Pamet Harbor, Cape Cod. The tide is low and the sun resting just above the horizon with its pink and orange glow is turning everything green into neon. The sand beneath the bay is exposed and has formed into tiny interstates for hermit crabs and floating seaweed. The boats are no longer buffeted by the wind, but instead locked into a static position in the sand, their pointy bottoms deeply entrenched and their knotted sails fluttering with frustration.
I watch as my Dad rolls his jeans up messily, releasing his shiny white lawyer shins to the sun and the salt. I copy him, but give up half way through the first roll and surrender to just bunching them up over my knobby knees, knowing full well the battle for unwet pants will be lost shortly.
The first dip of my toe into the small puddle of bay water is always too cold and I immediately retract with a lost breath. The seagulls chase bugs and minnows next to me, their side to side waddle reminding me of wobbly old men. The sand bubbles up around me like it’s about to burst and I remind myself that it is only the clams digging deep for safer ground. I let my toes sit by the edge of the puddle, the cold water lapping in and out gently as if the tide still has its hold.
I know there’s no better way than just going straight in. All at once. I know my body will brace itself, my arms will sting with goosebumps, and I’ll think for a moment it’s too much. But, I also know how the raw bay sand will feel under my feet, its coarseness replaced with a softness, a yielding of top level clay emerging to get its first full breath of a low tide. I know how my feet will sink deep down and the mud will seep in between my toes as I feel tiny sand crabs tickling underneath.
That part is irresistible.
And, so, I go in. And there I stay for as long as the dusk will let me. My dad roams ahead, squinting to capture the light in the marsh so he can paint it accurately later, and my twin brother treks curiously behind with a bucket and stick, head down and peering for strange creatures. I’m lost in the mud. The deepest mud I can find. I want to go where no one else will even think of going. I want to walk through freezing cold water as deep as my waist just to get to other side where the mounds of mud are untouched. And I want to jump in heels first and completely unbalanced until the mud levels off and anchors me in.
And that is what I did. Every summer. As often as I could. And this why I would return back to our beach house, my mother’s head shaking upon arrival, with mud dried in places unimaginable and the smell of sulfur and salt sticking around on my fingers for hours to come.
This is also I earned the name “The Muck Monster.”
(For real. You can laugh at that part. And yell it at me when you see me next. I’ll respond, I promise.)
I was fortunate to grow up in an environment where my label as “girl” and my status as a kid were not employed when it came to my physicality. I was a soccer player, a competitive gymnast, a competitive kayaker, and a serious ballet dancer. I moved and did and tried and failed and got hurt and definitely got dirty. I had an incredible amount of confidence that my body could do amazing things and that discomfort was not something to be afraid of. And while I was saturated with other sorts of anxiety concerning life, it was through physical risk that I found a lot of possibility and freedom.
Now that I’m a mother of two girls, I am well aware that my situation was unique. I am well aware of the tendency we have as a society to teach young girls to “be careful” of their bodies. And while I think we have surpassed the idea that girls are any bit more fragile or less athletic than boys, we still teach them to be protective of their physicality. We give them a double bind experience: We say, you are equal and as able as anyone else, but in the next breath we say, have restraint. Hesitation in a moment of risk is the catalyst for failure.
Teaching our girls to be careful of their bodies does not do what we think it does. It does not teach them to be with care. It teaches them to resist impulse. To hold back. To make nice. Inherent in that teaching is still an underlying distrust in the female body, hence the female experience. It’s still here. I see it every day in women when they first find MommaStrong. There is most often a residing lack of trust in their bodies as being able to handle the amazing athletic adventure it is to be a woman and a mother. And a lack of trust fuels a lack of care. We learn to not listen to our internal cues for simple things like hunger and rest. We learn to believe that our prime is past and that any brave and bold risks are no longer part of our landscape. And, as a result, we stop (or maybe never did in the first place) supporting and training our bodies to walk around with vitality and strength.
And while you may think I am speaking only of strength training engendering a more empowered physical experience, I’d like to flip that assumption on its head. I believe in my heart of hearts that physical strength can and does have a direct effect on how likely we are to take risks that lead to our wholeness. When our bodies - our nervous systems - feel prepared and vital and when we believe that our physicality is one of resilience and grit, we are more likely to show up for whatever that risk for wholeness may be. For some it may be a physical adventure, perhaps a triathalon or a marathon or an iron(wo)man and for some it’s less physical. Maybe it’s leaving a relationship. Going back to school. Homeschooling your children. Going for the shiny new job. Moving to the city of your dreams. Starting your own “thing.” Singing in a band. Jumping rope for 3,000 hours without stopping (wait, what?).
I don’t exercise because I love it. But, being physical is the ticket to my sanity, my happiness, my wellness, my energy, and my willingness to take the risks I need to take to be truly whole. Being strong makes me feel ready for risk because it gives space for vulnerability to rise. And any worthy risk rests itself on vulnerability first.
So, today, instead of being careful, I’m taking a risk. I’m jumping into a different sort of mud. Well, I already did. That risk was the first half of this blog ... that personal bit about The Muck Monster. You see, while MommaStrong is my blood and guts and service and (hopefully) my security, the biggest risk I could ever take is claiming myself as a writer. Nothing - and I mean NO THING - is more scary than that. Barbie is going to have to publish this post herself, I tell ya, because I will want to retract the whole thing the minute it comes out. But I’m gritty and ready and I’ve trained myself to walk as myself, no matter the risk.
There’s a gritty muck monster in you. Jump in heels first and completely unbalanced until the mud levels off and anchors you in.