of her mother, is cheering for you climbing mountains. I think the best gift you could give your daughter after your immense love is your own self-fulfillment. The best memories I have of my mother are the ones about her passions.

    Oh, and that tape is a huge deal. May it never be needed.

  18. I’m all for people supporting their dreams and being more than just a mother. In fact, I think it’s important for kids to see their parents have their own interests and passions. I myself am a rock climber, skier and mountain bike rider. I hope to do these things with my kids when they are older. What I can’t get my head around is that the timing seems a bit premature with the child only 4 weeks old. I wonder about bonding, breast feeding, enjoying that period of infancy, enjoying and getting to know your child. Hmmmm. Different strokes for different folks I guess. For me (and I am talking only about me), nothing was worth missing those first few weeks.

    • Ha! Yes! All I thought was, fine, climb mountains if you like, but how will you be able to be away from the kid while they’re in that cluster nursing stage?

    • I think my feelings are the opposite. I feel like the LATER stages of babyhood are what I really want to be around for! I was surprised when I brought my daughter home how little she actually did. Sleep, wake up, eat, change diaper, etc. Not to diminish any of that stuff, but I was stir-crazy by Day 3 at home. I couldn’t do that “I just watch her sleep” thing – I wanted to go out, do stuff! I was calling my mom (who is a sensei and trainer), crying, begging her to let me come over and work out (and I did take my daughter with me when I went, I just wasn’t totally focused on her when I was there). Now, as she ages, I do start to see the beginnings of a personality emerge, and it makes me want to spend more time with her. But I’d say the first week was extremely hard in that I felt really confined, based on the assumption that a mother should WANT to only be at home, be around her child and not think of anything else. I have no doubt many women absolutely love spending as much time with their newborns as possible, but for me, it wasn’t meant to be. I’m sure personality has something to do with, given that I have always been the type who needs sort of constant activity and stimulation, and I didn’t much feel that when I was the phase of being expected to slow down and remain at home. But like I said, I feel as though it’s a difference of personality.

  19. Having grown up with parents who told stories of all the “cool” stuff they used to do before they had kids really affected my view of parenting. They used to ride motorcycles and rock climb and all sorts of outdoorsy stuff and most of it stopped shortly after they had my older brother. We grew up with the PG version, camping and fishing but nothing overly dangerous.

    I lost my dad two years ago to cancer and it still kills me that he never rode another motorcycle. It was his dream to get one “after the kids are old and out of the house.” I learned to ride at 22 and the time I rode my Harley cross country to my parents’ house — well, I think that was the proudest my dad ever was of me. We had a connection over that bike. And the experience of that freedom. And three short years later, he was gone and never got to revisit his passion. Because he made the “responsible” sacrifice to his family.

    My mom got married at barely 20, never went to school, never travelled and based her entire life on my dad. Now she’s a 58 year old widow with no hobbies or activities outside of playing games on Facebook because she concentrated on being a mom and wife.

    Up until the point I was with my now husband for a year, kids had been out of the picture. Never wanted them and saw them merely as a burden standing in the way of the fun stuff I wanted to do, that I didn’t want to put aside my life in order to raise them. Because I got that vibe from my parents (mom specifically), because kids can tell when they’re resented.

    I now have a year old daughter and we think nothing of sacrificing to give her a better life, but we still try to have our own lives. My husband still plays in bands and I make time for my sewing. And maybe we can eventually share these passions with her, but there’s got to be a balance. Otherwise it’s not fair to anyone involved.

    Thanks for this article, I think you’re doing what’s right for your family and I hope you reach your goals safely.

    • I think your point about balance is important too. I’m been thinking pretty critically about what exactly I think would be reasonable for me to do. Before having a child, I probably wouldn’t have thought much about how many mountains I want to climb – the answer would probably be “as many as possible.” Now, I am more conservative in my estimates. I want the Seven Summits – that is the goal. Some mountains you have to climb before you can get to them, so those need to be included as well. But I have a far, far more conservative view of climbing now. I can say far more clearly “this is the goal, and this is what I need to do to get there.” I am less inclined towards behavior that would be considered risky even among mountaineers, so I am sure having a child is a part of that. So I do believe having a child has made me far more cautious in how I go about it, but it hasn’t removed the urge to do it in the first place. There is a happy medium.

  20. The only question I would ask the author is; how long will you wait to begin climbing again? Do you think it might be worth it to wait a few years, let each of you get to know each other and create some memories, before doing more climbs? The mountains will be there, and you’re still young. Kids grow up quickly and in five or six years your daughter will *know you* and will be able to remember you without a tape.

    • Our plan right now is to not attempt any HA climbs (high-altitude) for at least one year after birth. Part of that is because, well, HA climbs tend to be on the pricier side and we need the money for baby care right now! Part of the problem is that you cite “you’re still young.” Mountaineering, by and large, is usually a young person’s game. Sure, you can find plentiful examples of people who made seriously difficult climbs into their 40s, 50s and beyond. But those people are largely those who started very young and have never stopped, so they never really lost their conditioning in the first place. We have discussed it at length, and it’s something that is still an option. However, I think it would be extremely difficult to maintain the level of fitness and conditioning that HA climbs demand over a long period of years before returning. I personally question my ability to remain that motivated for that long! It is possible, but once she is old enough to go to school and my life is more centered around her needs, I fear it would get more difficult. Another part is that part of me almost feels it would be MORE ethical to take risks now that our daughter won’t have those memories. Once she is older and understands the risks, she’ll feel something when we leave that I remember well with my own parents, and that is worry or fear. At least if something happens now, she will not have memories of those terrible emotions. I know that’s not the most logical thought process, but it’s entered my mind as well.

      • Thanks for answering my question! Personally I think the memories would outweigh the fear/worry for her, IF something bad happened to you and/or your partner down the road. I’m glad you’ll be taking the first year at least to build a bond. I hope it’s full of wonder and joy for all of you.

  21. Thank you so much for porting this. As an endurance runner and climber I completely understand where you are coming from. My husband and I are trying to create a little one of our own at the moment, and I’ve already been talking with my (unbelievably awesome doctor) about continuing during pregnancy. I might avoid anything longer than a half marathon while I’m pregnant – mostly I think my PBs would suffer due to constant pee-breaks, but her advice is, I already do this stuff anyway, as long as I’m comfortable why stop? And that’s the mentality I intend to follow from then on. I hope my future child will understand why mummy needs to do these activities, and I honestly will en devour to include them as much as possible (running buggies, climbing/hiking backpacks) but that won’t always be the case (e.g. my new found skydiving passion). Having kids does mean your dreams have to die.

  22. This article was fantastic. I’m not a mountaineer myself–actually I’m really afraid of heights and live in a county with an 8ft elevation difference. For me, two-wheeled vehicles are my tools of strength–both pedal & motor bikes. Visiting my mother for my baby shower, I casually mentioned borrowing my father’s Cannondale and she looked at me like I’d wanted to borrow my father’s Jack Daniels. I think you’re brave for admitting you would feel resentment if parenthood meant giving a dream up. We live in the kind of society where mothers–read: WOMEN–are guilted into thinking they’re sub-par mothers for not giving up every littlest passion they have. (Does anyone know how this kind of thinking leads to well-rounded children?) You’re a great mum for bringing a child into a world where there’s something you’re passionate about.

  23. This is one of my favorite quotes about adventure, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.

    I think life in general is a risk. And tomorrow is never guaranteed. But to live a life full of passion and love, you can at least guarantee a good life. To me, that is the most important thing.

  24. I am 31, and not yet a parent. I read the title of this post at least 4 times on 3 separate occasions, before reading even one line of the post itself. It is fascinating to me that my entire thought process *before* reading it was about ME being the one taking risks, chasing dreams, and my parents saying farewell.

    I recently lost my father due to lung disease. The loss has given me the freedom to consider moving abroad once again. He simultaneously loved and hated when i talked about big adventures around the world. But I always reminded him that he was the one (or one of) that made me this way! I am so very thankful for parents who taught me to chase my dreams! I am now gently breaking the news to my mom about life/work possibilities abroad, and while the loss of my dad has made me appreciate life and time in a whole new way, it does not stop me from following my heart, even if it takes me away from the rest of my family at times.

    Ashley, thank you for sharing! And i’m thankful your parents taught you to chase dreams as well! I hope that someday, when i have children of my own, i will learn what it means for me to chase my dreams with them. Good luck to you!

  25. Ashley, thank you for sharing this! My mother has never let me forget that I was an accidental pregnancy and that she had big plans before I came along. Throughout my childhood I heard over and over about what she had to give up in order to be a mom, even though she said that it was her life’s work and what she was “put here to do.” I’ve been out of the house for ten years and still all she talks about is how she has to find herself because she devoted her entire life to taking care of my younger brother and me. I understand that those are her issues, but knowing that my mother resents me is not something that will go away easily. I would have preferred she followed her passions, even if they could be considered risky. I decided a long time ago that my passion was more important to me than having a child. I learned from my mother and now it is nearly impossible for my husband and I to have an “accident.”

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