Babies in Bleau
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Salut friends! Here we are bouldering again in the forest of Fontainebleau.
Having spent my prime years competing in Nationals, sport climbing 5.14s, and either establishing or repeating hard big-wall free climbs on El Capitan, I would never have guessed that I would go on to become such an avid pebble wrestler in my ripe old age of “29-plus”-but here I am, on my third trip to Fontainebleau in as many years. Who knew that bouldering was the most conducive way of climbing with a kid?
Fontainebleau has become an annual trip for our family, which means Theo is almost three years old now-which is nuts. Nothing seems to reflect the rapid passage of time like having a kiddo. I can ignore the occasional discovery of an offending gray hair or two, just like I can accept, without too much grief, the wrinkles on my face. But to think that our little man is nearly THREE … this seems utterly impossible.
The passage of time is reflected in the sandstone boulders of Fontainebleau as well, though in much different way. People have been climbing here since the 19th Century. The rocks get a little more polished each year, and they may find themselves with a little more chalk or (a lot) more tick marks. But ultimately, they’re the same stones that have captured climbers’ imaginations and stoke for over a hundred years.
Coming to Font is a way to interact with history just as much as it’s one of the best climbing destinations to bring your kids. Before Theo, I’d visited Fontainebleau a couple of times and saw it for the amazing bouldering paradise that it is, but never really felt a strong connection here. Now there is wonder and exploration everywhere we go. From the carousel downtown, to the statues on the grounds of the chateau, to the kids’ circuits in the boulders, to the all the found logs and sticks that are transformed into magical objects through the wonder that is a child’s imagination-Fontainebleau is the best place we’ve been to as a climbing family.
And it’s no secret why. The landings are sandy and flat; the approaches minimal. There are hard problems and easy ones; all of them are world class. Each year we run into dozens of families from around the world. Many of them come up to us and recognize Theo from this blog, which has created yet another excuse to meet people, something I find incredible. The climbing community is special in that way. Near and far, it always seems to provide friends.
Just as Theo is three years old, that also means I’ve been writing about pregnancy and motherhood through the lens of a climber for over three years now. Again, this is something I never thought I’d be doing a decade ago, when I was most likely clipped to the 20th-pitch anchor of some giant big-wall project. But what a gift change has been. Not just change, but the openness to accept change into my life; to steer into a new direction and find happiness of a different sort, and perhaps of an even more meaningful sort.
Of course, it’s been a tough learning curve, just like with anything meaningful in life. My postpartum recovery was physically tough, but probably a blessing in disguise that allowed me-all of us- to ease into our new roles and find balance in a new way of life.
I’d be lying if I said I don’t miss my fit self, or I don’t pine for the hard climbing that I see other moms doing. I think that’s just a natural part of the process, learning to simply enjoy what you have-not pine for what you don’t. That’s really all it comes down to, I think.
So far, this has been our most enjoyable trip to the forest yet. The first trip was newly postpartum and a good introduction to traveling as a family. I felt lucky to climb a handful of days. Last year I broke my ankle on day two, leaving most of the work to Randy and me barely able to crutch the boulders. It was a slow moving, less agile junk show.
Climbing and traveling with a kid makes me feel like a constant junk show, always wondering what we’ve dropped, forgotten or who we are bothering. But after a few years of it, we at least we have our family circus a bit more figured out. We were feeling ambitious enough that we decided to add a trip down to the sport climbing mecca of Céüse, followed by a trip to South Africa.
When we return in June, I’ll have a few months with Theo at home before starting preschool. Again, the passage of time is mind blowing … preschool?! How has that come round so fast?! For a lot of people, this is a stressful time as they struggle with leaving their child in the care of someone else and the cost of pre-school. I am grateful that we are comfortable enough to be able to afford it, but I know a lot of families aren’t that fortunate. There is plenty of advice over here if you are one of those families, by the way. I’m almost afraid to ask, but, Moms: Any thoughts, warnings, advice for pre-school?
During a rainstorm, our family took a walk to the crêperie last week. Out of blue, Randy said, “I hope that when we’re old, we come back here and go for walks in the forest, do white circuits, and remember all these trips together.” He’s about the least sentimental person I know, so his comment immediately put tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.
I felt Theo’s small fingers tightly clenched around my index finger and wanted to pause time-or at least freeze it, just like these ancient sandstone boulders seem capable of doing.
We all have goals, big and small, and I’ve lived my life ruthlessly chasing mine. Theo’s big brown eyes and voracious curiosity remind me that future goals are good to have, but that there’s more happiness to be found in the present.
We’re here in Font for another few weeks. I hope that I’ll climb some boulders. I hope my fitness will improve before our trip to Céüse. But I know that I’ll spend just as much time scrambling behind Theo and his friends, finding sticks in the forest, digging holes in caves, and making sand castles. That’s what I’m looking forward to most.
And when I’m actually old, I hope that we do come back here, and that Randy and I climb the white circuits, that we dig a hole in the sand, and that we look back fondly on this trip.